New York Fashion Week, 2004-ish or some shit. I’m waiting backstage at the ___________ show, my skin all porcelain and wrinkle free, my eyes so full of dumb hope, my thin limbs so full of promise. “You fit in just like the other models,” the producer tells me. “You’re just like one of the New York girls!”
When you’re working in Los Angeles, you are—as my dad likes to describe the horror of being cast aside and fiercely rebuked—treated “like a redheaded step-child.” While I’m personally a big fan of the ging and bear them no ill tidings (I heard people in Australia are legitimately afraid of the fiery ones; this may or not be true. That being said, I am 50% Aus and I feel nothing inherently Redhead Resistant in my blood if that means anything at all. Which it doesn’t.) So yeah, what the hell was I talking about? COMPLEXES. MODEL COMPLEXES.
There’s a difference between a “New York Girl” and an “LA Girl” when it comes to modeling. When you’re an “LA girl,” you are seen as an inferior bastard of the business, something only used as a last resort. And, yeah, there are a lot of girls in LA that work even though they, in my own snobbish estimation, should have withered away into boringly pretty obscurity on the homecoming queen court from whence they came. A lot of the girls in LA are just that—pretty in an expected, stereotypical way that I thought was beautiful before I became a darker, more horrible person, aesthetically in line with the rigorous, warped demands of any other judgmental person blindly entrenched in the New York fashion world.
It’s the argument of pretty versus weird pretty, and the inherent difference between the LA and NY scenes. I’ll elaborate.
My friend has been taking a perfumery course and his teacher described the difference between something unbearable (everything in The Body Shop) and something divine (my bottle of Tom Ford Black Orchid) and he said that it’s simply in a willingness to be unobvious, to not hit the nail on the head. If you make a “Cinnamon” candle with just some straight up spicy shit, you’re going to overwhelm the nose. But if you mix it up with a little musk, a little dirt, a little, I don’t know, sweat from your ex-boyfriend, it can magically evolve into something magnificent and vaguely implacable. So yeah, beauty in the fashion industry is like that. You take a girl with really beautiful wide-set eyes and long lashes and you give her a jacked-up nose from the relief sculpture of some Greco-Roman building and you’ve got yourself a goddamn Prada campaign. That’s the deal. End of story—the point of which is that LA girls are seen, from the New York perspective, as beauty clichés, as, to coin a cruder phrase, basic ass bitches. And you never want to be a basic ass bitch in fashion. (Unless you’re a basic ass bitch booking Old Navy campaigns, in which case, I’ll be basic all day erryday for that paycheck. Cha-chiiiinnngggggg.)
And so I’m here, standing backstage, wondering if anyone can smell me out. After years of hearing yourself be specifically differentiated from the New York girls, you begin to see yourself as inherently inferior, the dirt under Stella McCartney’s vegan shoe. Do they know this is the only show I’ve booked this week and that it’s really only because I’ve worked with the designer in LA for the last two years? Can they read it on my face that I don’t think I belong here, standing in the tents of New York Fashion Week? Or did my makeup artist do a good job covering up the bags under my eyes AND the raging inferiority complex covering my soul like a rash?
Chill, Jenny. Chill. You are worthy. You are worthy.
There is a picture somewhere documenting this silent freak-out. I’m standing next to the producer and the designer and surrounded by a small semi-circle of nearly anorexic beauties. In that semi-circle you will also find A) The girl who would go onto marry Caleb from Kings of Leon (aka Lily Aldridge) and B) Fucking Miranda Fucking Kerr.
All of us. Standing there. In the same circle. Pretty much living on the same planet together. Lily hadn’t yet booked Victoria Secret and Miranda was like, light years away from being the hottest MILF ever. And me, Jenny Bahn, was, uhhhhh, about seven years from turning 30 sort of gracefully? I’m trying to see the silver linings here.
But that’s the polarizing magic of this business. Every model is technically given the same platform from which to become the Next Big Thing, but very few actually get there. They are the 1%-ers of the industry. The ones who marry rock stars, fly around the world with business class tickets, make millions on millions on millions. And it all happens so quickly, if it ever does. You can be a nobody one minute and a somebody the next, posing with your beautiful butt cheeks on display for Mario Testino for the cover of GQ, and those beautiful butt cheeks will sell so many copies that the issue will one day go on record as being responsible for the deforestation of at least 300 square miles of the Amazon. Because Miranda Kerr, New York Girl Extraordinaire, has gone on to become an extremely sellable commodity. Meanwhile, I’ll just be standing here, pants down, waiting for someone to care.
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