It's tough being a model when you're not a brainwashed child.
Hi. I’m Melissa. I’ll be writing a weekly column for VICE until I run out of things to say or you stop reading, whichever comes first. It’s like the car warranty where you’re covered up to 50,000 miles or for three years, at which point they bend you over the trunk and fuck you in exchange to fix your brakes. That happens to everyone, right? Anyway, to start things off here’s a bit of an introduction to my life.
You know that show America’s Next Top Model? It should really be called America’s Next Top “This Isn’t How The Modelling World Is At All” Model. It’s a show that really doesn’t dig deep enough into the darker side of modelling. According to Tyra Banks, winning ANTM will immediately transform your shitty life into a glamorous whirlwind of St Tropez and lobster dinners with guys named Brad or Leo on a yacht, but if you’re not the one-in-a-zillion, kale-breathed 16-year-old who emerges victorious from that process, you’re fucked. For a slightly unstable woman in her twenties, the relentless grinding of an industry that craves eternal youth can be pretty tough.
I’ve only been living the glamourous life of a successful supermodel for about two years. (Okay, maybe just a model. The "super" in model requires you to have large tits, I think; my size 32B bra misses that by a long shot.) I started after I went to college and left Kalamazoo (yes, that is a real place) and at that point, after a teenhood spent feeling awkward and gawky and longing for the braces I could only afford at 16, I was totally unprepared mentally for what was about to be unleashed on my psyche. I’d grown up with the idea of myself having poor posture and horrible acne. I’m the stereotypical high school outcast turned crazy model, but I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me. All I ask is that you deal with it.
Unfortunately the industry has a different way of looking at things and because I’m not a teenager, I’m basically regarded as an old-ass Paulina Porizkova wannabe, doddering around the Lower East Side in Marc Jacobs like a welfare beneficiary. On the bright side, I can console myself with the idea that I wasn’t pushed into the herd at a young age and can be grateful for my discerning, hawk’s-eye-viewpoint of the industry. Sanity is way more important than success anyway, right? (Yeah, just keep telling yourself that, Melissa.)
I never really had an ardent desire to become a model. I looked at it as a way to make some extra money while I pursue my other passions, like, umm, buying clothes and dating older men? Are those passions? Who knows.
Speaking of older men (great segue, genius) I met my now ex-boyfriend through Facebook. (How modern of me!) I had been a fan of his radio show for a few years so I sent him a message saying how much I enjoyed listening to his offensive sense of humour and stories about getting kicked out of casinos. I got a reply six months later saying, “Hey, I forgot my password, what’s up?” We started texting and within weeks I was flying out to New York on the weekends. He was crazy – no, really, he had an absurd gun collection, a full bar in his giant house and gambled hundreds of thousands of dollars for fun. So, after months of flying to New York (on Virgin Airlines, why do all other planes look like Post Offices from the 1970s?), I decided to finish up my semester at art school and move to there.
Now that we’re done with the psychiatric evaluation, I guess I should deal with the physical one: I’m tall, skinny and I’ve got truly fucking wonderful blue eyes, so I figured that becoming the model I knew I could be would be the piece of cake I knew I’d no longer be able to have. After I had been in New York unemployed for a few weeks losing my mind, I decided to go to open calls at modelling agencies. I had no idea how to use the subway, so I google-mapped my way around the city to five agencies and they all said the same thing: “You’re old and your skin sucks.” Brutal.
Even when I started lying about my age they still weren’t interested, and after the fifth rejection I got really discouraged. Luckily I had one agency left on my list and as soon as I walked through the door I instantly felt welcome; I talked with the owner about my goals and (gasp) even told her my real age. I ended up signing a contract with them and almost immediately became a legit model working in Bryant Park. I was suddenly making $500 to $1000 a day trying on clothes or doing runway shows for designers I loved, and for a while it did really feel like the dream.
Unfortunately about a year into modelling I got bored, and pretty soon that boredom mutated into misery. I was tired of stressing out over every blemish on my face. I was sick of not eating what I wanted, and it was excruciating every time I had to strip off in a closet full of one-hundred-pound teenagers because I was so insecure about my body. I was unfulfilled and under-stimulated.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to have a conversation with a child, but the conversations I was forced to have with my colleagues were truly mind-numbing. They didn’t get my Brady Bunch or Seinfeld jokes; all they talked about were cauliflower shakes and how processed cheese causes cancer. I felt lonely and out of place. All my friends were back in LA, and my boyfriend was born during the Kennedy administration, so he had no interest in going to concerts or record shopping in the East Village. I felt like if I heard an old lady say, “Oh my gosh, that is SO CUTE!” for the 50th time that day, my mind would literally dissolve into the vegetable juice my competitors seemed to love sipping so much. I started feeling really exhausted all the time, and ended up being put on Zoloft. ‘Cause pills fix everything, right?
I was very lucky not to be as vulnerable as those 17-year-olds, though. I’ve seen enough of them get trampled in this city by now that I cherish the fact I’m able to discern who the creepy photographers are and I’m confident enough not to fall for their flirty bullshit. I remember one particularly gross test shoot (test shoots are unpaid, btw, you just do them to update your portfolio) on a Saturday. (How dare my weekend of watching Seinfeld reruns be interrupted!)
Anyway, I’m like the cutesy, sassy girl with bangs, and this photographer kept telling me I “needed to be sexier”. I just needed a natural photo of me smiling, nothing more, but he kept cooing, “Sexy baby, be my Paulina.” Umm, excuse me? I wanted to punch him in the balls, but I felt like he would be into that sort of thing and honestly, I didn’t want to touch him. He asked me out after the shoot, to which I replied, with requisite amounts of stern: “I don’t think my BOYFRIEND WHO OWNS GUNS would like that.” Either he was deaf or considered himself invincible; because all this did was drive him on to insist that I was the love of his life. Naturally I ran away quicker than you could say “regrettable one-night stand”.
I coped with the grind by telling myself it was better than a boring office job, but I never really believed that. I’ve often wondered what my life would be like if I had a “normal” job – although to be honest, my idea of a normal job entails carrying a briefcase full of “important documents” and working in an office with guys like Gordon Gecko and Patrick Bateman, so I guess I’d have to be either a stock broker or a doomed hooker to ever be truly happy. Whenever I had castings in the Hearst building or at Conde Nast I’d always wonder if the girls working in cubicles saw me and imagined what their lives would be like if they were taller, thinner and prettier. I think I’m just so bored with modelling that anything else sounds enticing. I feel like I have more to offer this world than my bone structure and blue eyes.
Am I losing my mind? Is this what it feels like for everybody in their twenties? Either way, we’re in this together now, and next week I’m bringing the really heavy shit, like prescription drugs and heroin. (OK, maybe not heroin.) Till then, keep safe, and stay fierce.
Follow Melissa on Twitter: @MelissaStetten