Bullish Life Fashion Week Edition: What Modeling Taught Me About Men, Money, and Life

fashion week model jen dziura

Jennifer Dziura writes life coaching advice weekly here on TheGloss, and career coaching advice Fridays on TheGrindstone.

I have walked in some fashion shows. Certainly not in Fashion Week, or even on what I would call a real runway. I think the history of my downmarket-catwalk modeling career (2004-2006, RIP) went like this:

•Two or three fashion shows for a now-defunct vintage lingerie store in Williamsburg. It’s not that hard to hold a fashion show in a bar — I’m pretty sure if you bring a bunch of scantily-clad women into a bar called “The Tainted Lady” and parade them around, you’re adding to the atmosphere and selling drinks, and you may be able to strike a deal with the bar in which you don’t have to pay anything to hold the event. In any case, a business that sells antique slips and girdles can perhaps only go so far. Observe the photo of me with a male model in a corset. Awesome.

•Lingerie fashion show at Marion’s Continental. This is a restaurant. It holds many fashion events, but this show nevertheless involved journalists looking at my ass while they ate brunch. Also, I wore three different outfits in the show, two of which involved silk thongs. As silk does not stretch and each thong sold for over $200, I had two people assigned to me in the staging area to slide the first thong inch-by-inch down over my hipbones and then slide the new one inch-by-inch up over my hipbones. (What’s the point of lingerie you can’t take off, you know, in a hurry?)

•A Valentine’s Day fashion show, also in a bar, sponsored by some kind of lingerie company. Noticing a theme?

•A crime against clothing in which I modeled a vest made out of neckties. Sarah Jessica Parker once wore something from the designer on Sex and the City. Neckties. Sewn together. To make a vest. A very stiff vest. With pointy bits at the bottom. The show was held in the upstairs part of a very nice Indian restaurant that I think uses the space for weddings.

I was also briefly signed to a fledgling modeling agency in Soho that I never did any work for because the owner wanted me to call her every morning and looked confused when, in 2005, I suggested that it would be more efficient to send out an email to all the models at once. We just weren’t going to get along.

Surely, I learned a few things from these experiences. As I later confirmed when I held a male beauty pageant in a bar to celebrate my thirtieth birthday, anyone with $2,000 and access to Craigslist is basically omnipotent. Also, walking in a fashion show is much like being a bridesmaid: you have to walk much, much more slowly than you think you should.

I later ended up contributing three pages on “How to Put On Your Own Fashion Show” for the book Girls Gone Mild, by Wendy Shalit. Specifically, how to put on your own modest fashion show. To promote modesty and no-sexing. Weird, right?

Here are some other things I learned from my brief “modeling” career.

(By the way, if you would like to become an indie model yourself, joining OneModelPlace or ModelMayhem isn’t particularly more difficult than setting up a Facebook profile. Making money without being entirely naked is another matter.)

Being a Pretty Girl Doesn’t Get You That Far

I don’t just mean a girl who happens to be pretty. I mean a girl trying to make it almost entirely on being pretty. A girl putting herself out there, saying, “I’ve noticed I’m kind of pretty!”

Being a Pretty Girl kind of makes you a walking target. Yes, some people will want to have sex with you, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Rather, you will be a target for people looking to make money off of you, or use you to look good the way one uses a new sports car and a nice watch to look good. You will be viewed as a raw material, much like timber or an underground oil pocket.

From last week’s Bullish Life: Overcoming Perfectionism (and Still Being a Special Unicorn)

There are a million valedictorians, even more A+ students. There are a million absolutely beautiful girls. Perfection just puts you in a club. Despite how hard it is to get into that club, there are a lot of people there, because so many people are engaged in the same pursuits. There are fewer B- students running companies, or really-pretty-attractive-for-a-regular-person women selling cars. These people make more money, do more exciting things, and are better able to handle life’s vicissitudes.

There’s just no point at which someone shows up and gives you money for being pretty (or being talented in general). There’s no Jesus who reaches out of the sky to reward you, fairly, for being so special and better than everyone else.

If someone does ever pay you for being pretty or talented, it is only so they can make even more money off of you. That’s it. That’s all there is. Be clear about that. Very clear.

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    • Bitsy Pamperton

      This is an excellent article. Did you read Erotic Capital yet? If you present yourself well (make-up, hair, jewelry, sharp outfits, pleasant figure) at work and school, you do not have fairy tale wedding desires since you are accustomed to daily compliments- unless you have Narcissistic PD or Histrionic PD.

    • Amy

      I have to say, when you said that being pretty doesn’t get you far, I immediately was taken aback. Being pretty doesn’t get you that far? Are you kidding me? Pretty people get better grades, better jobs, better everything. Honestly, there is a sort of reward system for being pretty. There is a friendly Jesus who gives you better opportunities in every facet of your life. Maybe you just haven’t seen it from the other side.

      • Lizzie

        What she means is model-beautiful, not average-person-pretty. I think that after a certain threshold of attractiveness, the rules of the game change. That’s what this writer is saying. It’s the same thing with intelligence. You hear about so many brilliant people in the news who have higher IQs than Einstein, but in general they tend not to do anything really outstanding with their lives. You need a certain level of attractiveness, but after a certain point on the bell curve, the correlation between beauty and success seems to lessen. If you read the whole article, and the “in sum” in particular, she basically spells out this idea.

    • Fabel

      Well, I’m one of those people who’s “noticed I’m kind of pretty” & this article also took me back. In a good way, because it’s all very true & good advice.

    • Georgie

      Amy – I think you missed the point a bit…yes being pretty gives you a step up, but relying on beauty to give you a fulfilling job and a roof over your head is ultimately not going to work as well as putting in the hard yards

    • Jennifer Dziura

      Thanks Georgie, Fabel, and Bitsy!

      Amy — I certainly agree that being attractive gives you an added boost in most things. The evidence is overwhelming: even babies prefer conventionally attractive people.

      However, being pretty *without doing something else well* is kind of like taking steroids without exercising. This will get a person nowhere.

      Plenty of ridiculously attractive women are eating ramen and contemplating become escorts (fine if you want to, but very sad if you don’t) because they thought being pretty, all by itself, would get them further (and a paycheck).


    • Eileen

      If there’s anything I’ve learned from being best friends with a professional model (yes, she does support herself by it, and yes, she does make a ton of money over fashion week), it’s that while being very tall, very thin, and generally attractive are prerequisites for being a working model, they’re prerequisites in the way that having completed eighth grade is a prerequisite for medical school – you have to bust your ass working for yourself if you want to get there.

      • Jennifer Dziura

        “they’re prerequisites in the way that having completed eighth grade is a prerequisite for medical school” — Loved this!

    • Andrea

      My friend was a size 2 and she was told that she would make a good plus-sized model. Being pretty is not enough, true; because you have to be emaciated to be successful.

      p.s. I read GIRLS GONE MILD and it wasn’t about no sex; it was about new role models for girls. Is Jen talking about the same book, by Wendy Shalit?

      • Jennifer Dziura

        Hi Andrea,

        A Return to Modesty certainly does advocate no sex before marriage, and Girls Gone Mild is in line with that philosophy, but yes, that book is about new role models for girls. It’s easy to get two books by the same author, plus many blog posts and conversations, a bit blurred in one’s head.


    • jimmie chew

      being pretty is better than being ugly. be glad for what you got!