I’m Just Free for the Free Scrutiny is now available as an audiobook on Audible.com. In honor of this, here is the title track essay to the very ebook. You can also read book excerpts here, here, and here. And if audiobooks aren’t your thing, you can get the regular, written version here.
“Hi, it’s nice to meet you. You pluck your eyebrows too much. Can you grow them out?”
All it takes is one unhappy client (or even potential client) to realize that a professional model’s life does not entail absurd pampering and unearned praise. Sometimes all it takes is the icy stare of a designer during a go-see to realize that, more often than not, you will be picked apart and criticized (and then directed into uncomfortable poses in poorly-heated studios).
The hardest part about getting hired was always dealing with people who didn’t have time for the model to feel okay. They had a pair of jeans, a juicer, or a nannying service to sell, and they weren’t going to waste time sugarcoating the fact that the model looked like hell at a certain angle. You quickly realize that models don’t make the big money because they’re particularly pretty or skinny (or because they can smize); models make the big money because they can get yelled at for having awkward knees and still smile like that coffee maker makes the best damn coffee they have ever had. Models can be placed in the Atlantic Ocean in April in a bikini and act like they’re loving their new bathing suit or Nantucket vacation, all the while processing the heckles from the creative director.
“Hey – can you stop shivering? It’s blurring up the picture.”
Modeling requires a thick skin, and I didn’t realize how thick until I got signed to an agency. I would go to go-sees, hand over my comp card (which, for the folks at home, is simply a glorified index card with my pictures and my measurements), and watch as the casting director’s face contorted into a snarl as she realized just how “fleshy” I was.
I once went to a casting call for a local runway show. I arrived wearing exactly what they had wanted the potential models to wear, did my walk, turned and twirled, and walked back. Usually, that would be the entire go-see for that individual model: hand in your comp card, smile (or smize), do the walk, smile/smize some more, walk back, go home. However, at the end of my walk, the casting director called me to the front of the room.
“Do you run?” the casting director said before I could even stop my forward momentum.
“Running. Do you do it?”
“Um, yeah, I run,” I answered, involuntarily cocking an eyebrow.
I also walk and climb and chew food and breathe. The whole scope of basic human experiences happens right here in this model’s body!
“I could tell,” said the director. “You have runner’s legs.”
I looked down at my legs – which were currently suffocating in the tightest “skinny jeans” that I had in my closet – and smiled.
“Um, thank you.”
“That wasn’t a compliment.”
“You can go now,” the director said with a self-satisfied smile. I responded with a halfhearted grin and returned back down the makeshift runway, feeling as much like a fashion model as a puppy dog in clogs.
I sat on the bench just outside the casting room, slipping off my high heels with a morose slowness. I returned my heels to my bag, put on my more sensible flats, and looked down at my legs. Even in the denim version of Spanx, my legs looked wide and muscular and obviously not meant for runway. I thought about my big thighs — my wide calves — and felt so painfully unattractive, like all that made me desirable rested in how spindly I could make my legs.
The door to the main hallway opened. A young girl with an impossibly narrow torso (and even more impossibly narrow legs) walked in and sat next to me.
“Are you here for the runway show?” she asked.
No, I’m just here for the free scrutiny.
“Yeah,” I answered, my eyes still on my legs. “The sign-in is inside.”
“Oh, good, thank you!” she answered, already standing up, hugging her portfolio to her chest.
“No problem,” I replied. “Good luck.”
The girl grinned so broadly that her eyes squinted. She sashayed her tiny hips, her little legs effortlessly moving down the hallway in her high heels, opened the door, and disappeared. I took one last look at my own legs before disappearing as well; only I was going in the opposite direction, as far as I could from the go-see and into the streets of Boston.
I had no interest in returning straight home. As was my usual MO when something was bothering me, I wandered around the Boston neighborhoods instead. I meandered up Newbury and down Boylston, from Copley to Back Bay to the South End and eventually into the Downtown area. I looped around Beacon Hill and walked the paths in the Esplanade before finding myself at the beginning of Newbury Street again. I wandered over to Kenmore Square, just taking in the sights and sounds and wondering where else I should go.
I thought about how long I had been walking, and how, even after I looped around the majority of Boston proper, I wasn’t yet tired. Maybe some people can have the muscle stamina to walk for hours on end and still have very tiny legs, but I knew I wasn’t one of them. I could keep walking because I had those thick running legs. The same reason I could run for an hour or survive an intense fitness class. And yes, it wasn’t going to do me any favors in the modeling world, but the go-sees took up such a small amount of my everyday life. Would I ever really want to sacrifice all the time and energy that I spent seeing what I was physically capable of, all in an effort to have as little muscle mass as possible, so maybe – just maybe – I could walk up and down a catwalk for a designer who may or may not even care for me as a person?
And, like that, I felt a weight being lifted off my chest. A weight that, ironically enough, I couldn’t have been able to hold on my own had I had tiny, underdeveloped muscles in my legs (and arms). I continued my walk until I felt a little more settled and caught the nearest train back home.
I never had a casting director (or any type of director) get on me for my “runner’s legs” again, even after I started upping the mileage on my runs (making my legs just that much wider and that more muscular). But I was ready for it. I was ready to defend my runner’s legs, my yogi’s shoulders, my lifting-stuff-person’s biceps. I was ready to counter all that free scrutiny with a speech about self-esteem. And I would’ve walked out of those casting rooms with absolutely no job or paycheck, but my head held high.