I was a tall girl, taller than most of the girls and boys, even in high school. I’m still tall – 5’9″. I used to hate being the tall kid, I used to wish I could somehow make myself smaller. Teachers used to jokingly suggest that I could be a basketball player. I didn’t even like playing basketball and I hated gym class unless we were doing gymnastics that day. I once had an English teacher in Junior High who, in a diatribe about body types and what certain ones could and couldn’t do, pointed to me (in front of the whole class) and said, “you couldn’t imagine Mel here, flipping around doing gymnastics like Jessica (pointed to the petite cheerleader sitting next to me).” What he didn’t know, was that Jessica and I had probably had been taking gymnastics lessons for about the same amount of time. I started lessons when I was five and, I could flip around just like Jessica.
By the time I had reached about 11 or 12, the jokes about me being a basketball player turned into comments that I should be a model. This seemed more favorable to me. I never thought of myself as pretty enough to be a model. Though, I figured if people thought I could be a model, maybe I could fool everyone into believing that I wasn’t a tall, skinny, frizzy-haired girl with a space between her two front teeth. When I was 14 or 15, there was a model search, with a national agency, at the mall. There were literally hundreds of girls and women waiting for their chance to be interviewed with the possibility of being a model in New York. I can’t recall what the hell I wore, and much of what they said. Though I do recall being disappointed that, according to this agency, the proper height one needed to be to a model in New York was 5’9″ and at time, I was only 5’7″. I recently read that supermodel Kate Moss, is 5’7″… I guess someone made an exception for her.
This modeling agency did call me for an interview for the following week. My Mom went with me. She assured the the woman interviewing us that I could still grow a few more inches as my grandfather was 6′. The interviewer was ecstatic that I had been a dancer since I was 3, meaning I was physically active and didn’t have any pesky weight issues. They also thought my dance background would be helpful in my ability to walk down a runway. Thinking about it now: how much coordination does it really take to do this? Then, the interviewer asked how well I tan in the summer. She was happy to hear that I didn’t tan at all thanks to my Scottish/Irish heritage. Her exact words were, “dark skin doesn’t photograph well…” then later corrected herself saying that “tanning makes ones’ skin tone uneven..” hence the dark skin not photographing well comment. Next came a question about my hair – my long, thick, sometimes course, curly hair – the cause of much swearing and ponytail wearing. The interview asked if I could “do something with it.” Her suggestion of me “doing something with it” was along the lines of straightening and/or having it chemically relaxed. Which is funny because every hair hairdresser I’ve ever had, has told me that women pay lots of money to perm their hair to look like mine and here was this dumb bitch telling me to get rid of it. This modeling agency wanted me to sign up for modeling classes, which meant I would’ve had to drop dance and gymnastics lessons – that was out of the question.
After that humbling interview, I went to the now defunct, Rhode Island Modeling. I recall walking into the owner’s office and seeing a sign above the door that read, “think thin.” The owner at this agency convinced my Mother to sign me up for a one day model workshop so that I could see what the modeling world was all about. So off I went, one Saturday morning, to the modeling workshop to learn how to walk on a runway, and to stand there and look pretty. I’ve never felt more out of place than I did that day.
The thought of sneaking away crossed my mind several times during the course of the day. I knew pretty much right away, that I was nothing like the other models. They had all modeled prior. They all seemed pretty much about modeling and not a whole lot of anything else. Modeling was their life. There were four of us that were teenagers, there was a guy and a girl in their early twenties and then there was the thirty year old who looked forty (at least to me she did). This woman looked like she was wearing every ounce of make-up she owned and possibly every hair product – this wasn’t the 80’s it was the early 90’s. Our first lesson of the day, started with us learning how to make facial expressions and striking poses in front of these floor to ceiling mirrors. I could’ve done this in dance class and gotten more out of it. I guess the ‘lesson’ was learning how we look doing different things? I remember one guy literally crawling on his hands and knees on the floor, in front of the mirror, making these crazy faces. Another lesson included how to walk on a runway, we even got music to walk to, and they had a fake runway for us to practice on! At least they fed us lunch. Lunch is sometimes the deal breaker. I once had a summer internship in Newport that I hated, but loved to walk to Touro Park to each lunch. Lunch was the best thing about that job,that and leaving at the end of the day.
After our lunch, we learnt how to put on make-up. I’ve never been much of a make-up wearing type of gal, I’ve always associated it with performing, such as in dance recitals, and not every day use. I’m sure the older woman had to chisel off her first layer to get this new layer on. I had no idea what was what, which was okay, because we had an instructor to help us future dykes and gay men apply concealer, foundation, powder, highlighter, shadow, and lipstick all with a q-tip and a sponge. The straight girls were done in seconds and needed no instructions. And since we were all made up like cheap whores, or at least that is how I felt, it was then time for our photo shoot!
Thankfully the photo shoot concluded the model workshop and then I could gather my things and get the hell out of there. It also concluded any interest I ever had for modeling. Sure the pictures came out alright. They gave my Mother the contact sheet and not the actual images which seemed pretty shitty. A few years later, I seen one of my former model workshop classmates at an auto show, I think he was there representing the agency, handing out flyers. When asked if I was still modeling, I said, “hmm no… I think I want to go to school for fashion design instead.”
Now, I use myself in my art, but its not about being perfect, and thin with straightened hair. In my photographs, sometimes I am just a character, in costume, its more play and having fun. Sometimes I’m me. Its not about living up to someone else’s standards of beauty. Its not about what is designating something that should or shouldn’t be captured on film or on canvas. I let it all show, scars, frizzy hair and all.