Seventeen-year-old Maria sits quietly in the back of the casting van, studying Beijing’s traffic through the window’s dirty exterior.
“What’s wrong?” I say, prompting her to pull her headphones from her ears. A wisp of a girl from rural Russia, she is shy, soft-spoken and kind; today she radiates a lingering sadness in place of the usual teenage cheer she greets me with each morning. She is turning 18 next week and has never set foot in a nightclub. This is her first trip as a model. She shrugs.
“No work,” she says, turning towards me. “My roommate… work every day. What is wrong with me?”
This is why the most confident, interesting, and beautiful women I know aren’t models. They’re med students, they’re editors, they’re chefs, they’re kindergarten teachers—they’re wholesomely “normal,” in any profession that validates their sense of self-worth through hard work rather than the dismissive glance of a tired casting director.
When I started writing this blog, I started it with the sole intention of keeping it travel-based, sharing my adventures with family, friends, and even internet randoms who might somehow stumble upon the page (and it happens–got my first-ever fan letter from a stranger last week! Say what?). But after a year of whetting my wanderlust through these strange means, I feel this entry is necessary as a sort of public service announcement to those who may be misguided by the glinting veneer of this strange, strange subculture.
Models—at least female ones, but we’ll get to their male counterparts some other time—are ragingly insecure. Even the most arrogant* I’ve encountered fall to pieces over a missed booking or coolly appraising glance from a Client. (Captial C, thank you.)
*I’ve always considered aggressive narcissism to be the byproduct of insecurity—after all, if you’re talented, people will recognize it without your braying acknowledgment.
At 25, I’m no longer afraid to admit this to myself. Modeling is just something I did for awhile, like any hobby you fixate on for a brief period of time. It’s not who I am.
You learn to appraise your physical exterior with the objectivity of buying something at the supermarket. I’m acutely aware of what’s “wrong with me”: the ability to comfortably shrug on “gargantuan” size-6 pants after two weeks of living in Italy; pale, sensitive skin that turns cherry-tomato red after a simple scrubbing or crass remark; unmanageably coarse Persian hair that simply refuses to stand still. I accept these things and acknowledge them. I see them in the bathroom mirror each morning and have learned to love them in the way only you can when growing into yourself. And it’s not like I need a sartorially-refined Greek chorus of art directors to point these out—after all, participating in a fake beauty pageant in the middle of Inner Mongolia isn’t exactly Vogue Italia. But at 17 or in a different mindset, all of this vocalized “wrongness” can destroy you.
“If only you could just…”
Lose 10 pounds (that’s everyone). Grow 2 inches (everyone not 5’11.). Tweak your nose a bit (Two people. One went through with it.) Fix that smidge of a birthmark on your left wrist (One. She got a tattoo instead.)
“You would be perfect.”
I’m not that jaded. All women have this internal voice. It’s often supplemented by the subtle shoulder-jabbing of advertising. It’s just that with those who choose to market their exterior as a profession–and, yes, they must acknowledge it is a choice–all of these “If Only’s” are publicly acknowledged. Loudly, countless times (sometimes in Chinese). The ultimate irony, perhaps, lies in the clichéd teenage girl’s mounting feelings of inferiority while flipping through the pages of a magazine, not realizing that those who comprise its pages are perhaps more insecure than she is. And, usually, they’re just teenagers, too.
As for me, I’m cool. I think I’m done with this. I’ve peeked through looking glass—or, rather, shop window—and decided it’s just not a world I want to inhabit any longer. Maybe I’ll change my mind one day. But for now, I’m perusing paid internships and places to live in NYC.
The most interesting and beautiful women I know aren’t models, though they may assume that identity right now. They’re people—imperfectly and gloriously so. Maybe one day they’ll realize that, too. If only.
Here are some snaps from Italy to distract from the rant. Promise to be funnier next time.
Professions of faith inside Milan’s Duomo, the 4th largest cathedral in the world and the only Gothic cathedral in Italy. Notre Dame, who? (see below)
Interior shot of Teatro alla Scala, the famed Italian opera house where we saw Giselle, gratis. My friend in Italy is best friends with its ushers. They love her there–as does everyone. She’s just one of those people.
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which now houses Prada, Gucci, and, yes McDonald’s.
Surveying the new kids in town at Milan Fashion Week.
Rehearsal for Jil Sander, where, later, its very talented creative director, Raf Simons, presented his final collection.
The best models at Milan Fashion Week were to be found off-runway.
Having a moment at Venetian Carnivale.
The Swan Queen reigns supreme in Venice.
Wouldn’t be a post about Venice without a few Gondolas in row–er, tow. Yeah, yeah. Bad one, but I had to.
Some of the masks were just insane. A good day for a disguise, no?
Embraces at Lake Como, where we passed the time with a $2.00 bottle of wine and morose couple-stalking. Was a beautiful day.