There is something strangely cathartic about seeing your own smirking face in a headshot while it lights up in flames.
I have been modeling professionally for 7 years cumulatively. I started when I was 18 as a means of self-exploration because I felt like my outward appearance did not match how I felt myself to be and what I wanted others to notice about me. And to this day I struggle being taken seriously and being respected for my age while still looking rather girlish, but I am trying to rock my six grey hairs.
Anyhow, I was signed with a modeling agency about a year ago and relied on that work to keep me going along with my other contract work (research, writing, and yoga teaching). My goal was to keep up the momentum for traveling by having enough income to save at the expense (puns!) of additional luxuries and to avoid being tied down by a full-time job. Indeed, I feel that I have successfully traveled more in the past year than I have cumulatively in my entire life. Traveling and studying in Copenhagen last year made me realize that I deserved more from life than the discontent I was enduring at my full-time job. I have managed to stay happy with a fairly meager income (freelancers know that it’s feast or famine) and the ultimate practice of Aparigraha (simple living).
My agency booked me for a gig at 8am in Marseilles, Illinois on a weekday morning just before Memorial Day. I never did figure out exactly where Marseilles, Illinois was on a map but I do know that is is really far from Chicago.
I remember taking down my pin curls (which I don for the classic retro look) and applying my make-up in a frenzy around 6am that morning. I knew that something felt very wrong. I had just returned from San Diego and despite feeling a little financially needy, I did not want to do the gig. It was a commercial gig promoting a local hotel chain. I was supposed to bring an old suitcase and stand in the lobby looking like an out-of-time guest at a kitschy antique style hotel. I texted the photographer to inform him that despite my best efforts, I might be late.
I left in a frenzy, knowing I would probably hit traffic and be late. I managed to get about halfway. After exiting the highway, I was driving about 65 mph on a country road with gravel shoulders. I veered slightly into one of those gravel shoulders, tried to correct, and suddenly my car went flying. It started by swerving. The steering wheel seemed to suddenly have no power. I tried to hit the brake but the car seemed to be moving on its own. Then I started spiraling.
Once my car started spiraling and beginning to turn over, I had the thought, “Oh my god, I really, really messed up, and now it’s all over and there’s nothing I can do.” along with a soft voice that kept whispering, “Please don’t die.”
At about that moment, I hit a tree that stopped my car. Amazingly, I hit the tree on the passenger’s side. Realizing that I could move, I tilted the rearview mirror to check if I was bleeding. Red lipstick was streaming down my chin and my mascara was in streams. My sprayed-in-place pin curled hair was frazzled. I looked like a beauty queen nightmare. Aside from that, though, I survived with only a small scar on my knee and a set of recurring nightmares that I am training myself to wake up from and address. (For the record, I later found out that my car had a power steering failure, so for those of you who drive, please be careful about the warning signs that your car might be low on steering fluid.)
I think the real point of this story is that the experience was a subtle metaphor for my life. It showed me in the most explicit way possible that I need to take more control of my life.
So, I decided to give up modeling. I’ve decided that it is not really a fair or justifiable use of my time for myself or others, and that it was holding me back. It made me spend more time per week in front of a mirror and worried about my appearance than I care to have in my life. I felt like I would transform three times a day from working professional, yoga instructor, to glamor model, and like the protagonist in Leos Carax’s film Holy Motors (2012), I felt that my identity was in flux.
Modeling is about being a character. It is about being this person who has a really strong aesthetic presence. And when people compliment me when I am dolled up (to tie in last week’s theme), it feels like an impersonal compliment because the look was so planned and choreographed. Recently, I have been falling my heart and really pursuing my research and writing career. I want to be recognized for my intellectual endeavors first because that feels a lot truer to who I really am.
The smirking headshot that I burned for StoryLuck’s July task for “Letting Go” (Photo by Push the Edge Studios, 2012)
So, for this event, I decided to delete my online modeling portfolio. And for the ritualistic aspect of the prompt, I decided to burn my physical portfolio. I’ve done two images so far, my headshot being the first.
Main Photo by Gracie Hagen (2013) as Brother’s Grimm Series as “Goose Girl”