By Alison Satterwhite
Part 9: Bottoms Up
I wasn’t in “Kansas” anymore. After that night, I had pinpointed a weak spot in my naive glamorization of the modeling world. I was in uncharted territory and for a moment, my teenage sense of indestructibility was in question. Although I believed in a moral code higher than myself, I wasn’t sure I had the integrity to choose it over the perceived fun and immediate gratification I was having. I felt a tinge of fear about my lack of conviction; it went against everything I knew to be true. Yet part of me wanted my numb, free-spirited, and careless side to overpower the secure and stable voice of reason within. I wrestled with the dichotomy of my position and cowardly decided to face each decision as they were presented. In this particular moment, I was relieved to have emerged from the prior evening in tact and was ready to take on the many castings, test shoots, and meetings my agency had scheduled for the following weeks ahead.
“First Kiss”, courtesy www.elfwood.com
My days were filled with back to back castings all over Milan, each one revealing another layer of insecurity or discomfort. On one particular occasion I showed up to a small Mediterranean style studio and was immediately asked to undress to my bra and underwear. It seemed I spent an uncanny amount of time in my scivvies. At that point we were told that we were there to audition for a CD commercial for “Favorite Love Songs”. As cliché as it sounded, I had to remind myself that commercial jobs were lucrative–$10,000.00 for the day plus royalties. Money aside, acting requires a certain willingness to expose vulnerability and I wasn’t ready for it. In fact, I was terrible at it as I had learned on a previous Folger’s Coffee casting that included an ad lib session for the client. Now, I despised the awkward position of being paired off to “act” with one of the random male models who was also there. “We need you to kiss passionately,” the client said. My armpits suddenly felt wet and my face flushed. With no prior preparation or forewarning, I arched my back and put on my best kissing face, feeling my self-confidence shrink with each passing second. I hoped that they couldn’t see through my awkward discomfort. It was reminiscent of a bad dream I would often have where I showed up at school only to realize I forgot to get dressed that morning. Luckily, dreams end, but this time it was real. Standing there, half-naked, I proceeded to kiss the German stranger for what felt like forever. “Thanks….next please,” the client urged as I fumbled to get my portfolio and run for the door. I really didn’t want that job and was relieved that I was a terrible candidate.
Sometimes the castings felt ill-planned and last-minute, like the time I was sent to audition for a Pantene commercial. I knew what the standard Pantene girl looked like, and I wasn’t her with my short shag and angular features. There I stood, unsure, silly and ready to be dissected by the client. I was learning to become accustomed to rejection, critique and flat-out honesty from the clients although the open wound never stopped hurting. Another time I was sent to try on hand knit sweaters for a knitting catalogue. I wasn’t sure why I had come all the way to Milan for this. Then there were more endless product auditions for sunglasses, lingerie, and watches, followed by magazine editorial spreads. Day after day I would spend finagling the public transportation for a slim chance at a job. It seemed they would never come, and my spirits were down on more than one occasion. The only consolation I found was in knowing that the agency was paying a lot to have me there and that they knew what they were doing, as blind as I was. None of the other girls I was with were working yet either–except for the two runway models at the end of our hall who were there for the fashion shows only. We were each cast differently, according to our niche market. One day, one of the more seasoned models told me that Amber Valletta had gone a whole year there without a single paying job. She was a supermodel extraordinaire in my mind and I found comfort in gaining some insight into the process that would pull me out of my pessimistic spiral. Milan was more of a model boot-camp, and it could take time to get established–even two or three trips before the work would flow.
“Boy Butt”, by Jason Anfinsen
I didn’t know if I could handle the pressure for as long as it took to become successful. To a young girl, having your looks critiqued all day long was as personal as it got; nothing could be worse. At long last, a client had narrowed their decision down to two girls and I was one of them. The job was a lingerie campaign that would be plastered all over the billboards of Milan. My hopes were high with the anticipation of the possibility. “They think you have the best bottom in Milan,” my booker said proudly. I had never thought of my rear as an asset, but I would take anything at this point. Amidst the multiple castings I had attended that week, I could vaguely recall standing in line with over 100 other girls at this particular audition. As usual, I was stripped down to my bra and underwear while a vast sea of eyes examined every surface of my body for imperfection. I was just glad I wasn’t wearing briefs that day. Suddenly, I felt an instant fluctuation in my confidence. This was the boost I needed to get through this grueling ordeal.
While my days were full of taxing judgment, my nights were marked by an unrelenting party. If we weren’t invited to random clients homes for dinner or a night on the town, we were at a club dancing the night away while being led into the dark and unsavory paths I feared were lurking. On one particular evening, we ran into the male models we had previously met at the pool hall. They invited us up to their apartment where MTV blared on the tiny television. Vasko was a slender, pale model from Yugoslavia with dark shoulder-length hair. Although young, his face was fraught with a mysterious ruggedness that read as experienced. He smiled with his eyes and spoke with an alluring raspiness that drew me in immediately. “Come sit here with me,” he said with all the charm of a handsome foreigner. “You are beautiful,” he flattered in his thick accent. “You remind me of Christy Turlington.” Just as I was credulously beginning to let down my guard with him, his roommate took off his shirt in a posturing sort of way while trying to feign normalcy. “What is all over your chest?” I asked him in a startled manner. His chest was riddled with what looked to be scars from several bullet wounds. He didn’t respond and kept flexing his muscles for the girls. Soleil sent a look in my direction as if to say, “I’ll explain later.”