The train propels itself forward, stuck on a track under massive stacks of concrete and glass. I am mentally preparing myself for the job–a day of pants that probably won’t fit and shirts too narrow for my broad shoulders. “Were you a swimmer?” a designer once asked me during the fitting for my first runway show. She grabbed my shoulders and pushed them in towards each other, as if that would change the fact that I am from a family of giant German men and Dutch women with big asses. My skin can only cling to immovable bones.
Today is more of the usual–trying on outfits in preparation for the real models to wear them later. Three months ago I had a nervous breakdown with this client and having gotten that bit out of the way is already making today less daunting; I have lowered my expectations for what I can possibly squeeze into. Going in already feeling like a giant heifer actually helps: If I don’t fit something, I don’t fit. Kill me.
A violent wind off of the Hudson rips my umbrella in two, ripples the surface of puddles like tiny seas. I think about the moment when the stylist will ask me to pull my hair up and off the clothes – something I have always seen as surrendering myself to the reality that this job is solely about the clothes and my body and nothing else… the Walking Coat Hanger Epiphany. I play the moment over in my head. The version where I tell him to go fuck himself is far more satisfying than what will actually transpire: I’ll say yes, throw my hair up into a bun, and watch myself in the mirror as my sense of self slowly evaporates.
There’s a sign on the front door when I arrive: “MODEL CASTING” scrawled on a piece of white computer paper with a thin black pen. When I walk in, the girls look back at me, thinking perhaps that I am one of them briefly until they realize that I am not. They stand there with their black tights and their skinny arms with bony hands holding books with the names of good agencies. I walk through them, beyond a rack of clothing filled with taupes and emeralds, gray trench coats and cherry red cocktail dresses.
The client gets up and says, “Oh! Hey, Jenny B!” in that friendly, exuberant way that he’s perfected over the last six years. The stylist looks up from his task of wrapping the hide of some dead animal around the neck of a girl with brown hair and a pointed nose. “Hey, Jenny,” he says, more sedate than usual, somewhere between blasé and friendly. He’s wearing the same black pants he’s had on since last year in size I-don’t-eat with a broken zipper that won’t stay up.
I reciprocate the niceties even though what I really want to do is make a joke about what I recently discovered on their website: an over-Photoshopped, bastardized version of my face from a show three seasons ago, back when they actually used me for shows. I think someone in PR was bored of me, embarrassed, saw me as evidence of the brand’s less chic days. So they hired someone to elongate my face, soften my jawline, rendering me a so-so version of Robin Wright Penn.
But I don’t say anything about the image, I just kiss cheeks and sit down, trying to maintain an air of self-importance before someone asks me to strip down to my nude underwear and try on a mini-dress.
Next to me is the casting director from last time: a witchy-looking hag with cankles and a big mouth. Last season I listened to her call a model “Monster Face” behind her back and talk loudly about “Calvin exclusives.” I take a seat on a cushioned windowsill, behind a desk surrounded by PR people with ringing Blackberries and cups of coffee. “We’re just going to finish up with these girls and get to you,” the client tells me. I lay back, resting on pillows and watching as girls discreetly get their hopes crushed. It’s much easier to be on the other end of this. The judging, not the judged.
The models are thin and washed out per the usual. Seventeen, nineteen, twenty years old at the most. The client flips through their books, modeling portfolios filled with good lighting and flattering makeup, sometimes looking back up at their face, just to check and a try to match reality with illusion. Most girls are not as beautiful in person. The print version is a lie.
If the client likes them, he asks for them to try on an outfit. If he doesn’t, they get sent away with a “Thanks so much!” while placing their heavy book in their empty hands. You are not enough.
I watch as the few chosen girls strip down to nothing and change into wide-leg satin pants and tailored jackets. The stylist clamps gaping fabric with office binder clips, wraps tiny wrists in jingly gold bracelets and nothing-hips in gold waist chains. “Why do all these girls always have bruises on their knees?” the casting director whispers to one of the PR guys. His response is a hushed snicker that I cannot hear, but probably has something to do with Russian prostitutes and blow jobs. I want to interject, tell them that the reason is because they do not eat enough and everyone is to blame, but I don’t. I sit, silent.
Photo courtesy of D’ZineRug.
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