Let me set the scene for you. I’m 12 and I’m disgusting. Not especially disgusting, but in the way that all 12-year-old girls are disgusting. I covered my acne with the wrong color concealer, I bought ill-fitting and age-inappropriate clothes from Wet Seal and I experimented heavily with body glitter. Despite several one-sided conversations with God, puberty didn’t seem to be happening, or even on the horizon. To say I was insecure would be an understatement. I don’t remember ever looking in the mirror that year and being impressed with what I saw starring back at me.
So when I got a postcard in the mail from the Barbizon Modeling Agency telling me they heard great things about my modeling prospects, I was in shock. “Me? A model? Impossible!” But somewhere between getting that postcard and walking down the hallway to tell my mother the surprising news, my entire mindset changed. Of course I could be a model. The postcard said I had potential — they’d heard great things about me!
Yes, years later I look back at the postcard and question the fact that I never took the time to really think about that line. How had they possibly heard great things about me? One, there wasn’t anything even remotely model-y about me at that time in my life. And two, what?! In what world are people calling up modeling agencies and tipping them off about random sixth grade girls. Now I realize that they probably just targeted girls who subscribed to YM and Seventeen. But back then I really needed to believe that there were strangers out there gossiping about my modeling potential. “Have you seen that Jenni Maier! I watched her trip over a dodgeball in phys ed and it was the most graceful thing I’ve ever seen.”
Even though my mother remained skeptical, I insisted she take me. I believe I said things like, “My entire future depends on going to this open call” and “I will take myself down as well as this entire family if you don’t support my dreams” and “I’ve taken the dog hostage. You have 5 minutes to get in that car and take me or the dog gets it.”
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.