Back in Los Angeles, I did a lot of work called “informal modeling,” a type of job which essentially amounts to parading around a department store wearing shoes that aren’t your size and outfits that fit like latex, latching onto all your nooks and crannies with a vice grip, the result of being originally fitted to some 15-year-old supermodel living in New York. Often, their names would be left in the shoes I’d traipse around in — names like “Olga” and “Freja” written on a bit of tape and affixed to the insole, a constant reminder of my place in the fashion world.
My least favorite part of these days (aside from being given a sign to hold, emblazoned with the name of the designer I was currently wearing — a billboard for my failings as a professional pretty person) was when I would be ask to saunter through the downstairs café, weaving in between diners like a well-dressed, obnoxiously thin hostess. Because nothing makes a middle-aged woman more ravenous than watching someone half her age parade around in a dress she couldn’t fit her left calf into. It was perverse, ignorant marketing in the grandest sense.
“Hello, madam. Would you like to take a moment away from your pasta filled with four days worth of saturated fat to admire the craftsmanship of this corseted gown? How much is it? Oh, I don’t know, four… five thousand dollars? What’s that? Do I eat? Now, that’s an interesting question. Occasionally, yes, as one does. Just enough to sustain myself through these trying hours with you people. Shame burns calories you know.”
Needless to say, this interactive part of the job was not my strong suit. In fact, the entire “informal experience” – pretending to be excited about wearing clothes I could nary afford, patiently withstanding the “OH MY GOD I THOUGHT YOU WERE A MANNEQUIN” shouts of frightened shoppers, engaging with swooning salespeople just as bored with their day as I was with mine – constituted an occupation I could not endorse myself for wholeheartedly. Frankly, I was better at making smoothies at the juice bar I worked at in high school. One Mahalo Mango, coming right up!
There were other models who excelled at informals, met the challenges with an idiot’s grace and cheerful aplomb. They descended department store escalators as though entering their high school prom. They twirled in their trailing chiffon dresses, coyly giggling with customers as though being complimented at their engagement party (“What? This old thing!”). Mostly, I think, they were pros at shutting off their brains and tuning out the prideful part of them that likes to scream “YOUR LIFE WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE THIS!”
These kinds of jobs continued for years on end, though I never improved in the way one tends to when approaching any task with repetition. My resistance to the affair proved too stubborn, my pride too swollen. And so I would lazily walk between the gentry of Beverly Hills, half-voiced “hellos” leaking through the side of my mouth, putting one heel in front of the other, while the heat from my feet caused the “Olgas” and “Frejas” beneath my soles to bleed, smear, vanish into a similar insignificance. –Jenny Bahn