I once went to a model casting call. Why? Because if you’re a 6’1” female with a fast metabolism and face that looks any degree better than.. I don’t know… a gargoyle, a lot of people tell you to try modeling. You know, when they’re not asking if you play basketball, volleyball, or whatever other sport they assume tall people play. Does that mean you should do it? Probably not, but you hear it enough and you see a flyer one day for a local fashion show casting call and you think “oh, why the hell not?”
So that’s how, at age 20, I ended up standing in line with a bunch of lanky, beautiful girls in downtown [redacted] on a late spring afternoon. The weather was hot, but I’d seen enough ‘America’s Next Top Model’ in my day to know that I should show up to the casting call in skinny jeans and a plain tank top, with my hair pulled up in a messy bun. Thank you, St. Tyra. Except, Tyra was wrong… or these girls hadn’t spent enough time bingeing on chips in front of ANTM Saturday afternoon marathons as teenagers. I found my place in line and realized everyone around me was dressed up. Not just dressed up, they were all wearing heels. Strike one, Elizabeth.
I’d left my best friends sitting on the couch in the home we shared. They were laughing at an episode of Ellen when I shut the door. The casting call was a fifteen minute walk from our place, which turns out to be the perfect amount of time for a girl to convince herself this wasn’t the dumbest idea she’d ever had. I’d pretty much talked myself up to ego’s peak when I arrived. So realizing my outfit did not fit the mold really didn’t make me nervous.
No, the nerves kicked in when I noticed how many of the other girls were holding folders and notebooks.
Oh god, portfolios!
They all had portfolios.
I’d read a poster that clearly stated “no experience necessary”, but every one of these girls had photographic proof that someone at some point in her life thought her face was worthy of printing on glossy paper.
Commence the breakdown.
Everything I’d managed to believe on my walk began to unravel. Why was I here? What was I thinking? I started looking up and down the line finding things about the other girls that seemed more perfect than me. Was I taller than everyone there? Sure, but not one of them had a nose that was too big for her face. None of them had gangly elbows and wrist bones that stuck out like mine. None of them had relatively thick track and field thighs like the ones I’d earned in the weight room (this is where my old teammates make fun of me.. but I really had them.. i swear!) All of these girls appeared to have a lot more experience with make-up than me. They were primed for modeling. These weren’t just random tall chicks who’d given in to strangers’ courtesy comments about their height. I was way out of my league, and it was becoming very clear, very quickly.
I spent about a half hour in that line before I decided the whole thing wasn’t worth it. The list of my own imperfections grew longer every minute. I was thinking about my body and face in a way I never really had. The last thing I remember hearing before I decided to turn and leave was a middle-aged mom whispering to her daughter that the girl in front of them was not even close to pretty enough for the gig. Are you serious? Is that where we are as a society? The only way to make your own daughter feel worthy is to tell her the next girl is far from it? Nobody needs that poison. I was twenty, which qualifies as a relatively grown-up woman. I knew how to tune out beauty criticism. God, I’d survived middle and high school. I could handle my own inner monologue. I could even stand to listen to my peers critiquing themselves and others, but a grown woman knows better. A grown woman has already lived decades past that part of a girl’s life when nothing about her seems pretty enough. I wondered what she was saying about me, and that’s when I broke.
No, thank you. I wanted out, and no one was making me stay. No one was begging me to take my turn on that catwalk.
I’d tell you I grabbed my stuff and left, but I didn’t have anything to gather. I didn’t have a portfolio. I didn’t even have a bag. The only thing I’d carried with me was the confidence to just find a place in line, and I was starting to lose that. I never made it inside the doors of the casting call that day. I stepped out of line when I was still a handful of people from the doorway. I took the fifteen minute walk back home where I found my best friends still laughing together on the couch. They asked why I was back so soon. I’m pretty sure I just shrugged, gave some shortened explanation, and made plans to grab pizza at the best place in town.
It was just a five minute walk to our regular pizza spot, but it turns out five minutes with friends is the perfect amount of time for a girl to get her gangly arms, big nose, thick thighs, and mental state right back where they need to be.