Our little van swayed from side to side as we screeched around the city streets from one appointment to another. First on our docket was a stop at the other model apartment to pick up 2 more girls who were also signed with the agency. The front door to their house flung open and they stumbled to the van, portfolio in one hand and cigarette in the other. Linda was 14 going on 40. She was Paris Hilton before Paris was invented. She was about 5’6″ and 85 pounds with angular movie star qualities and soft blonde hair. Although malnourished, she considered herself overweight and somehow managed to survive on exactly 1 Subway sandwich per day, along with a steady diet of cigarettes. Her tiny frame housed a strong-willed confidence beyond her years. Both the camera and the Japanese people loved her feminine and petite features.
Melded to her hip was her best friend, Stephania. Both girls were from eastern Canada and shared a sisterly bond that was difficult to penetrate. Stephania was ethnic and tall with dark skin and wavy hair that she wore slicked back into a pony tail every day. She had a long face and big eyes and looked as though she belonged in a Benetton advertisement. She wore her big-city attitude and tough, modern beauty with pride and was very protective of Linda.
Although the oldest in the group at 18, I sat uprightly in my seat and tried to pay close attention to my new teachers. They had been in Japan much longer and knew the ropes –and they knew it. Ricky hit the gas and off we went to our castings. Techno and bad European Pop music crackled from the van’s sound system as we were chauffeured from appointment to appointment, sometimes waiting for hours in the smoke-filled car while the other models met with their clients for the day. Over the next few months, this would become the daily routine which would include the inevitable stop at Subway for lunch, followed by a cigarette run for the under-aged group.
I would soon learn that the jobs in Japan were a lot different than those in Milan. The Japanese people loved “cute” American girls with sweet features, neither of which I possessed. Their campaigns were much less serious and were often based more on their desired perception of American beauty, than actual American beauty. I found their sticky-sweet notion of America to be overplayed and cliche and often didn’t find myself fitting into their mold for me. It wasn’t long before my agency arranged for my hair to be dyed brown and cut into a severe bob with blunt bangs. Before leaving the salon I determined to embrace and sell my new look regardless of how much more confused about my appearance I felt.
“She looks like she has a brown mop on her head,” chided one of the girls under her breath.
That comment solidified the fact that I wasn’t ready for this abrupt shift from wispy blonde shag to strong, angular brunette. Not to mention none of my portfolio resembled my new look and that was generally not a good thing. As the weeks continued on, I felt more and more unsure about who I was and that translated into the inabilility to sell myself to the client. This was the age in which I was supposed to be finding myself. Instead, frustration, insecurity and cattiness amongst the group started to eat away at me. At a time when I needed self-assurance most, it was nowwh.
As I slowly allowed myself to crumble under the pressures of the business, I found myself escaping my reality by delving head-first into a relationship with a random but handsome foreigner I had met at a night club in the Roppongi district. He was a stockier version of James Dean right down to the hair and clothing. He was in Japan to earn his MBA equivalent and roomed with a friend whom another model from my agency was dating. I wasn’t looking for true love and instead relied on his companionship as a crutch to get me through an emotionally unstable phase that would have to be dealt with…later. I enjoyed this arrangement and enjoyed much of the city through the eyes of this welcome stranger.
Living in the moment, my free time was filled with exploring the parks, shrines, food, and shopping districts of Tokyo while our nights took us to the local clubs where we were readily coddled alongside household celebrity names for the entire night. While being with my young, naive roommate took some of the shame out of the directionless of it all, the affects of this nothingness were beginning to take hold more and more with each passing day. The final straw came only 2 months into my stay in Tokyo when my agent called me into her office unexpectedly.
“Barong Lembu” by Saylow
“I have an amazing job opportunity that has come up for you. It is a very tasteful, all-nude job in Bali. It pays $10,000 for the day and is for a book on the human body–nothing sleazy,” she said in her most assuring tone.
I felt a knot form in the pit of my stomach. This was not at all what I had signed on for when I set out to model. Deep down, I knew that if I refused such a big job, I would be sent home immediately.
“Let me think about it,” I said nervously. ”I’ll get back to you in the morning with my answer.”
“If you don’t do it, we’ll have to send you home,” she said -confirming my worst fear.
I’ll let you know tomorrow,” I reassured her.
I angrily fled the agency, mind racing over the nerve of this slimy “madame”. Her tactics were underhanded but I realized that I couldn’t let her know that I knew it. My contract very specifically expressed that I would not do nude work; this was an obvious attempt at some quick cash. I composed myself and quickly formulated a plan.