When I was 19, I was asked if I would consider bleaching the moles off my face.
Sitting in the promising space of a modelling agency, I hid my shock as the agent dangled the fantasy of what could be, if I followed their strict projection into the fashion world.
It wasn’t something I’d ever considered. Aside for a brief period in primary school where my ‘beauty marks’ were the topic of childish torment, there was never a time where I distinctly disliked them.
“If we were an agency in New York, that would be the first thing we would do.”
As I sat there contemplating plastic surgery, I recalled an impromptu shoot I did with a friend where he photoshopped the moles off my face. It didn’t look like me.
“I’ve never thought of doing that,” I admitted.
“Well it’s just something to think about.”
It’s a strange thing to reflect on, the way I have always felt about myself, the way I’ve never liked been disliked, and yet when it came to the modelling industry I found myself more thick skinned than ever.
I was always aware it was I who needed to fit the mould, to metamorphous into the gem they saw hidden in me. Two inches below my current hip width, several ribs more prominent laid a beauty I’d always dreamed of becoming. In my darkest hour still, I wish to become her.
It was with intense sincerity I discussed the faults found within my figure as if we were discussing the inadequacies of a three star motel.
In meetings to come I found myself laughing with the agent about my previous size, comparing myself to the girl who shyly walked in several weeks before.
For a long time I’ve found myself apologising for my body. Finding solace in the knowledge that I could be better; could look better, feel better. A vanity that consumes me at the weakest of times; a painful reminder that I have never been good enough in my own eyes.
I was never properly represented by that agency simply because I was always in the process of ‘loosing weight’. I never got to the standard model measurements, despite the weekly meetings where my bust, waist and hips would be measured. I progressed for a while, but eventually I stopped.
My explanation was to blame myself. I was not invested. Too self-sabotaging; I wasn’t eating the right food, I wasn’t working out enough. I wasn’t enough and I couldn’t understand why it was so difficult for me to reach my goal. I hadn’t plateaued in the physical sense, but mentally, it was as though I’d let myself progress to a point.
The modelling industry is an inherently negative one. Not for all, but for many it’s a bizarre thing to be told you are beautiful and yet need to change.
I recall a time when I was at a casting making small talk with the makeup artist. As the conversation lulled, we both turned our attention to the casting director bent over a model’s portfolio.
“You’ve lost a bit of weight,” he said.
“Yeah, I know, I’m so sorry. I had my sister’s wedding, it was really stressful,” the woman in question replied. She was a plus sized model.
I looked up at the makeup artist who recognised the question on my face.
“Plus size models often struggle to keep the weight on. I’ve never not seen a plus sized model eating on a shoot.”
The risk of subjecting yourself to an industry that promotes twisted standards of beauty ultimately warps your own understanding of what beauty is. To be ‘scouted’ as though you’ve achieved unparalleled greatness through chance of genetic lottery. To be spoken to as if you’ve done something truly brilliant. You can’t help but admire your reflection in the shimmering mirage of promises.
You are told the word ‘potential’ as if it is not an insult to be told you’re not good enough. That word alone is the glue that binds your interest in the industry. It offers the fantasy of what could be.
* Of course not every agent is like that, not every model feels this way. Not every woman feels at some point in their lives under scrutiny for their appearance. But many do. This is an example of my own brief experience with the industry.