Annoying bits of pistachio shells fall onto my skirt, littering the surface of my black tights like snow. Doug, the show’s “producer,” stands to my left, eyeing me in watchful disdain. I can’t tell if he’s annoyed that I am eating or pissed that I’m making as a lap-bound mess while waiting to get my hair and makeup done. I sit there, picking the little flakes and crumbs off my clothing and depositing them into the palm of my hand to drop in a trashcan – the only alternative being to brush it all to the floor, which, with Doug hovering over my shoulder, is no alternative at all.
I came here last week for a casting, even though I’ve been working for the client for over a year. “There’s a new guy there,” my booker told me, which translates to: “Just because someone liked you before, doesn’t mean they’re going to like you again” or “They want to make sure you haven’t gotten fat in the last six months.” Beauty, thinness, and hireability are all entirely subjective. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The saying pretty much encapsulates modeling’s ability to make you feel like the most confident, beautiful person in the world…and then turn around and kick you off of your high horse, sending you into a self-pity spiral of “I’m a worthless, unfortunate looking waste of a human being.”
That day, I changed into a crocodile carcass that had been fashioned into a high-necked dress with accentuated shoulders and a center-back zipper. I put on shoes without checking for the size, because it’s not worth even asking for something that fits you anymore; you always get a person standing across from you with a face scrunched up into something attempting concern and apology. But you can see in their eyes that they don’t give a shit and you better get those goddamn shoes on or you’re out of a job.
“At least you look beautiful.” People say that too, as if looking pretty is the salve for all of the world’s problems.
Doug sashayed towards me with a flip camera at the ready. “Just say your name and then walk towards the white wall, then turn around and you’ll pose and pose again and pose again and again. Then you’ll walk back towards here.”
“Hi, my name is Jenny Bahn and I’m with _____ ______ Models.” I try to relay something akin to boredom and vague sexuality. I’ve got a pulse, it says, but there’s only cold blood coursing through these veins. Clients don’t want people; they want puppets.
As I turned to walk, I could hear Doug following closely behind. “Slow down,” he said. “Take your time.” If he could, this guy would drive me like a car. First gear, second gear, third, reverse. When I got to the aforementioned white wall, I posed. And posed. And posed. “Don’t change position until I tell you to,” he said. So I’d stand there with my hand on my hip and my chin in the air and wait for an awkward five seconds for him to say “And pose” until switching it up, maybe putting the other hand on the other hip and turning my face towards the ground.
All this for a job that will simply entail standing on a platform box amidst a sea of New York’s most fashionable 1%-ers, while I do my best to keep my eyes from glazing over.
Based on my ability to behave like a proper mannequin, I am hired. And, if the casting were anything to go by, today is going to be a massive pain in the ass.
I sit in a chair while the stylist behind me sprays my entire head with a gel that “Really gives it that ‘wet look’” and then combs it back into a tight ponytail. Three twisted braids eventually swing behind me, roped into something that reminds me of the tiebacks of expensive window treatments. When I am done with makeup thirty minutes later – a washed-out concept with white eye shadow and clumpy mascara – I look like Pocahontas in space.
Someone hands over my first outfit of six or seven: a pencil skirt and jacket combo made entirely out of the pelt (or likely, pelts) of an antelope (or three). I’ve worn fur on jobs before, but this shit is next level. It looks as though they’ve simply ripped the head and ass off of the animal and turned the edges in to sew, threw a couple zippers on there, and viola. I’ve got a fucking tail on the back of my skirt for Christ’s sake.
“Throw these on,” someone says as they hand me a pair of seven-inch, no-platform-to-be-seen pair of stiletto boots with tufts of blue and green fur running down the sides. I pull them on and know immediately that the next two hours are going to be spent contemplating my existence on a grander scale. I can already hear myself on the platform out there, critisizing every vain choice I’ve ever made. You’re better than this. So much wasted potential. You need to go back to school. What the fuck are you doing with your life? The nails on my big toes are thrust forward against the top of the shoe, giving me the distinct sensation that they are being peeled backward and off of my foot.
“Do you have any bigger sizes?” I ask an intern, knowing full well what the answer to that question is. But at least thirty years from now, I’ll be able to tell my orthopedic surgeon, “Well, I tried.”
Doug walks us towards the floor where the party is being held. He showed us earlier what we were doing, which was pretty much standing on a box and posing. “Let’s do a run-through,” he said, after explaining how the lights from below would cast unattractive shadows on our faces, so we’d have to keep our chins raised. “Find your light,” he said. For five minutes, he had us standing there in our regular clothes, posing, posing, posing. “This probably feels awkward,” he said, “but you’re going to need to know what it’s going to really be like.”
I wanted to scream. I wanted to pull my hair out and run around the room screeching, “THIS ISN’T FUCKING BRAIN SURGERY! STOP INSULTING MY FUCKING INTELLIGENCE!”
We are led to our places on the platforms, separated according to Doug’s “vision.” They’re using the same DJs as always: two black girls with bleached blonde afros and crazy clothes. They’re a team, though one of them never does anything but stand next to the other, holding a glass of champagne and laughing with the clients. The two serve a definitive visual purpose, though beyond that, their DJ skill set consists of layering run of the mill gym jams over an uninspired, unchanging bass line.
You’re talentless hacks, but you look beautiful…
My feet are throbbing already, pushing against the leather so forcefully that I can see the shape of the bones on either side. I pose. And pose. And pose. Handsome young men pass around hors d’oeuvres: tiny sandwich triangles, phyllo-wrapped asparagus, chocolate mouse in chocolate cups. They circle the room, rarely acknowledged with so much as a “No thank you.”
The eccentric rich people begin filing in. There’s the gay man I’ve seen here before, carrying a woman’s Balenciaga purse and wearing women’s high-heeled boots, his facial hair groomed with an absurdist precision. There’s an Asian woman weighing all of 80 pounds, the bones on her back beady and prominent, her shoulder blades jutting out like the picked-over carcass of a roasted chicken. She’s wearing a dress that can only be Dior, a massive thing that makes her look like a 1950s prom queen. Her hair is swept back into a jet-black chignon, finished with glittery spray.
Over the course of the evening, I watch women with meaty, ham hock arms try on $40,000 furs. The thinner women, their bodies muscleless and tender like veal, put on dresses and stare at themselves in mirrors while salespeople fawn over them. Everyone carries designer bags. Celine, Hermes, Dior. Older women wrap their sagging flesh in cocktail dresses, vigilant to only expose the few agreeable parts surviving on an aging body.
Doug sweeps in and out of the room, making sure everyone is doing her “job.” You can tell he’s coming by the way his Annie Hall hobo pants by Chanel swish through on liquid footsteps, his hips swaying back and forth. He approaches me and thrusts my chin upward with the side of his hand, pushing my head towards the light until my neck strains. Fucking asshole, I think, don’t touch me.
On two or three occasions, I think I am actually going to cry. The pain in my feet can only be described as though my bones are shattering like glass. My eyes water as I try to keep the deadness I feel on the inside from being too obvious to anyone else. My painted lips strain into a smile that’s not too smiley – unattainable, yet still approachable. I watch from my place above, largely ignored, until someone comes up to touch what I’m wearing without acknowledging the person inside.
Me, as dead and useless as the furs on a hanger.
For more from Jenny, click some of the fun buttons below…