Hey, let’s talk about that time I fainted at a photoshoot.
I’m not proud of it. At the time of this essay, I have been modeling for 10 years. I have been alive for 29. And this event is still considered one of the Top 10 Most Embarrassing Things I Have Ever Done. A list that includes such wonderful gems as puking in the stairwell of my junior high, and answering the phone by making a crude inside joke, only to realize that it wasn’t my friend who had called but the woman I babysat for.
Oh, and temporarily going unconscious while waiting in line outside an Old Country Buffet (“waiting in line outside an Old Country Buffet” in general is on that list as well), but that story is for another time.
Right now is about a story about that time I fainted.
It was no one’s fault but my own. I was sick as a dog, but refused to cancel on a shoot. I looked pallid and in a slight amount of pain, but, dammit, a commitment was a commitment and I am stubborn. I simply did my job and retreated to my sickness survival kit in between sets. I downed enough vitamin C to make an orange grove feel inadequate. I sipped on enough chicken noodle soup to keep Campbell’s in business on my patronage alone. And I chugged water like I could flood the bug out of me.
We changed wardrobes and hair/make-up styles three times, culminating in a vintage look complete with a tea cup/saucer combo and a TIME magazine from the 1960s. In a way, my pale, slightly miserable face was exactly what such a shot needed. I looked exactly as outraged as I needed to be when the other model fake-whispered something in my ear. I looked exactly as taken-back as I needed to be when I pretended to read about JFK’s assassination. And I looked exactly as disinterested as I needed to be when I narrowed my eyes and focused on the teacup in front of me.
Six hours, three wardrobe styles, and two location changes later, the photographer called it a wrap.
And like that, I hit the floor.
It was like one of those stories where a dying man or an elderly lady fight to stay alive long enough so they can see their child get married, or so they can enjoy one last Christmas with their family. It was exactly like that, only instead of dying, it was passing out, and instead of a daughter’s wedding or holidays with the family, it was an unpaid modeling job.
I sat up almost as quickly as I had fallen down, hoping to pass off the fainting spell as a slip or a spill. I attempted to stand back up, only to reel forward onto my hands and knees.
The make-up artist wasted no time tending to my post-collapsed state. She helped me up, giving instructions to everyone around her like she was an ER doctor. With her support, I made my way to a nearby seat and slumped against the adjacent table. After a few sips of a soda (and a few dry heaves), I started feeling a little better. The mother of the other model gave me a ride back to my dorm, where I finally admitted defeat and spent the rest of the weekend in bed.
When I tell this story to people, the first response is almost always same: “Did you have enough to eat?”
Yes, I was starving myself. I was fulfilling the modeling dream of living off of diet coke, full-calorie cocaine, and dreams of superstardom. Never mind the part where I was eating soup by the metric ton and drinking enough fizzy vitamin C drinks to make even a healthy person want to vomit. Pointing to starvation as the cause makes as much sense as pointing to the vitamin C.
But maybe that’s it. Maybe I hadn’t fainted. Maybe I had overdosed. Maybe there’s a dark underbelly to the vitamin world, where people overdose on magnesium tablets in dark, dingy basements. Where the FDA neglects to tell you that enough vitamin C will render you comatose. And – God bless my resiliency – I only reacted by temporarily going unconscious.
I’m a survivor story. Where’s my million-dollar book deal and motivational speaking tour, huh?
Cut to two years later. I was working a bridal show in a small town in New Hampshire. Me and three other models were fulfilling our job requirements by smiling on pedestals for all the would-be brides to see. We changed positions around the room, going from pedestal to pedestal every 15 minutes. We did a few rotations in this manner before sneaking into a small bathroom off to the side for a quick gown change (and you haven’t lived until you’ve done the “nobody sees me unclothed” dance with two 30-pound wedding gowns). We returned to the pedestals and repeated the process.
The job took an ugly turn as the expo wound down. The expo coordinator asked us to remain on the pedestals, even as the guests were ushered away from the vendors’ area. An hour ticked slowly by as we stood on what were starting to feel like little squares of death; all the while the expo participants sat at the tables across the way, ate meals from the local catering company, and listened intently as a local wedding planner listed all the different ways brides can spend their money on their wedding day.
We shifted from foot to foot. We surreptitiously slipped off our high-heeled shoes. The bridal boutique’s owner came over and apologized profusely for the lack of communication (and common sense) on the part of the expo coordinator. We humbly accepted the apology and stared at the meals being served across the room, wondering if we’d ever get down and eat as well.
As a second wedding planner came to the podium to talk to the guests, one of the models asked if she could take a break from her pedestal. The owner of the gown company helped her down and the model-bride made her way to one of the vendor tables. Before the wedding planner on the other end of the room could finish her speech about care baskets in bathrooms, we all heard a loud thunk. We turned and found the model-bride with her back on the floor.
People from the other side of the vendor table rushed over to help her. Guests at the dining tables stood up to gawk. The expo coordinator came up to the remaining models and said, “You guys can go home now.”
I had planned to get a ride back to the city with the now-downed model, and, in light of what had just transpired, I was no longer her passenger so much as I was her chaperone, there to take the wheel in case a second fainting spell hit. When she swore she felt good enough to drive, we boarded her Jeep and made our way back to Boston.
“I can’t believe I fainted!” she said as soon as we left the parking lot.
“We were standing in those heavy dresses for quite some time,” I replied, the green expanse of New Hampshire rushing by me. I sipped on the Diet Coke I got for free from one of the vendors and carefully monitored the model for any signs of light-headedness.
“But still – I can’t believe I fainted!” she went on. “How embarrassing!”
“If it’s anything,” I offered. “I know how it feels.”