It’s Day One of a three-day modeling job — my first paid gig in over a year and a half. I’m working the floor of Harley Davidson’s annual trade show, wearing clothes that won’t even be in stores for an additional year. No one from the public is allowed in. We had to sign confidentiality agreements beforehand — no pictures, no sharing, no nothing. We need laminated credentials on a lanyard just to get through the door.
The floor of the trade show is massive. I understand intellectually that it’s a big name at a big venue, but I’m not ready for the scene when the coordinator brings us through the glass doors. The landscape can’t be taken in with just one glance around. The sites and the sounds, the lights and production and special effects. Motorcycles and tables and aisles and rows and columns. A gigantic Harley decal on the glass corridor suspended from the ceiling. Beautiful and intriguing excess that makes it easy to go blind to the types of hardships that are going on in the world around us.
I’m surrounded by strangers that I gladly go up to and shake hands with. I’m full of smiles and a few jokes. I’m Model Me: an aspect of myself that used to shine only in modeling situations. It’s as close to an alternate persona as you can get. The Sasha Fierce to the Beyonce. Only I don’t believe in alternate personas — only situations where we feel freer to let certain sides of ourselves out.
Model Me is given her main outfit — black tank top, black skinny jeans, take-no-bullshit biker boots. I station myself by the row of clothes I’ve been assigned to that day, just a stone’s throw from a gray mannequin. I look over at the mannequin and smirk. I’m not blind to what my job is, especially on a day like today; the only difference between the mannequin and me is that I move and talk and put the clothes on all by myself.
The trade show begins with a mass of people streaming through the aisles. I stand in my current outfit — now with a Harley Davidson t-shirt over my tank top — with my hands on my hips, my chin up, my eyes decidedly not on the ground. Model posture. One that exudes confidence and poise. I meet people’s eye contact and greet everyone.
Representatives from over 82 countries make their way around everything Harley Davidson has to offer. It is an outright tour of the world as people approach my area of the trade show. People browsing through the samples, accents from all corners of the globe. Talking to each other in fast foreign languages before turning to me and asking me in broken English to do a turn in my outfit, or try on a different outfit. I change outfits and offer to try on outfits and remind people that I’m here for exactly that. I smile broadly at people from cultures where broad smiles are indicative of fools and morons.
At one point I find myself next to a full-length mirror, leather jacket now adorning my skinny jeans and take-no-bullshit boots attire. Off in the distance, “Back in Black” is playing. There are few things in the world quite as badass-feeling as standing akimbo wearing a leather jacket and boots, with AC/DC in the background. I desperately wish I could take a picture of this, if only to capture the moment. Instead, I steal glimpses into the mirror. Badass Model Me, at your service.
Working the floor as a model leaves a lot of time to get lost in your thoughts. I bounce around all sorts of things — song lyrics, ideas for the manuscript I’m currently shin-deep in, memories that sing sweetly & hauntingly, random streams of consciousness & thought exercises — as I stand there and offer to try on another coat, another shirt, another blouse.
I think about the idea of Model Me — a concept that is almost as old as my modeling career. I think about how Model Me and “Real” Me were so different for so long, as if I took the phrases “mild mannered” and “Superman” a little too much to heart. For so long, there was a meek, shy, small & unassuming version of me — and then there was the exuberant, confident, strides-across-the-room-and-smiles-broadly-at-anyone version of me. For so, so long, those two never really existed in the same place.
And why? Was it because modeling gave me a confidence boost? Now that one, I know is bullshit. This industry is not in the business of self-esteem boosting. There had been far too many times where I was taken down a notch, sometimes from direct comments, and sometimes from just being in a room where I knew I was the oldest, the least-skinniest, certainly not the most gorgeous. Plenty of reason to resort back to old ways, even in the modeling world.
Was it because it was a different environment? I think we’re on to something there. The modeling world removed me from my usual context and placed me square in the middle of one where being outgoing and social and confident was expected. Far from any context where — if it even hinted at the idea that me staying small and unassuming would be in my best interest — I dove headfirst into old habits.
And now I’m a decade into my modeling career — and who knows how many years in removing the “Model” variable from Model Me. I know I’m not that meek 19-year-old anymore. Hell, I’m not even the meek 24-year-old anymore. Or the meek 27-year-old. In many ways, I’ve grown more into Actual Me (not Model Me, not quote-unquote “Real” Me) in the last two years than I have in the previous 27. But, still, I know I can revert. Become small, unassuming, meek. Prove that I can take a 5’11” girl with broad shoulders & muscular arms & gargantuan legs and make her the smallest person in the room.
I crack jokes with the model who is stationed across the aisle from me. I watch a man in a blue polo shirt walk the aisles with a black lab dog — the words “Bomb Detection K9” on his collar. A reminder even in this opulence of the type of hardships that are going on in the world around us.
The day wears on and I lose energy — fast. After nearly 9 hours on the floor — and with one hour left to go — I’m exceptionally silent. I find myself engaging less and observing more. Making noncommittal noises in response to smalltalk. Exhaustion strips away layers and I’m reminded what rests at the core of Actual Me. It starts taking more and more work to interact, to be both in the world and of it, not just the former.
At the end of Day One, we return to our street clothes and I hit the streets. I fish out my headphones and open up the music on my phone and wander the streets of Boston. Even after all that time on my feet, what I need most is yet more time on my feet. I need a walk. I need to be a pedestrian and talk to no one and observe everyone. It recharges me, gets me ready for a long drive home — a drive spent alone, with yet more music, weirdly content on the road, even in the midst of the traffic.
Again, a reminder of what rests at the core of Actual Me. That I can shift the things that need shifting — demolish old defenses and fortify what feels good & proper & right — but, at the core of it all, I know I am Most Me when my feet hit the pavement, when not a word needs to be spoken, when I can watch the world unfold around me with nothing more than the wind in my hair and music in my ears.
*since no pictures are allowed of the trade show, I included a smattering of modeling pictures from throughout the years, almost all from the years 2007 – 2010.