It was the summer of 2007. Whitney Brown and I decided after watching The Devil Wears Prada that we should move to New York for a few months. So we did. My intention, of course, was to get with a good agency and finally make it modeling. But meeting after meeting after meeting came the ego bruising barrage of “No thank yous.” There was one agency that was actually excited about me although I can’t say I was terribly excited about them. The owner had been in the business so long that she was actually someone that would say, “Oh honey, I’ve been in this business so long…” People that say that have thirteen grandchildren and their voices croak from years of cigarette abuse. Their roster of models weighed heavily on the “Over Thirty” set and was partially balanced by the “I Might be Tall but I’m Fat and Ugly” twenty somethings. They took me on. I was horrified.
A few weeks into castings for clients I have never heard of and clothing companies that would never come near Vogue editorials, I booked my first job. It’s 9 am and I am lying in my bed adorned with one singular orange bed sheet and no pillows. Some dude from my shit agency calls me and asks if I want to work. “Sure,” I say. I had since given up on the idea of making money this summer and relegated my expectations to riding bikes through Brooklyn and sitting on fire escapes writing. “It’s easy cash. One hundred an hour. You won’t be there too long.” I agree to this vague notions he lies before me. He gives me the address. It’s in Queens. What the fuck? “It’s going to take you about an hour to get there on the train so you’ll need to leave now,” he says. I ask him what the name of the client is. I will be working for Ruby’s Costume Company.
Great. Glamorous. My life sucks, relatively. I sit on the train and when I am the last Caucasian on it, it’s my stop. I walk down the platform and onto a street that looks straight out of “Summer of Sam.” A nebbish little man spots me and asks if I’m looking for Ruby’s. I say yes and he walks me over to what looks like an burnt out building and opens the door. “Go on in,” he says.
The room is dark save the lighting equipment for the shoot illuminating the photographer, a paper seamless, and the backside of a very large man. Although I am unsure whether at that moment he qualified as a man. He wears a plastic helmet, a giant cape, and holds a plastic sword with a plastic sheath and as he “models” his garb he roars. I want to turn around and run out the door but I’ve already been spotted by the team. Fuck me.
I get directed into the makeup room which looks more like a kindergarten arts and crafts room than anything else. Shelves are lined with mannequin heads sporting terrifying expressions that would scare small children. My makeup artist’s name is Deborah. She wears thick glasses and a Tommy Hilfiger shirt and the first thing she says to me is, “Looks like someone needs a facial.” I want to tell her she should pay someone to dye her hair instead of using whatever boxed red she’s been using but I keep my mouth shut.
There is another female model there. She is pregnant and has wiry gray hairs down the part of her head. She sits in the makeup chair deliberating on names for her unborn child. I come to learn that the large man model is Tom and he used to be a football player and when he leaves, the crew thanks him for bringing bagels. He is a sweet ogre. These two people apparently work for this client often. The thought of which gives me anxiety.
Deborah finishes her magic and I look like a cakey old whore. Mission accomplished. There are two “stylists” in charge of changing me and accessorizing. They are both in their mid forties and barely pushing five feet tall. I put on my first costume, a sexy race car driver. There is an eight inch gap where the fabric bends outward at the chest and where my boobs end. Stylist One takes me into the changing room, hands me a 34 C bra, stuffs cutlets inside and proceeds to harness everything in with faux bondage tape. I look like I’m about to shoot a flying scene in a pornography in front of a green screen. Stylist One leads me back into the makeup room where Deborah paints cleavage on my bony sternum. I catch myself in the mirror. I thank God for never giving me tits because these things make me look like a two hundred pound German masseuse and not like the superstar costume model I actually am.
The obscene breasts are quite fitting for everything that occurs over the course of the next few hours. I am often instructed to bend my torso forward, meaning “More boobs, less everything else.” The stylist’s instructions become increasingly specific as the day proceeds. In my adult Christmas costume they tell me to pretend to lick the magic wand they would be changing to a candy cane in Photoshop. One of them is kind enough to give me a visual demonstration of her own. Oh, how I am thus inspired. This is the same costume that comes with little white panties with “Santa’s Little Ho Ho Ho” written across the bum. And yes, I do have to turn around for a back shot, lifting my skirt, looking naughtily into the camera.
With another adult Christmas costume I get a ribbon wrapped box. “Could you hold the present closer to your face? Like…look what I’ve got here for you, baby…” I do it, although I can’t exactly figure out what she thinks could be in that box that would fit her description. A dick? I don’t get it.
The other outfits are a little more demure. We do a couple headshots where I get a chance to relax and sit on a stool in front of the camera. There is the witch’s glamor shot where they tell me use my “bedroom eyes.” This is followed by the donning of a Santa Hat and posing in a style quite reminiscent of my senior year graduation shot. However this time I have little desire to purchase fifty wallet size prints to send out to friends and family.
At 4:30, the day officially ends. I cover my painted chest with the clothes I came in with and wipe off my makeup with tissue paper. I say goodbye to these people I will never see again, ever in my life. And when I get out of ear’s distance, I call my agency and drop them.
Trust me, I tried to find my own images but I’m afraid I was two years too late on that one.