The Time That Barbizon Tried To Scam Me Into Training ‘To Be A Model. Or…Just Look Like One’

So off we went to an open call in a conference room of some random hotel somewhere in Tampa. Oh, did I mention this entire thing happens in Tampa? Land of Secret Underage Model Scouts and Opportunity! Again looking back, it’s a tad unorthodox that this took place in a conference room in a hotel. But at that time, hotels meant room service and room service meant glamour and I truly believed it was the real thing. Was it suspicious that the room was packed with 500 other pathetic teenagers? Yes. But as someone personally scouted to be there, I felt confident in my chances of being picked. After all, I doubted that these girls all received the postcard that I had.

The first day of what I believed to be the rest of my life began with a presentation on the Barbizon Modeling School. You see, before you could model, you had to attend their school and learn how to do your make-up and brush your hair and all the things that I actually think get done for you when you’re a model. Naturally there was a fee to attend the school, but how else could they pay for all the hair brush tutors! And, get this, when you finished the school, you went on to become a famous model. I believe they phrased it as “many of our graduates go on to have careers in the industry.” Looking at their present alumni list, I think “many” may have been a slight exaggeration.

After they spoke about the academy, they played a slideshow with all their success stories and I was blown away. One girl went on to be an extra in a Taco Bell commercial and another posed for Land’s End. LAND’S END! A montage of me posing in patterned turtlenecks and unisex crew neck sweatshirts played in my head.

After the presentation, we got to do our one-on-ones with the scouts. “Walk for me,” the middle-aged man said. And I did. “Be-au-ti-ful walk,” he said, “have you ever done this before?” I shook my head no. “Wow, you are a natural!” I blushed. I might’ve even giggled. I don’t know. Everything after that remains a blur. I couldn’t believe that I was a natural. Who knew I was so good at walking? Besides, of course, the scouts who’d seen me around Tampa and tipped off Barbizon. My agent (and you better believe I started calling him that right away) said he’d be in touch if they were interested and I left the hotel on Cloud 9. This was infinitely better than getting my period.

About a day later they called. AND THEY WANTED ME FOR THE ACADEMY! I couldn’t believe it. I think I screamed. The best part? It only costs $1000 — which I estimated in my head to be NOTHING because you can’t really put a price on a modeling career. My mother said we’d think about it. I said, “don’t make me take that dog hostage again.” She said we’d go see the academy over the weekend and see what it was all about.

In between getting the acceptance news and visiting the academy, I told approximately everyone at school about my new job. Casually, of course. “No sorry, I can’t come to your sleepover this weekend. I might be needed for a Taco Bell commercial (dramatic pause), Oh did I tell you guys?  I’m kinda a model/actress now.” If I could take back one moment from my teen years, this might be it. Because the only thing worse than bragging about becoming famous is never becoming famous. It’s just one of those things that people don’t really let you live down. Especially when you’re in middle school.

Oh sorry, spoiler alert. I never became a famous turtleneck model. My mother and I did go to visit the academy that weekend and it wasn’t as much an academy as it was rented office space in a nondescript office building. On the floor above them, there was something mundane, like an insurance company. On the floor below them, there was something even more mundane, like a potato research group. And on their floor were the shattered hopes and dreams of teenage girls who let themselves believe that they could one day be an extra in a Taco Bell commercial. Also very dim lighting and tattered carpeting.  As much as I hated to admit it, my mother was right. Whatever happened in those rooms in that building was not worth $1000. Or any money at all. Turns out that I would never train to be a model…or just look like one.

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    • Kaitlin Reilly

      Actually laughed out loud at this. I know a girl who trained at one of these agencies and she seemed to love it, but I hope she hadn’t deluded herself into thinking she’d be the next Kate Moss.

      • Jenni

        Regardless, she’s prob very, very good at brushing her hair.

    • Candace

      OMG hilarious. And of course Giliana Rancic is an alum.

      • Jenni

        I LOVE that she’s an alum. But I love everything about her, down to her relationship with her manicam soooooo I’m biased.

    • Lindsey Conklin

      your entire first paragraph…are you describing me as a teen?! haha

      • Jenni

        What was your favorite color body glitter? TRICK QUESTION. You wear all the colors at once.

    • Robyn Davis

      Haha. This was nostalgic. I also went to the Barbizon in Tampa at age 12 in 1995. It was exactly like this for me too. lol.

      • Jenni

        So happy that this wasn’t a dream I had! How did it work out for you?

    • Olivia Wilson

      I was almost caught in the Barbizon trap at around 12 years old, too!

      But oh my god, I laughed SO hard at this entire part:

      “No sorry, I can’t come to your sleepover this weekend. I might be needed for a Taco Bell commercial (dramatic pause), Oh did I tell you guys? I’m kinda a model/actress now.” If I could take back one moment from my teen years, this might be it.

      • Jenni

        They’re so good at targeting girls at just the right age when you still believe it’s possible that you could embark on a modeling career.

    • Samantha Escobar

      I am trying to be on a real vacation but I couldn’t stop myself from reading this again and LOLing.

    • Poola Creminski

      I wonder if this is like the MENSA application I got when I was 14. I got a cert. and everything after I posted off the IQ test. It cost nothing, mind….until the next year when it cost £100 to take the test again and keep membership. Hmm…
      Or like those people who claim to have a Lady title because they bought a stamp sized bit of land somewhere on a Groupon deal.
      ETA-This was highlarious, Jenni!

      • Jenni

        This is all making me think that maybe I should launch some kind of “pay for a certificate” program. Thinking, thinking!

      • Poola Creminski

        You and me both!

    • Natalie

      Two of my friends in high school/middle school did something pretty similar. It was hilarious to everyone else, but they kinda weren’t in on the joke. The one actually did a couple jobs and we constantly refer to her (8+ years later) as a “former model”. It’s great for embarrassment. The other one never did any jobs (possibly a mall fashion show, although I’m not sure you get paid for that), but she works for an ad agency now and she said the whole experience helped her with her career. So I guess it was a good thing in the end!

      • Jenni

        I’m sure there are people out there who refer to me as a former model. Whatever, right????

    • Amy

      OMG!! They were doing this in the early 80′s, as well. I know because I sent off a request for info from the back of a magazine. They responded they were interested in talking with me, so I made my mother take me to investigate. I wanted it so badly, but my mother said absolutely not. I wasn’t even mature enough to realize it was a scam. I thought she destroyed my chances and future career.

      • Jenni

        It’s amazing how you see your whole, glamourous future unfold in front of your eyes the second they show interest.

    • GarnetHenderson

      I’m amazed that Barbizon still exists… with a website and everything.

      • Jenni

        I can only hope they’re using the same ’80s model ad in Seventeen.

    • I Like Pizza

      I see Carmen Electra is a Barbizon alumna so your argument is invalid.

    • Eileen

      When I was around that age, my best friend actually signed with a modeling agency (not a great one, but it turned out to be the first of many) and started booking jobs, so I knew straight-up that the Barbizon (which I always pronounced “Barbie Zone,” although I think that’s wrong) was a scam. But now I see that the girl who plays Ted’s daughter on How I Met Your Mother went, so…obviously I should have applied.

    • Tavi

      They did not scam you . I’ve attended the school and it was great . They do teach you how to be a model FYI . You go over walks , etiquette , makeup , styles and you get to meet new people . It’s lots of fun but you wouldn’t know that because you judged a book by it’s cover . #1 rule , never judge a book by it’s cover !!! If you had’ve went , you would’ve saw . So everyone quit saying scam this , scam that ✋ . to become famous it requires MONEY . do you think beyonce made it without spending money ? NO. there are a lot of fees . So if you do not have the dough , then head out the door .