Notes From the Teen Magazine: Cattle Calls

When I worked at a teen magazine, I sat across from the bookings editor, meaning the person who picks the models to be in the magazine. I've met bookings editors ranging from le cool to le crazy; we got lucky in that ours was a vibrant, hilarious, down-to-earth woman who suffers no delusions about what her job is: to evaluate young women on their beauty. She would talk to them to make sure they're not just a pretty face, yes, but a pretty face is what we were after.

The unending parade of beauties--the gawky Eastern European Svetlanas crouching in the elevator putting on eyeshadow furtively; the Florida types who, I shit you not, are never able to follow the path of signs we've laid out that clearly say MODELS: THIS WAY TO THE BOOKINGS EDITOR; the delicate-boned Asian girls, always here for beauty shots, never fashion; the surfer boys with their highlighted hair and blue, blue eyes against their tanned skin--is crushing and breathlessly hopeful enough to make me glad that no matter what internal temper tantrums I may throw about my own beauty myths, I was not given a face and body that makes others assume I am only good to be looked at.

The cattle calls are the worst. Every so often I step out of the elevator and am faced with a dozen identical people: one day they will be casting a net for razor-cheekboned, long-haired blondes; the next it will be pale-skinned, near-Gothic beauties. I've heard that actors are faced with this all the time during callbacks--they're after a type, you are a type, everyone else in the final running is your type too. I remember going to a party once at which somehow nearly everyone there was a semi-curvy moon-faced brunette with pale skin and dark eyes, wearing jeans and a tank top--I felt instantly comfortable but also a little weirded out, like I was in some sort of Being John Malkvitch scenario, surrounded by images of myself. To have that be your profession seems unbearable: I am like you, but I need to be better than you to fatten my portfolio. I admit I get a sick little pleasure out of the occasional cattle call for guys--who am I to complain about finding myself in the middle of a swarm of incredibly good-looking men?

They're all looking at you, too. Models are paid to be looked at. Their sense of gaze is different than those of us who are not stared at all day by a team of people examining you for stray hairs, shiny cheeks, smeared lips. The boys, the girls, they stare at you when exit the elevator, when you're walking down the catwalk-halls. I am not particularly insecure about what they see when they look at me, but I do wonder what they see. Are they seeing stray hairs, shiny cheeks, smeared lips? Are they evaluating my symmetry? Are they looking for themselves?