A full day lay in store. Two GO SEES, a photoshoot, and five miles to run at the gym. I had stayed up until two am applying to side jobs, researching the designers I was going to see, and watching Calvin Klein Fall 2013 as suggested by the runway coach at Major.
Those girls never move their arms. If their fists were clenched into little balls then combined with the serious GRR FACES and the TOO COOL DONT LOOK AT ME BUT PLEASE DO swagger steps in their teetering heels... They would reflect much larger versions of whT may appear to be little girls throwing temper tantrums. Yet, despite this semi humorous observation... I couldn't stop staring at them. Because while it may not appear it to one who's just watching... These girls worked hard to walk like that. This was their lives... Perhaps their careers. This show was a big moment for them... Something they most likely felt great joy over being cast in... And for some, they may have practiced a thousand times in hopes that by perfecting their walk... They might get noticed. And further their careers.
I slipped on my heels and practiced for ten minutes then rushed into the shower. The photoshoot today was a femme one, and I knew lingerie may be involved. It was my first big chance to really show the agency that I belonged on both MEN AND women's boards. Thus far they'd only seen my in denim, collared shirts, and boots... With a faltering attempt at strutting heels.
In the general world, men make more money than women. And that is something I've capitalized on for years! I used to have long flowing curly locks that rested into the middle of my back and a more femme approach to things. But when I found myself under hardship a few years back- I started to do random gigs off from craigslist. I'd show up to moving, landscaping, construction work- and they'd always be surprised to see this tall lady arrive. One day I noticed that two male workers on the site got paid 160 while I got 100. I asked the employer why that was, and he said its because they were lifting all day while I was only screwing in boards. I told him I would rather lift all day and make more money but he said it wouldn't be appropriate because I was a woman. I tried to explain that I had been in conservations corps, farms, firefighting crews... But he just nodded and smiled at me as if I were a child saying "daddy when I grow up I want to be a pony." That night I went back to my vehicle and slept in a BART parking lot. What the man didn't know was that I was homeless, desperate for cash, and willing to work as hard as I needed to get back on my feet. Staring at thd torn up roof it dawned on me. The most cliche truth of our time. I could make more money as a young white male in America than as a female. Period. So I restyled my hair to a very short boyish cut, started wearing oversized baggy jeans, and went to gigs under the name Rupert (which had been a nickname in elementary school... My original last name). Not only was I hired for 90% of what I responded to on craigslist... I was paid nearly double and given more responsibilities. I also gained special respects that included a beer at the end of the day for hard work, an all knowing "good work son" treatment from employers, and a larger amount of trust in my work. If I told someone I knew how to fix something as a woman.... They would ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAAAAAYS ask me how I. Was gonna do it. But as a boy.... They hardly ever did.
In the fashion industry, it's flipped. Women by far make the big bucks and men make 80% less. Which means that as provactive and interesting as it is to be a female doing male work... The chance of being financially successful and gathering a decent fan base are infinitely smaller. This shoot today was CRITICAL in providing evidence that I shouldn't be pigeonholed into one gender. It could literally make or break my career direction with this agency.
In the shower I scrubbed as hard as I could. It was awkward because admittedly there is only ONE part of my body that I'm self conscious of. My legs. My thighs specifically. They are covered in tiny scars from working outside and stretch marks from growing to fast. They hide under jeans most of the time so they are so incredibly white that you can see the veins through them in a most unattractive way... Pulsing as if to say WARNING THIS PERSON IS ALIVE. Plus they're larger than two girls legs combined in this industry.... My thighs may seem skinny to others but to these people they are massive.
During my second runway show ever, I took off my pants in front of a designer to try on an outfit. He screamed and covered his eyes. Literally. Sigh.
I remind myself that each scar is hard earned... Proof of guttering through to get what needs to be done done. That each stretch mark is a record of how swiftly my body created me.... A living free thing who is fortunate enough to be in the shower right now. That the veins in my legs were meant to be there, and the white complexion was simply a reflection of science hard at work. It's not always easy to love yourself fully sometimes I think. I find that when I find something that I have a hard time loving- I state it as a fact and accept it instead- then just settle for being grateful that I can experience that "fact".
Before I know it I'm back into the blustering flurries outside and swishing through the snow from Queens to Manhattan. Everyone on the train is plugged into an electric device today. A young man walks through and asks for bus money. No one looks up. "Anyone? Anyone at all?" He raises his arms exasperated like a parent who knows their kid stole their pocket change.... Bbt the kid pretends they didn't. He storms out.
Finally I reach my first destination. Another straight lined skyscraper that shot up 30 floors. I take the mirror clad elevator to the 16th level and stumble into a staircase that is laden with models. They are predominantly blond. Everyone has long long hair. Almost everyone is wearing black. Each step has it's one single girl on it, and for some reason I can help but think a lot of money could be made if a photographer were here. Everyone was either on their iPhones tapping away, adjusting their heels, or talking to someone they arrived with. When models talk to each other, it's often SO interesting to watch. I find that in many cases (not all) (but most) models tend to over express themselves to whomever they are communicating. Like when they want to express annoyance they really shake their heads, when they want to show they are listening they reeeeeally nod hard and furrow their brows, when they want you to know they are concerned their reeeeeeeeeally scrunch up their faces. And when they want you to know they are excited or upset, their bodies bob, voices raise, and head twists and tucks to emphasize the enunciation of key words. It's quite entertaining.
I get the usual stares. I go on my phone and ignore their faces...To take a picture of them for this blog.
As I get to the middle part of the staircase, I over hear that there are over 300 people auditioning and only 25 slots being cast. A comment that the cometition is stiff this year comes up. Recently I had heard TWICE from two different fashion aficionados as personal advice to me "there will always be someone prettier and better than you attending a casting call. So you really have to fight for it.... Get dirty. When you are going down the stairs don't be afraid to push a bitch. Hard. Just push her."
I look at the girl behind me... She wouldn't even know what hit hit. In fact it'd be like dominoes... They are all so engrossed in their devices and exaggerated conversations that they wouldn't even notice if an avalanche of above average looking legs and lipstick cascade over them and took them down two flights.
But this is what's wrong with the industry. Not the ignorance thing.... But the insecurity thing. Feeling that we need to harm others and their chances in order to heighten our own. It's a way of not BEING the best. If you truly believe you are the best.... The other people don't matter. And the person next to you.... They could end up doing much much better than you. They could be that person who is "prettier" than you. But so what? Aren't you more likely to share in their success if you befriend them? Thus becoming more successful yourself?
But hey, what do I know? I'm not the Dalai Lama of the Dolce world.
I start to slip on my heels. The girls in front of me stop chattering and stare. By now I'm used to this routine. One of them introduces herself very abruptly. Viviana. Ahead of her is Estelle, Stacey, and Ariana. They all look like they shop together....
They suddenly go into interrogation mode. Who am I? Who am I signed with? Can they see my portfolio? Oh wow, I look like a boy! Geez how I unique. Giggle giggle.
Finally Vivianna hands me my book back. I had just told her that I have a femme shoot I right after this then another GO SEE.... Because they had asked what I was up to. She smiled a genuine bright smile. "You know you can probably just skip this and get a head start on this shoot."
I laughed. "Why would I skip this? I was sent here by my agency...."
Vivianna pats my hand softly. "Hun, everyone was sent here by their agencies. Everyone."
"Well they wouldn't send me here if they didn't think I had something to offer." I replied.
She shook her head. "Hun, agencies are just pimps that want to make a dime. That's it. They will cast as many people out here as possible to up their chances that they could make some money. But... They know YOU aren't going to get cast. I'm sure they just want to give you the experience so you gain confidence."
I shake my head at her.
She continues "Look Fashion Week women are size two or smaller. You are a what... Size 12?"
I grit my teeth "I'm a six."
"Doesn't matter, point is, that there simply won't be anything for you to wear. Nothing in your size anyways. You are better just sticking to men's. I'm sure you would do great there... Right?" Vivianna gazes up at her girlfriends who all nod and murmur "totally..." "Soooo handsome" "successful for sure".
"Well, I guess Ill just stick around for the experience at least then." I prop up against the wall.
Vivianna glares at me. "Seriously... You should take this opportunity to go work out at the gym before your next shoot. Get in the best shape you can before-"
"Love.... You are so sweet for giving me advice and I really appreciate it." I touch her hand softly. "But I know that this is where I want to be right now."
"What you think the designer is just going to MAKE you clothing a week from walking down the runway? That's stupid." She's tosses her hair.
"Actually yes. If they want me badly enough, I'm worth the time and investment. They will create something for me. I have just as good of a shot as you do."
Estelle pokes her head out. "Whaaaaat? You are sooooo optimistic."
"You are what.... Blond, long hair, five nine, white, blue eyes. There are, I'd say about 150 other girls that have your look in this room right now. There's no one who looks like me. Unless they want an army of similar looking women walking the runway I'd say they will most likely pick maybe two people with your look. So your chances are 1 in 75 of getting chosen. Mine are 1 in 2. Because with me it's either yes or no. There's no one else to compare me with. You either want me or you don't." I might as well have just shoved her down the stairs. Her eyes widened and she looked around the room and sighed. Then without a response she turned her back to me and resumed on the phone.
I felt guilty for the rest of the wait... And a little nervous that perhaps she was right. What WAS I doing here?
Before I knew it I was being ushered into the casting room. It was jammed with well dressed men and one older woman in a turtleneck. A dusty sharp five o'clock shadowed man in a chair gazed at me. I took off my shirt so that I was wearing a black tanktop instead of the denim collared. His eyes flared, he smiled. Where are you from, who are you signed with? He asked me to walk for him.... I did so while answering his questions. He took my comp card. Another person also took a comp card. I wished him good luck in the castings then backed awkwardly out the door, making a few dorky jokes as I grabbed my shirt and iPad. I couldn't tell if it went well or not....did it?
Then from that crowded crazy sweat box of stress back onto the street.
I was twenty minutes late to my photoshoot.
Every step I bounded up to get to the studio was filled with nerves and fear.... I'd never been late to an appointment for Major before. I didn't even have to knock on the door, the photographer Shanita was already standing there.
All the fears melted away swiftly. She was brilliant, bubbly, and understanding. No judgement, and in fact SHE was the nervous one. Because she was supposed to have a makeup artist arrive on set for the shoot but the person bailed at the last minute.
We both silently were relieved the other person was human.
Unfortunately due to the lack of makeup artist, we couldnt do any femme fatale shots. So we stuck to boy looks. It was an hour and a half of ease, good music, and collaboration and then just like that it was over. It was the first photoshoot I'd ever felt fully relaxed at.
I dashed off to my final appointment. I realized I hadn't eaten at all throughout the day and found a cookie in my bag to nibble on. This time the building was short and square... Sandwiched in between two car lots. I managed to get inside... A fire alarm was going off on the base floor but no one seemed to care. I paced back and forth waiting for the elevator to arrive. A tall handsome man tried the door but couldn't get in. I saw him trying to figure out the buzzer, and opened the door for him. He brushed past me. "Thanks man. You already do the casting?"
I know he thinks I'm a man. And that's how I wanted it to be. So I shake me head no.
"Damn, I was hoping you could tell me how it was. Sometimes these guys can be real harsh." He brushes himself off neurotically picking a few small dog hairs from my jacket. "So, where you from?"
I intentionally deepen my voice slightly and change my posture. "Live in San Francisco area. You?"
"Aww dude I love that area. Man me and my friends used to surf there all the time. California has smokin hot chicks on the beach.... "
"So.... How'd you get into modeling?" His eyes were intense and his face right in mine.
"Uh... Just kind of fell into it. Was discovered by a model named Carole."
"Dude women in this field like almost never help other people out. Especially us dudes.... We are supposed to help THEM. I hate model chicks. I mean they are in easy in the bed but not like, on the emotions you know? I just went out with this chick the other night, and she was smokin. A ten. I pay for everything, even though you KNOW that girl is making BANK. And I take her back to my place.... The girl spends three hours on the phone on the couch bitching with her girlfriends about how awful other models are. It was annoying. Meanwhile, I'm in the background ready to just get down to business...."
Ding. The elevator has arrived.
This one has no mirrors. He puts an arm around me. "I'm so glad I met you before going in. You're a cool guy you know that?"
I smile and look at the floor.
We walk in... I immediately distinguish the casting director from the rest of the crowd. There are only two other models in the room. A soft short excited man in hipster attire checks in the guy... Then comes back to check me in. The minute he sees me he gets excited.
I sign in an fumble around for a comp card. I panic because I realize I have no more. How will these people find me? I wonder why I don't have enough and then remember that this morning there had been TWO people who took one instead of just the casting director.
"Do you have your book and comp card?" He asks, he seems barely able to contain himself.
I hand him the iPad and explain that I only have masculine shots right now but that femme ones were in the making. He oohs and ahhhs over the photos. Then I explain that I have no comp card. He interrupts me by whipping one out of the back of his pants. Seriously.
"Don't worry I have one here." I stare at him. He gushes "I heard about what you were doing and looked you up online, I've seen all your work.... The magazine shots, runway press, your Facebook, even that news report from a while ago. I have to say, I'm a big fan of your work. Big big fan. I think you're going to do well here in NYC."
I was taken aback. A big FAN? I hadn't even done anything yet.... And there was this man whipping my photo out of his pants like a pro. Dang. What do you even say to that?
"Uh... Wow thanks. Thanks so much that's very kind." I laugh nervously.
The casting director calls me over. I realize I hadn't had time to slip into heels yet. He asks me where I'm from. Who I signed with. Who I've walked for. Then he has me walk for him... He doesn't care about heels. He just wants to see that I can move confidently perhaps. He stares at me for a moment and asks where I'm from again. He puts a pink sticker on my comp card. Then sends me off to get a photo taken.
I gather my stuff to leave. I feel a little mechanical for some reason. As I throw my bag bag over my shoulder, I involuntarily say loudly in passing. "Thank you sir, good luck with casting."
"Yes sir?" I turn around.
"It's a pleasure meeting you. I'll be seeing you again soon." The casting director smiled briefly then went back to his current model.
I left with a full grin. Whether or not I got cast... He remembered my name.
And I didn't have to push anyone. I didn't have to pretend to be someone else.... Or something else.
I made a beeline to the gym, and veered into a pizza shop for a 99cent slice before I went to work out. I'm pretty sure the grease it what makes it delicious.
Halfway into my daily five mile treadmill run (trust me I'd run outside if the weather wasn't so arctic)... I mulled over the day. And a simple conclusion popped into my head.
You don't need to push anyone... You just need to push yourself.
Out of of your own way, out of your own head.
Push yourself to be the best you can be. Not to be better than anyone else... Because no one else can compare.