Sharing Crotch Space with Strangers

October 19, 2012 Comments Off on Sharing Crotch Space with Strangers


There are girls sitting against the walls in dusty corners.  The few chairs that inhabit the lobby (if you can call it a lobby) are already occupied by tiny asses (if you can call them asses) or Celine bags.  I scan the room for a sign-in sheet, which there surely is one judging from the lacking undercurrent of anxiety that generally accompanies a potential for rule breaking and lawlessness.  Take my unmarked, unnumbered place, bitch, and I will cut you!  No, there is definitely order in this room.  An order of the very bored kind.

I sign in.

Number 91.

I push an aforementioned Celine bag to the center of a bench so I can sit down and rest my weary bones.  Everyone in here looks like they’re starting hour five of driving school so I imagine I’ll be here for the rest of the afternoon if that serves as any accurate indication.  May as well get comfortable.

“Number 72, 73, and 74.”

Some bland, porridge-looking girl calls out the numbers we have since traded our given names for upon entering the room.  “You can change now,” she instructs.

The “change” in question is the removal of our winter/spring 2012 garments and into something, you know, a little more comfortable…i.e. their lingerie.  It wouldn’t have been enough to have simply asked all the models to show up in their own adorable, purchased-for-boys-but-now-have-to-wear-in-public bra and panty sets, not an unreasonable request given the girl they hire will likely not be required to have lumps in any places but the right ones.  No, they want to see us in their undies, their bras, of which there are only three sets in total.

As I stare at the backside of Number 74, noting the way in which the stretchy white fabric has begun to wrench its way into the crevice of her (surprisingly ample) ass, I calculate some figures.

91/3 = 30.3

Okay, so 30.3 vaginas will have been pressed against whatever pair of underwear I am so lucky to be handed some three hours from now.  Granted, everyone (dear god, please, everyone) is keeping their little g-strings on underneath, but there’s a reason Victoria Secret doesn’t let you try on underwear, little protective plastic crotch patch be damned.

30.3 x .25 = 7.57

That’s the number of girls standing in this room – statistically speaking – who are likely infected with some sexually transmitted disease.


How many minutes I will need to pretend I haven’t done these various calculations in my head while I wait, standing half-naked in front of a room full of pretty girls while some aging photographer dude with an ambiguously foreign accent turns pages of another model’s portfolio with an E    X   C    R   U   T   I   A   T   I    N   G  slowness until it’s my turn for him to do the same.  Oh, joy.  Lucky me.


The number of minutes I’ve been here by the time they get to the next three girls.

“Number 75, 76, 77.”

I’ve already contemplated an exit, but I have recently discovered the British gentleman with the salt-and-pepper hair manning a laptop in the corner.  “Hey, Thomas?” someone asks him.  He’s British and his name is Thomas and I like his hair.  I decide to give this thing a few more minutes.

A girl I know from Los Angeles comes in and sits down next to me, the owner of the Celine handbag having already left and taken her $3,000 leather tote with her.

“How long have you been here?” she asks.

“Who the fuck knows…my whole life?”

We talk about her haircut.  We talk about my old haircut.  We talk about apartments in Roosevelt City vs. apartments in the West Village.  When we run out of things to talk about, we both tend to our respective cell phones.

Another girl I know from LA comes in.

“How long have you been here?”


“Have you been back to LA recently?”

“No, I wish.”

Like most casting conversations, this one extinguishes quickly as well, a flash-fire of feeling generally human for a moment or two until you begin to more wholly devote your attention to the anticipation of the ultimate moment of dehumanization, a reality that is clearly presented itself as I make judgments in my head about the new crop of girls standing half-naked in front of me.  Bow-legged, she looked better with clothes on.  Big arms, are models allowed to have big arms?  Wonderful ass, I wonder what she does!

I’ve been here almost an hour.  Thomas still hasn’t looked my direction.  Girls begin to lose patience and walk quietly out a glass door.  And as I watch Number 82 sit down, cross her legs, and get otherwise nice and cozy with her new pair of underwear (which, I may as well presume will be my pair of underwear) while she chit chats on her iPhone like this lobby were her living room, I realize that I’m too old for this shit – this assumption that I’m too dim to acknowledge the shared-crotch space and extremely unwanted intimacy, the wasted time vs. potential income earned, the generalized inconsiderate nature of what we are being asked to do – and, like a big girl, I gather my things, put on my coat, and walk right out the door.



2 Illegit 2 Quit Part I

October 19, 2012 Comments Off on 2 Illegit 2 Quit Part I

The email for the casting says specifically “do not be late.” I imagine my booker sitting on the other side of the computer writing this, wagging her finger and squinting her eyes menacingly. Must be important, I think.

I wake up at 7 and wait til 9:30 to get ready for the casting at 11, which I’ll have to leave my apartment for at 10. I spend the morning incapable of getting anything done. That’s how it goes; when I’m modeling, everything else falls to the wayside, as though my brain has to prepare itself for not being used, has to start the slow process of stifling the frequencies. Flight attendants, please prepare the cabin for landing.

From about 8 til 9, I watch Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower” about twelve times and crawl around the floor of my bedroom, wondering if the neighbors beneath me have any idea what I do with my spare time.

When I arrive, there are already three girls ahead of me on the list. The client isn’t here yet. So much for that previously mentioned urgency.

I stand in the hallway.

I wait.

And wait.

And wait.

I squat against a wall, talking to a girl who has obviously been modeling for a handful of months not yet amounting to a year. She still has that dumb, fruitful excitement that I recognize in myself as being three or four years dead. She’s babbling about some test shoot she has that afternoon, about modeling in Miami, about getting into a row with her mother agency and redoing her book. God, I hate these conversations.

Music from the late nineties is playing overhead. Soul For Real “Candy Rain.” Mariah Carey “Fantasy.” I’d say something to the tune of “This song reminds me of 3rd grade!” but I’d be dating myself. Most of the girls in here were still crawling when all these songs came out. They have no vivid memories of Mariah Carey rollerblading on a boardwalk wearing denim cut-offs and wrist protectors, singing into the camera with lips painted brown, her eyebrows tweezed into insignificance, cheeks covered in matte, shine resistant powder.

Shoo do do do do do do do yeah…

The client arrives. Twenty minutes late. By now, there are thirty of us flanking the walls, waiting patiently because that’s part of our job. Waiting. Waiting and looking pretty and being thin. That’s about it.

The first girl goes. Ten minutes later, the next one follows. It’s 11:40 and we’re only on the third model. I look around the corner to see what’s going on. The client, a man, is talking with a model wearing gray jeans. I can tell immediately, without even hearing him, that he is insane. He’s talking too close and too much. No one talks with a model this much at a casting. In fact, you are hardly spoken to at all. She stands there nodding her head, not having the foggiest idea as to what is going on.

“I think this guy is a lunatic,” I say to Betina, the model sitting next to me. “Just look.” Betina crawls over my legs, stretching her long pale neck to catch a glimpse.

Eleven minutes of straight talking later, the victim emerges, bewildered.

I walk in and place my book down on the table, trying to convey a sense of urgency because I’ve decided to wear heels all day and I don’t feel like standing here for fifteen minutes.

“Tell me who you are?” he says.

“Jenny Bahn.”

He scrolls down a list on his smart phone, telling me he needs to see who he has written down and who he doesn’t.

“I’m assuming you know about this job,” he starts, “which is to say, you know nothing.”

I resist the urge to tell him that’s pretty much how it always is. Show up now, find out later. I don’t give a shit about what I’m doing; I just care about the money. You could have me dancing around with three hundred monkeys in a trailer park wearing fur and carrying an assault rifle and you wouldn’t have to tell me what I was doing ahead of time. If you pay me, I’ll do it. This is where the line between modeling and prostitution becomes a gray area.

“So the show is on Saturday. We’ll have a rehearsal on Friday from 6:30 to 9. It’s 100 dresses,” he continues. “Have you ever done runway?”

“Yes,” I say.

“For who?”

I list off a handful of designers.

“Okay, you don’t have to say anything else,” he responds, my answers somehow validating my career. “So ordinarily, there are only 30, 40 dresses in a show,” he continues. “And we’re going to have, like I said, 100. To keep people from getting bored…”

He starts drawing out the staging formations he has planned for the show with a bejeweled pen, moving his hand over the table like he’s making up football plays. Part I is this. Part II is this. Part III is this. He says something about a hair change.

By now, I am highly disturbed, because everything that’s happened over the last four minutes indicates that this person is not professional and has never casted anything in his life. And yet here he is, standing in my agency, meeting models, taking their names, shaking their hands. There should be background checks before we go on these things, some sort of security procedure to keep us away from psychopaths and pedophiles.

But there’s not.

He explains to me that he’s a press photographer during fashion week. Indeed, a laminated press pass hangs around his neck. But it’s not fashion week anymore, and I find this highly strange.

I look at his hands to see if there is any evidence of his possibly being homeless. He’s a rumpled thing, this man, and anything’s possible. He reminds me of this other photographer who stands outside the Starbucks on Prince and Spring, waiting for pretty girls to walk past so he can say, “Hey, you’re a model. Can I take your picture?” No matter how many times you’ve seen him, he never remembers you, only asks the same question and hands you a business card that takes you to a bizarre beta site with unedited thumbnails of countless strangers.

While he’s talking, I assess him further. His hair is unnaturally brown, given his age, and hangs around his face in bluntly chopped streams, everything contained by a white baseball cap. He reminds me of Iggy Pop dressed up like Anthony Kiedis for Halloween, wearing clothes two sizes too big and a brown wig. Each of his teeth is hugged by the blackened lines of inattentive hygiene. And his eyes, indeed, are those of a crazy person.

He’s still talking, telling me that they have money in place for the show, that the agency will invoice him on Monday and everyone will get their money right away. “I’m a freelancer, too,” he says, “I know how it goes.”

Each sentence that comes out of his mouth further diminishes the legitimacy of this job. In fact, I’m fairly sure there isn’t a job at all. All this time, my book has been sitting on the table, completely ignored. He hasn’t stood back from me at a distance to assess my body type, looked at my measurements, judged me in any useful way. Real casting directors exact with the ruthless precision of a newly sharpened scythe. This guy cuts through the task like a dull and rusty butter knife.

He’s wrapped up his spiel. “So,” he starts. “Do you want to do it?”

2 Illegit 2 Quit Part II

October 19, 2012 Comments Off on 2 Illegit 2 Quit Part II

The show is happening, apparently. I get an email from my booker confirming a fitting on Friday and a show on Saturday. Based off past experiences, I ask how much the rate is, prepared to drop out if it’s paying $20, per my expectations.

It’s not horrible.

I confirm.

Through a maze of absolutely appalling bridal gowns, I find the stage where the show will be. One hundred dresses, eighteen designers — some of whom are threatening to back out because there were only supposed to be ten. Now the show is oversaturated, complicated, and, as everyone is quickly starting to find out, run by an insane person.

“They don’t care,” I hear one complain, “they got the money already, didn’t they?”

I don’t like the feeling that I am a part of some sort of fashion scam, taking the hard-earned cash of small designers who probably can’t afford the expense to begin with. My second thought is that they’ll sue afterward, and I won’t be getting my money. Oh, well. One day out of my reasonably short life. Worse things have happened. Like that time I had to stand in a window on Rodeo Drive and model dresses for twelve hours while Japanese tourists took pictures and shopped for the holidays. The owner of the store wanted to wire Christmas lights through my hair (and plug them in). I declined.

Mr. Lunatic Producer is here, running around like a person who doesn’t know what he’s doing. His voice rasps when he calls out the names of all the models.

“How many girls we gawt?” he says, his mouth filled with giant chunks of teeth, hair swinging in front of his face. He looks like part of the road crew for Led Zeppelin.

I check myself into hair and makeup. Two women curl my hair from behind, talking and chatting and making jokes. They’re new.

Next is makeup, where I sit down in front of a woman who alternates between dragging her finger against the smudged surface of her Samsung Smartphone to check Facebook and dragging it against my closed eyelid. I want to express my general concern for my health and well being – maybe even mention how I don’t care so much for pink eye – but I say nothing, even as she double dips her mascara wand into its tube, collecting black gunk and the bacteria from a thousand eyeballs and jamming it next to my own. I’m shocked I haven’t gone blind yet.


Mr. Lunatic rounds the corner, exasperated that half of us are in hair and makeup and half of us are waiting to rehearse. He’s got some “diamond shape” thing he needs to work out – meaning, it’s not working but he’s going to have us rehearse it for a whole hour we don’t have.

Twenty-five of us stand in a disorganized row, our hair and makeup in various stages of completion.


Mr. Lunatic is looking in our direction. He could be screaming at one of three of us.



The girl in front of me points to her chest.


Out of rubbernecking curiosity, I look in the corner myself. There’s nothing going on there; interns are organizing shoes.

As of this moment, we have not been instructed as to what the hell is going on; we’ve just been told to get near the entrance of the runway. For most of us, this directive has never been accompanied by the assumption that we are only to look in front of us, at the back of some girl’s head, military style.


“I got my eye on you, Mimi,” he says, a creepy smiling twisting into life on his face and then walking away.

“I’m not Mimi,” the girl whispers to us.

“Yeah, I know. I’m Mimi,” says another, annoyed she’s been sucked into this bullshit.

He returns, and for a long, confusing stretch of time he opens and closes his mouth and words come out.

“The first girl goes there and the second girl goes there and then the third and you only go when the fourth one comes out and then she moves to the left and you to the right and then you come back over on this side and exit and then she moves to the center and you stand there for three seconds. It’s like baseball. You girls every heard of baseball?”

My brain can’t handle this.

We run rehearsal for an hour. Nobody is getting it. He’s angry and yelling. A lot.


Yeah, buddy. I’m listening to it, and it fucking sucks. He goes on to tell us that this isn’t your normal bridal show; it’s a kick ass, rock-and-roll fashion show, as indicated by the use of Lady Gaga’s 2009 hit, “Paparazzi.”

I look around the line at the rest of the models. I’m sorry, I meant “models.” Out of 25, there are probably 5 that should actually be working. The rest of the girls have butts, boobs, and big arms – three fashion no-nos. Their bodies are soft like puddy, marred by an unprofessional doughiness. At least three of them look like cast members from Glee or Real Housewives.

The girl in front of me, an avian thing with bleached blonde hair and a prominent nose (one of the six who looks like a model), goes off on her theory about how there is no work for the in between girl. “You either size two or size ten, zat’s it,” she says. “If you a four, forget about it.”

That theory does not apply here. This show is like the United Nations of cup sizes and cellulite.

If I sound like a bitch, it’s because I’ve been subjected to the critical appraisal of others for the better part of ten years. Oh, Jenny! Did you eat cookies this weekend? Jenny, I hate to ask you this, but did you put on weight? Don’t worry; we’ll put this on someone smaller. In turn, I’ve become as harshly judgmental as the people who hire me. It’s a ruthless way of looking at the world, one measured by the surface and nothing else.

These standards do not apply to normal people; these standards only apply to models, who are paid to be abnormal. Abnormally beautiful, abnormally tall, abnormally thin. A bunch of Avatar-looking freaks.


Lunatic Producer is back to model-specific screaming, having singled out the avian girl.


I’m pretty sure this all qualifies as harassment. Then again, we’re just a bunch of non-unionized idiots.

“Yes, I speak English, sir. And I’m not looking at you because there is a big light behind you and it burns my eyes when I look up.”

Score 1: Team Tall People.

I duck out of rehearsal to finish my makeup with Sticky Fingers. She works a brush filled with thick foundation over my face, filling in the skin like spackle. With a smaller one, I feel her painting between the inner corners of my eyes and down the side of my nose.

“So how long have you been modeling?”

Ugh. This conversation again.

“Ten years.”

“Do you love it?”

She mixes a lethal combination of pink and coral on the side of her hand and mashes it into my lips. I can do nothing more than making an unenthusiastic creaking noise with my mouth, something amounting to a combination of “Errrrrr” and “Meeehhhhh.” I can feel my impatience for modeling becoming a dangerous liability.

“Alright, you’re all set,” she says. I feel like I’m wearing one of those Nixon Halloween masks with the cutout eyes and a slit for a mouth. My pores aren’t breathing. I look the mirror. She’s contoured my face into a bronze bust of some Greek dude.

The rest of the evening goes by about as horribly as I would imagine. The show is by and large a total disaster. They’ve changed their minds so many times that no one knows what’s going on. Girls keep shouting “straight down” or “diamond” and half the time we end up on the runway looking like brainless, bug-eyed morons. It goes on for a whole hour. By the end of it, the room is cooking with high-powered lights and too many bodies.

The music ends and the people clap, tired and eager to get out of the room. I rush towards my heap of real-girl clothes, throwing on pants and shoes and running away, quick as I can, past more bad bridal gowns – a nightmare of cheap beads and bad satin.

Story of my life.

Robert Hamada

February 2, 2011 Comments Off on Robert Hamada

Easy Money

February 2, 2011 Comments Off on Easy Money

We are getting ready for market, a time when designers show off their most recently viewed collections to buyers from small boutiques and department stores.  The runway is the impossible glamour; this is the reality: me, a B-Model, sitting in a makeshift cubicle about 5’ x 3’ filled with three other people, wearing nothing but a nude thong while I wait for someone to hand me something to try on.  These are dreadful days that make your brain regret the day they were born in conjunction with your decent enough looks and abnormal height.  “Oh, why couldn’t we have done something better together!” my brain screams, “We were once so capable!”

Article No. 43 for the day: a one-piece cashmere jumper in khaki that costs nearly $800.  It fits and feels like a pair of pajamas.  Drawstring waist.  Narrow straps.  I walk in front of a series of tables formed together in a U-shape, behind which dozens of people sit with pens and paper and glazed over eyes.  My heels don’t fit and I watch as the sides of my feet turn purple where the patent leather isn’t showing.  I shove my hands in my pockets and walk forward, wobbling towards sales reps.

“It’s supposed to be baggier,” I hear from behind me, “But she’s bigger.”  I think she says the words “than normal.”  “Normal” being a fourteen-year-old who hasn’t hit puberty.  “Normal” being a six-foot-tall size zero.  “Normal” being ribs you can play music off of and thighs that have four inches of clearance between one another.  Fuck you people and fuck your normal.

My ears burn and I feel my hands begin to throb arthritically like they do when I’m upset and burying things deep.  I turn around, making sure to keep my gaze off of the woman who just called me fat in front of twenty-five people.  The rest of the day I don’t look at anyone because I hate them all.  I hate them because no one cares about me and I’m sick about caring about what I look like for people like this.  I’m sick of trying on clothes that aren’t my own and aren’t my size.  I’m sick of feeling inadequate and overfed even though I haven’t had a piece of birthday cake in ten years.  I’m sick of picking the cheese of my salads and taking the bread off my sandwiches.

The small comment ruins what is left of my day, because, at the end of it all, I am just a girl playing dress up.  I shut my brain off so as to not hear any further comments about the size of my ass and I watch the day disappear through big windows looking out onto the Hudson.  There are two buildings to the north and they dissolve in shades of gold then pink then purple.  There is so much beauty out there and I feel so awful and ugly.

I continue to put on clothes that squeeze my calf muscles in a way that makes me feel they – like my hips – are too big for my body.  The girl I am working with has hypergymnasia, chain-drinks green tea, and eats only raw food bars.  Her breasts are half-inflated balloons that cling to the ribs protecting her vital organs.  No one says anything to her about the clothes fitting or not fitting; this is the reward for having an effective eating disorder.

This whole day is an experience I have often – the consequence of being the Fat Model, a girl who under any normal circumstance would be considered underweight but within the industry deemed “healthy.”  You learn to loathe that word even.  Healthy.  “Healthy” means you eat cookies when you shouldn’t and you have an undesirable flush to your cheeks.  This world prefers the dead – girls with brittle hair and see-through skin and arms that have the angular softness of working protractors.  After days like this I am torn between rebelling against the system and eating thirty-pounds of cheesecake and force retirement or losing thirty pounds myself so I never have to hear shit like this.

I go back the next day, as I will be doing every day this week, to face a team of Italian designers who will rub their chins while trying to figure out if it’s the pattern that’s wrong or if it’s my body.  The dresses gape around my waist and squeeze around my hips.  “American women,” they say, “Have different body types.”  They talk about me with foreign words and in metric units.  I stand in another pair of shoes that still don’t fit, wide-eyed and stupid until someone shoos me away.

The prospect of repeating the feeling like a cow every day this week sends my head swimming through a fog of fragile insecurities.  I call my doctor, asking to be prescribed anti-anxiety medication because I know that I am going to need it to get me through until Friday.  On the subway en route, I write myself a pep talk: “Remember this is going to be over soon.  Remember that the money is to sustain you so you can write.  You are more than these people could ever possibly see.  So much more.”  This is what my job has become: a cause for self-help and self-medication.

I take the elevator up a floor that is high enough to jump out of for a fruitful suicide if need be.  “I will give you no more of me,” I tell myself as I walk through the doors, passing shelves of fake leather bags and racks of clothing waiting to be whored.


Isa Jacob

December 22, 2010 Comments Off on Isa Jacob


Once every five years, this is the best job in the world

December 22, 2010 Comments Off on Once every five years, this is the best job in the world

The streets are quiet and the sky a post-blackened blue, softening from the bottom up over the black corners of buildings and cobblestone streets covered in amber light.  I walk towards the studio, located on a block I lived off of and never knew was there.  Outside, a tall and deeply tanned man with a sharply groomed beard and penciled in eyebrows drags on a cigarette.  We say nothing to each other even though we are the only ones on the street and it is obvious that he is involved in the beauty department.  Hair, makeup, whatever.  I pull on heavy metal doors and follow the signs downstairs.

“Hello?” I call out into a well-lit room with buttercup colored walls.  Two men appear out of nowhere, extending firm handshakes and good eye contact.  They are the responsible individuals in charge of production: the people who plan and execute an idea, the emotionally tied freelancers.  The rest of us pop in and pop out, do whatever someone else asks of us, and move onto the next.  We just have to show up, preferably on time; that’s our job.  Most of the time we never even see the finished product from our day’s work, which is truly a reflection of how there is rarely a pride in accomplishment on our end.  The models are beautiful, that’s really it.  At the end of the day, we get our paychecks and spend our money, and there is some gratification in that, but not much.

The director, a preppy blonde in a blue pullover sweater with the white collar of his button up shirt peaking out from underneath, reminds me of an American Hugh Grant.  He is accompanied by a brunette boy wearing snug pants and sporting some methodically tussled hair in accidental homage to Russell Brand.  I can’t tell if it’s just the four hours of sleep that I was able to squeeze out of the night before, but these boys are actually attractive and, as far as I can tell, straight.  This is possibly the best job I’ve had in nearly five years.

I am directed upstairs to “Holding” – a lofted area with big leather couches and a flat screen TV the size of one of my apartment walls.  There are four director’s chairs, one for each model.  I stare over the railing at the production below, a series of thick cotton dividers creating two compartmentalized sets: a fake salon, a fake runway.  Movie magic.

The other girls trickle in, finding their places to exist within the expansive holding area.  Downstairs, there are two tables filled with crisp pastries and bowls of fruit, coffee and juices, yogurt and granola.  I watch a hipless girl in light gray leggings smear cream cheese over a wheat bagel.  The production team goes for heartier fare: wedges of frittata and a scoop of roasted potatoes.  Everything is from a green catering company in the neighborhood; the ingredients are locally grown and the utensils are compostable.  This is what happens when a company has a budget and the production team has a conscious.

There is little to do on our part over the course of the next few hours.  One of the models organizes crumpled receipts for her 2010 taxes.  Another falls asleep on the sofa.  The last drinks tea and works on her third cup of yogurt.  I sit, watching the handsome director mill about and listening for the sound of his voice, deep and thoughtful.  By the end of the day, I have fallen in love with someone on account of how they can give directions without being condescending and how they can yell, “Quiet, please!” without sounding like a dick.

There is a marked difference between jobs such as this and the ones I have become begrudgingly accustomed to – the jobs with no budgets and shitty lunches, harried designers and multiple racks of clothing filled with zippers that nip at your ribcage and denim with no stretch, the jobs that go on until they are over and when they are over you want to fucking kill yourself.  Here, we have a room filled with professionals trying to make a beautiful, quality promotional product.  The director knows what he is doing.  The models know what they are doing.  There is an expectation for a certain level of performance and the environment itself creates that.  There is no frantic hair pulling or yelling or making people feel badly about themselves.  Unsurprisingly, these are the easiest days.  Ironically, these are the ones you get paid the most for.

Three hours go by and I am still just sitting in the loft, wondering how I am going to flirt with the director.  Tough day.

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