I am not a model. Not even close. Well, I guess I’m a model for something. Like what happens when you spend your career sitting down, or the dangers of regular access to peanut butter and jelly. But modeling in the traditional sense is definitely not for me. Which is why, a few months ago, I was quite surprised when my agent told me I had booked a modeling gig. Assuming everyone else attractive was busy that day, I happily took the job.
You know the stylish, airy lofts that movies depict as the setting for every modeling shoot ever? With the dramatic lighting and the exposed brick and the snooty receptionist who doesn’t take no lip from nobody? Well, it turns out that’s pretty accurate. And when I arrived and told the receptionist, “Uh…I’m here for some sort of shoot?” she looked at me, made a face like I farted, and pointed to the back. I didn’t blame her. Even though I hadn’t farted, I totally looked like the sort of person who had, and later in the day I probably would, so who am I to argue with her for getting the disgust out of the way so early in the day? When I entered the studio, I was floored. There was Enya playing, fans blowing romantic breeze all around, spectacular furniture everywhere you looked. And the drapes. Oh God, the drapes! Honestly, I’ve slept with women who were less sexy than those drapes. In short, even the room was more attractive than me — and then I saw the models. I assumed that I had booked some sort of “regular people” shoot. A photospread where they showed everyday folks wearing everyday clothes doing everyday things. Like folding the laundry. Or picking their nose. That I would be appropriate for. But what I saw around me was decidedly not everyday. There were seven of the most attractive people I’ve ever seen in my life, me, and a guy who looked like the lead singer of The Counting Crows. I was comforted by Mr. Crows, another normal looking dude to join my normal looking ranks, until I walked over, said “Hello,” and realized he was just there delivering food. Fruit salad. It was both the menu, and the only words he said to me as he walked out the door. I’ve never been so sad to see someone with dreadlocks leave. Then the director made an announcement.
“OK, everybody, listen up. Good, it looks like everyone’s here. Sporty?” She nodded to a guy who could make Channing Tatum feel insecure. “Dance All Night?” A woman so hot she made even an eyebrow ring look spectacular raised her hand. “Business Executive, Work Hard Play Hard, Mother of Twins?”…three more stunners raised their arms. Apparently these were their types: athlete, club kid, weekend warrior, and all of them were perfectly suited. Except for the supposed Mother of Twins, who was so skinny I doubt she could’ve birthed a plum if she had to do, but whatever. I was getting excited. Finally I would learn what my purpose was in this room. The director was going to say my title, and then I would figure how I fit into this menagerie of hot. Next Door Neighbor, maybe? Funny Friend? Guy Who Looks Like He Just Farted? I’d be fine with any of those. You know what she said? She looked at me and muttered, “Brian.” My damn stupid name. “Brian.” I nodded, and before I could register concern at not having a title, they whisked me off for my fitting. It was time to see my costume.
Models are used to an environment where everyone wears no clothes almost constantly, because they’re always pulling new outfits off and on, and they look amazing naked so really, what is there to be bashful about? I have learned this by watching Project Runway. I, however, have plenty to be bashful about, so I didn’t respond quickly when the costume designer told me to strip. Probably because she just said the word “Strip!” as a command, like she was a prison guard and I was an inmate who maybe was hiding a phone in my butt. But I hopped to, and soon enough I was in my skivvies, looking at the clothes they seemed very seriously to believe would fit on my body. “Uh…I think you got my measurements wrong?”, I said hopefully. They’d heard this one before. “Try them on and see,” they insisted, and pulled a tissue-sized curtain closed on my dressing nook. Sigh. I examined my wares. On one hanger was a pair of blue jeans that maybe, on my fittest day, I could force over my arms and wear as a bizarre sort of coat. Then, on the other hanger was a thermal tee shirt that looked like exactly the sort of thing I would buy if I were legally required to shop at Baby Gap. But I was a professional. I was being paid for my time, and if the costume lady wanted me to try them on, I was damn well going to try them on. Also, she scared me, so what else could I do? I tugged, prodded, pulled, and poked, and after about five minutes of deep exhales and exhaustive sucking in, I somehow got these clothes on body. I stepped from the behind the curtain and presented myself to the Corrections Officer of Costume, looking like a sausage someone had wrapped with too-tight rubber bands. She eyed me up and down, then said the last three words I ever imagined her, or any sentient human being, possibly saying in that situation. “They’re too big.”
As I was walked to the set, I really started to get concerned. Not only was I about to be asked to model for a professional photo shoot, a thing I had absolutely no idea how to do, but something was clearly up. The clothes I was wearing were so tight that I could barely walk, and yet the costume designer kept muttering about how baggy they were. As we turned the final corner and I began to step up onto the stage, she started rolling the top of my jeans down, getting them to cover even less of my body. “Your ass isn’t fat enough!” was her explanation, which is the most insulting a phrase can possibly be and still technically be a compliment. It seemed impossible that she was trying to make me look good, but this was not my arena. What do I know about lights and photography and magazine spreads? I mean, it wasn’t possible they wanted me to look bad, was it?
Another cliche you hear all the time about the modeling industry is how hard it is. How the models work such grueling days and have to strike impossible poses and deal with endlessly demanding photographers. That one is complete bullsh-t. I looked around the room to see Business Executive flirting voraciously with Dance All Night, Sporty and Mother of Two locked in a soul searching conversation on the pros and cons of moving to Miami, and Work Hard Play Hard picking all the kiwi out of the fruit salad. F-cking Work Hard Play Hard, am I right? And the taking of photographs? I wouldn’t say that it was easy, but you’re standing in air-conditioned room while people tell you to move one leg an inch toward the wall or crouch a little with your right hip. It beats the hell out of heavy lifting, I’ll tell you that much. The camera started to click, and it didn’t seem to matter that I had never done it before, as most of the instruction seemed built around the neverending journey to make my ass look fatter. There was a lot of bending, a lot of scrunching, a lot of striking of poses that looked a lot like I was trying to go to the bathroom in my jeans. Finally, the approach we agreed upon, the one that made my butt look utterly monstrous, was forcing my pants down with a hand in my right pocket, then standing on the tiptoe of my left foot. The whole crew oh’ed and aw’ed at that one. Apparently I was really something. So remember that the next time you find yourself trying make your rear end look really really big.
In fifteen minutes the photographer was satisfied, and my part of the shoot was over. But I hadn’t even had time to ask any questions. Why was it so important for me to have such a large butt? Didn’t anyone seem concerned that my clothes obviously did not fit? And in what universe would these pictures of me look appropriate next to ones of my gorgeous colleagues of the day? After changing back into my normal clothes, I nodded to the other models then headed to the door. As I was walking out, I saw something shocking before me — another regular human. She was a female, and looked like me. A few extra pounds, unremarkable face, totally and completely average. How nice. “Oh, Sarah! You’re late. Let’s get you in costume!”, I heard the director yell behind me. Apparently she was another model, and just like me, she didn’t have a title. That’s when it started to come together. Maybe it’s not that we didn’t have a type, it’s just that they didn’t want to say our type out loud. I looked down, and on a light table was a mock up of the photospread we would all be appearing in. There were crude drawings of all the beauties on the right, apparently dressed as the various options the reader could choose. Above them reading the heading “AFTER.” Then, on the left, there was a picture of both a male and female midsection, grotesquely spilling out of tiny jeans and mini shirts. Stamped over the male body, in red warning letters, was “FAT.” Over the female it read “CHUBBY.” And then, above this picture, the male of which I now realized was certainly meant to be, it said that most damning of all words, “BEFORE.” I was a before model, in an expose on how to get in shape, get some fashion, and get on with living your life. The other models inside, they were the AFTERs. Even Work Hard Play Hard, the kiwi-stealing psychopath. I looked over to the snooty receptionist, who was now eyeing me with no small mount of disdain, and did the only thing I could in the situation. I gave her the finger, then walked out the door.
So look for me, readers, as the human before, coming to newsstand near you.