Modeling: A Guidebook for Sucking


“Alright, I’ll take Henry, Nicole, Jenny, and Gina.”

The casting director is peering over her glasses onto a clipboard, that familiar sheet of paper that has become the equivalent of clocking in at an unpaid job for the last ten years. State your name, write your phone number, fill out a size card. Our people will call your people.

“Everyone come inside.”

The commercial is for something hair related. I don’t even bother to look, but it says on the size card that I’ve just filled out with mostly deflated numbers (33’’ 25’’ 34’’) that if I book the job, I am aware that someone has the license to cut and color my hair—that being part of the gig and, more importantly, the level of compensation. I look at these side note stipulations as the equivalent of safety waivers schools and camps made your parents sign before field trips, something they could point to when you lost both of your hands or, in my brother’s real-life case, three front teeth, and say, “Hey! You signed this, buddy! Not our problem!”

Castings are like being a toddler again, and having to use the restroom under the supervision of a parent.

She brings us all into the casting room, which is always an odd combination of warm and clinical. The light is soft and the temperature routinely tepid, but the instruments—the glare of the computer screen, the dilated lens of a camera, the white seamless backdrop—are too procedural to intimate real comfort. You’re here for a reason, and that reason is money. They want money. You want money. Money, money, money. If I had to put this sentiment into a song, it would be less the swagged-out, slick-hustle disco jams of The O’Jay’s “For the Love of Money” and more the darker, subversive, impoverished and striving “Money, Money, Money” from Abba, which probably isn’t the way you should walk into a room where all anyone wants you to do is bounce around and grin like an dolt.

“Better with everyone in here all at once, isn’t it?” the casting director enthuses. I can assure her that it is not. Standing in front of strangers doing whatever it is that she is going to want us to do is the embarrassing equivalent of having someone wrench the door open while you’re peeing in a public loo. There are some things you’d like to keep in private. Castings are like being a toddler again, and having to use the restroom under the supervision of a parent, wishing everyone would just go away and leave you alone but knowing you’re too young to make such an absurd request. You do it, but only because you have to.

The first victim is called to the stage, where she stands above a Sharpie-drawn happy face as her mark and slates her name. I keep my head down and field emails to give this poor woman some privacy. The casting director says things like “smile!” and “that’s just what we’re looking for!” while the flash of a camera bounces off of the white ground. They exchange mutual appreciation and the girl leaves the room.

“Jenny, you’re up.”

I stand on my mark. The Sharpie happy face is surprisingly effective in making me feel normal. That is until the casting director asks me to just look around the room and have a good fake laugh, smile as though I’m on a catalog shoot, flirt with some invisible man passing me on the street. Aimlessly, I shift between poses like in idiot mime. Whatever glimmer an eye possesses has certainly left mine; I feel them dull and dead as an old butter knife, peering out into oblivion while I sense the blank stares of my peers burning into my thighs as they admire my ineptitude like a fire rapidly consuming the paper tinder of a defenseless old house.

The phrase “That’s just what we’re looking for” does not pass her lips.

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