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A Model Education

by Emily Carter

#187. I am #187 in a long line of skin clad black jeans, faces gleaming with sweat and eyes drowned in hopelessness. We are puppets. Our strings pulled by the all-powerful casting directors, who hold the fate of our careers in the palms of their hands. “Most of modeling happens in a line,” I was warned on my first day of Fashion Week castings, “always bring a book.” Delving into Ibsen’s “A Dollhouse,” I lose track of time letting the line slowly diminish until it is my turn. With my portfolio in one hand and my novel in the other, I am keenly aware of my ability to balance both aspects of my life. Designers and casting directors see my Dalton education as unique. While many models are high school dropouts, my academic determination stands out.

I’ve always stood at least half a foot taller than my friends: crouching down to participate in conversation, always standing in the back of class photos, while my friends sat huddled in the front. I felt isolated by my height and I would’ve done anything to shed just a couple inches. As I began to grow into my thin figure, I was approached by multiple model scouts. They’d hand me their cards, urging to call if I wanted to become a supermodel. It seemed so glamorous and mysterious, two qualities I didn’t believe myself to possess. Nonetheless, I’d bring these business cards home proudly to my mother. “Look mom!” I’d exclaim. She’d study the card, brows furrowed. I never expected her to allow me to enter this enchanted world yet I kept persisting, kept asking. “Beauty fades but your brain never will,” she’d always say. When I turned 15, my perseverance finally paid off and we began to visit agencies together. “Too exotic,” said one agency. “Too involved with school,” said another. At first it was difficult to handle such blunt rejection but I began to see it as a challenge. I continued my quest for the perfect agency and finally found it at Ford. The agents were personable and excited about me. They understood that school was my main commitment and we decided, together, to take it slow.

Suddenly, I began to embrace all 5 feet and 11 inches of me. My big, puffy lips were no longer something I had to be ashamed of but rather a “blessing,” as many casting directors have said. New York Fashion Week was my first big challenge and I approached it with confidence and poise. For the next few weeks I had twenty castings a day. I’d put on my “uniform:” black tank top and black jeans. I’d stuff my black stilettos and my Ford portfolio in my backpack and rush downtown. Walking in a show is rare for a new model so I was ecstatic when I booked a prestigious show in Fashion Week.

On the day of the show I made my way to Lincoln Center. After three grueling hours of preparation, a dresser helped me into my first outfit, buttoning each button with delicacy and precision. As she reached into a bag marked “Emily’s Shoes” my stomach dropped. I stood face-to-face with monstrous boots. Seven inches tall, they proved even more uncomfortable than they looked. “I…I can’t walk in these,” I stuttered as my heartbeat quickened. “Honey, you’re going to have to do your best,” she replied, unaffected by my anxious pleas.

The show began and I turned out onto the seemingly infinite, white pathway. A feeling of authority washed over me and every bit of pressure felt momentarily suspended. I was light, in control. As I savored this moment of complete power, I failed to realize that I had lost my balance. My ankle collapsed underneath me and I lurched forward to avoid a wipe-out. My cheeks stung with humiliation and I felt the glare of some of the most important people in the industry. I experienced a feeling of veritable disappointment. When I made it backstage, I stepped back into my jeans and t-shirt and slipped quietly out the door.

Despite my stumble, modeling has taught me some invaluable things. I’ve learned to be organized and self-confident. I’ve also gained a new perspective on the fashion industry which has blown away the common stereotypes of superficiality. I have worked with incredibly creative and passionate photographers and designers. My interest in art and writing has provided me with the chance to engage with casting directors in a way the other models cannot. I’ve gained a worldliness that is unique for a 17-year-old, and a chance to learn outside of the classroom. College-bound, I see modeling as temporary in nature, yet I am grateful for the qualities it has given me. Developing my intellect will be a lifelong journey.

Emily Carter is a  2012 graduate of The Dalton School. After her gap year, she will begin her Freshman year at Kenyon College in September.