Melissa Stetten's Bratwalk

Everyone in My Hometown Thinks I'm a Superstar

When in reality I can't even afford to buy them a beer.

Melissa Stetten

Melissa Stetten

As much as every smug fuck with a blow out in Whole Foods likes to pretend they’re a native New Yorker, no one really comes from Manhattan or downtown LA. Sorry to everyone out there who thinks the skyscrapers are where they put all the Goodfellas and Wanderers when they escape their lives of street crime and make it big, but these places are actually just inhabited by the most rich and attractive people from the small, shitty nowhere towns littered across North America. Not in a bad way; I'm from one of those shitty nowhere towns myself – Kalamazoo, Michigan, to be precise. And, if I’m essentially a sort of sexy ambassador, I think I’m doing a pretty good job of representing my hometown. It’s between me and that baseball player Derek Jeter who fucked Mariah Carey, so it would be kind of awful if I was doing it any worse than he was.

I’m not like, famous famous, but last year I got some press attention after I tweeted about this married actor’s awful attempt to flirt with me on a plane. Plus, I’ve been in two seconds of a car commercial (approx). Unfortunately, being from such a small town, the people I grew up with don’t understand quite how wide the spectrum of success is. After you’ve become a bit of a celebrity (and I mean "celebrity" in the loosest – LOOSEST – possible sense) everyone assumes you’re living the dream, and are about to star in your own reality TV show. What they don’t understand is how hard it really is.

No, I’m not whining about paparazzi: I’m fucking broke. The last time I checked my account balance I felt like I’d just seen Michael Jackson’s face develop from child to adult in a series of high-speed flashes. I.e, fucking terrified.

When I occasionally swap my very fancy apartment in Koreatown (our neighbours have an indoor chicken and cook meth in their bathroom) for my working class hometown, I’m constantly asked about how awesome my life is. People genuinely think that because I’ve been on television for less than 30 seconds I must be a millionaire. It’s true that working actors and models make a decent living, but in a good month I’ll book about four jobs. This summer I went two months without working a single day. Being a full-time model means I'm part-time unemployed, so I have to save money like I’ll never make any more ever again. Basically what I’m trying to say is, no, I’m not buying that beer for you.

Going home also means having to play along with how great and exciting my life is, all the time. My mom’s house is filled with pictures of me in magazines, which I have to stare at while I’m trying to enjoy eating more calories in one sitting than I’m usually allowed in a week. It’s really depressing actually, my mom thinks they represent my success, but when I see them I just think, 'Hey Melissa, remember that shitty job where the photographer was a dick and you made $150 for ten hours of work?' Oh wait, you didn’t know that editorials don’t pay the models a cent? Yeah, apparently the exposure is tantamount to a fee. Which is great, because in New York, city of dreams, landlords have been accepting “exposure" as rent money ever since Edie Sedgwick kicked the smack habit and bought a penthouse suite in the Empire State Building.

Aside from sleeping in my old bedroom, which was once covered in Radiohead posters and rave flyers and has now become my mom’s second closet, the main thing I do when I’m back home is eat deep-fried everything and drink beer with the consistency of milkshake. No wonder Middle America is fat; everything here is delicious. There’s also the constant soundbite of family members exclaiming ,“Oh my gosh, you are too skinny! You need to eat!” which goes down easier than the first sip of milkshake beer. After months of being prodded in the hips with the end of a coat-hanger in New York, the first time I hear it often brings a tear to my eye.

There’s not much to do here except eat and cuddle my family for hours: the pubs in my hometown are packed full of drunk college kids singing karaoke and playing darts, which isn’t all that much fun. As an ambassador of Kalamazoo, I guess I should really be trying to sell this shit to the New York crowd, but the schism is just too wide: most of the people I know who actually stayed here got married and had kids before the people in New York had settled upon their first-choice drug habit. I envy my friends from school. They already live in cute little houses, watch shitty TV every night like The X-Factor and Whitney, take their kids to school every morning, eat fattening food and have sex as often as they like. Now does that sound awful? Or completely amazing?

It’s also great to go home and see the people who made fun of me for having giant teeth and a face full of zits when we were at school. It makes me smile to see them now, overweight dishwashers working in shitty restaurants because they lost their football scholarship from drinking too much. Not that I'm obnoxious to them, everyone was an asshole in school and we’ve all had shitty upbringings. All of of my friends from school were troublemakers. When I was 16, I would sneak out of this very bedroom window to go get wasted, and then lie to my parents about it and feel all angsty and important. It fucking bewilders me how I never got raped or turned into an MDMA slutbag rave girl with wrists covered in slimy leather bracelets, wearing giant pants.

Follow Melissa on Twitter: @MelissaStetten

Photography courtesy of meinmyplace.com. Illustrations by Sam Taylor. Follow him on Twitter @sptsam or visit his website at samtaylorillustrator.com.

Previously: So This is What I'm Doing With My Life Now