Something happens to you when you live in L.A. Without even noticing it, you get swept up in the image culture. And then you start thinking dangerous thoughts, like: Hey, maybe I could do that.
For me, it started with some compliments on my eyes. I know they are my defining feature. I’d just never thought of doing anything to make money off of that. But one day, someone mentioned that I should look into being a parts model.
Now, I’m no model. I’m short, I’ll never be a stick figure, and I like frappuccinos. I have zits. I have blemishes. I’m a real girl, thank you very much. But my head still started spinning.
I could stay home all day and write. I could go to the coffee shop in the middle of the morning and stay there until noon. I could take classes during the day, instead of at night, so I wouldn’t be tired all the time. I could travel at will.
Yep. I had entered the realm of dreams, which I suspect must exist in the mind of every person who’s ever even contemplated moving to L.A. I did a Google search for “body parts models,” and I called the number of an agency I found, and I sent photos to them via email. I told myself I was just being curious and wanted to see how things would turn out.
A few weeks later, I found myself creeping through the back gate of a house on a canyon road in the hills. I wasn’t breaking and entering; I was an expected guest on my way to an in-person evaluation — which just happened to be poolside in the backyard of a million-dollar house.
I was slightly freaked out, but everything appeared legit. There was a little office in a guest house, staffed by several women taking phone calls. The owner of the agency (and the house) handed me a sheet of paper on a clipboard and told me to fill it out.
As I sat at a glass table, shaded by an umbrella, I realized I felt like a complete impostor. I was already applying to grad schools — I wanted to use my brain. So why was I sitting here trying to use my body?
The owner of the agency came out of the house and sat with me to review my photos. She had me stand in the sunlight and in the shade, then declared that she wanted to sign me but wanted me to have more photos taken first. She handed me a sheet of paper with a list of several photographers. She recommended one who lived in Italy.
“He will be in L.A. in a couple of months. There’s no hurry, so why don’t you call him and set up an appointment?”
I nodded and told her I would do that.
“Is there anything else you think we might use you for, besides eyes?” she added. “There’s not much call for just eyes, really, so we’d like to be able to use you for as many body parts as possible.”
I felt like a piece of meat. “Well, I have pretty nice abs,” I ventured. Why not? I was already here.
She had me lift my shirt and show her my stomach.
“Very nice, but a little soft. We have a lot of demand for really hard, workout abs right now, but if I ever get a call for anything a little softer, I’d use you,” she said. And then:
“How’s your butt?”
That was where I drew the line. If I said anything positive about my ass, she was going to make me take off my pants and turn around by the pool, and I was going to be more degraded than I ever had been in my life. No way was I going to let this woman rate my ass. If she thought my abs were soft, she wasn’t going to like my butt, either. Even if she did, what would I later say to people who asked me what I did for a living?
“Well, I’m an ass model.”
No thanks. I might have been flattered that someone wanted to photograph me, intrigued by the idea, but I was not going to be an anonymous ass.
I chose to walk out of the backyard, dignity intact. When the photographer from Italy arrived in L.A. and I called the agency owner to confirm her interest, she told me she no longer needed “just” eye models. And I was okay with that. I think I’m best as me, all together, less-than-perfect parts included.