Catwalk Confessional p. IV: Forgive Me Tyra, For I Have Sinned

Mary O'Regan

I can handle walking a runway. I've cruised the catwalk in five shows over the past three years and finally, the pacing, posing, and pouting feels natural. Photo shoots, however, are a foreign affair.

I'm a bit apprehensive about modeling Anne Selden's outfits for the Voltage LookBook, a catalogue of band bios and designers' photo spreads. Having your picture taken in front of a large, blank screen is like walking the runway in extreme slow motion. Every head turn, arm swing, and leg lift are captured on film, and miscalculated movements can result in wasted frames. Or wasted RAM, at least. Lower your chin and shadows appear all over your face; twist your waist and your silhouette turns into a lumpy pear; step off your mark and you might as well be sitting in the corner with a dunce cap.

Let me admit the obvious: I am not a professional model. And most of what I do know about modeling comes from watching Tyra Banks berate overambitious waifs on the CW.

And yet here I am in the same downtown studio where I auditioned six weeks ago to be a model in this April 11 show. Large windows flood the room with natural light, and a cluster of makeup artists and hair stylists scurries around a table near the door. They look like fashion designers themselves, in denim miniskirts, chunky belts, and thin, layered tees. I stand in the entryway, clutching my point-and-shoot camera, and wait for direction.

A girl in a polka dot top bounces up to me. "Hi. Are you one of the models?"

I answer yes—what Tyra doesn't know won't kill her—and she invites me to take off my coat and have a seat. But all the chairs have been claimed by girls being fluffed and primped. So I slip my bag behind a potted plant and lean against a pillar, pretending to know what's going on. Not only do I feel like a pretender; I feel a bit like an orphan, too. My designer, Anne Selden, is in New York this weekend and couldn't make the shoot. She gave me specific instructions on how to wear her clothes, but I know that it's up to me to make them look good.

After what feels like years of hugging the pillar, it's my turn to get dolled up. I plop down in a green metal chair and fold my hands in my lap. My hair stylist is a blonde named Kelsy Osterman who works for Juut salon in Wayzata. She's dressed like an Urban Outfitters window display in a bright red shirt and gold belt, with a comb jutting out of her pocket. We exchange pleasantries and she starts running her fingers through my hair.

"It's so fine," she says. "Did you wash it today?"

"Yep," I reply and as soon as the words leave my mouth I realize that I broke the number one rule of fashion modeling: Never wash your hair on the day of a shoot. It's easier for stylists to work with slightly greasy hair because it stays put and holds its shape better than a headful of clean limp locks. "Sorry," I groan. "I completely forgot."

I try to hold my head still as she spritzes me down with water, divides my scalp into sections, and secures chunks of hair with tiny rubber bands. This will be Kelsy's first year doing hair for Voltage, and her fifth big show. She describes working with makeup artists and models as "little jam sessions" in which "more and more people are added to our family."

Di Medlock, my makeup artist and the girl who greeted me at the door, wanders over and discusses my look with Kesly. They're shooting for a futuristic, space-age style, with bright colors and a zero-gravity 'do. Di considers the instructions sent from Selden, tilts my chin upward, and gets to work. The professionals pour over both sides of my head, touching my skin, fluffing my hair, narrowing in on every pore. I can feel my inner diva coming out: I deserve to have helpers to make me look good.

Di whips out a set of fake eyelashes, a small tube of adhesive, and tells me to look up. I stare at the ceiling thinking, Don't blink. Please, don't blink. I really don't need to glue my eyelids together. Luckily, the glue sets quickly and, though it feels like there's a caterpillar stuck to my lower lid, I can still see.

Because of my elaborate look, primping takes longer than normal. Kelsy recruits an additional hair stylist to curl half my head as she works on the other hemisphere. Di slicks red and blue eye shadow over my lids, and creates a ruby lip-gloss that inspires such pride that she calls another stylist over to see it. When they're finished dolling me up, I have a giant mass of curls framing my head and my eyes resemble Elizabeth Taylor's in Cleopatra.

After nearly an hour of beautifying, it's time for my photo shoot. I take Selden's brown dress and red trench coat into a bathroom down the hall, and carefully, so as not to muss up my hair, change from an average city girl into a fashion-forward supermodel.

The photography area consists of a massive paper rectangle suspended as a backdrop with metal poles. A boom light hangs overhead and an X on the floor serves as my only source of instruction. I feel like an actor in front of a blue screen preparing to converse with a cartoon penguin.

The photographer crouches behind a tripod 15 feet away as I take center stage. A few models watch from the sidelines, waiting for their turn. I try to muster up some confidence and remember what Tyra said on America's Next Top Model ("Don't hide your neck!"). We start with straight-on shots, and, clasping my collar, I worry over the placement of my legs. Right leg forward? No wait, the left leg will make a better 'V'.

The photographer suggests that I try taking big steps to get some action in the shot. This is what it must be like to land on the deck of an aircraft carrier. The backdrop is roughly six feet long, so taking more than one step sends me veering off my mini-runway and out of the frame. I pretend that I'm climbing on large blocks and suddenly realize that I've forgotten about my head.

"Can you tilt your chin up so that the light hits your face?" the photographer asks, peeking out from behind his camera for only a moment.

"Okay. Sorry." I continue climbing invisible steps and point my face upwards. Modeling, I'm learning, is the biomechanics of looking good.

After 15 long minutes we finish shooting full body shots and another photographer joins in to take some close-ups. One of them snaps my profile and the other takes pictures head-on. I'm more comfortable with this because it doesn't require taming my gangly limbs. I wink at the camera, smile, flash my best sultry stare. And then photo shoot is complete.

I change out of my Selden outfit and stick around with two models for the Hyper Lush line as they get pretty. Derek, one of a handful of men in the room, is new to the modeling scene. He accidentally fell into it when he accompanied a friend to a photo shoot and was asked to participate. During our conversation, Kelsy braids a strip of auburn hair down the middle of Derek's head, rooster style. He doesn't appear phased by the strange hairdo, nor does he seem to care that he isn't wearing pants.

Part of the concept behind Hyper Lush, created by Anthem Heart and Hardland/Heartland, is to represent a post-apocalyptic world in which people return to their tribal roots. For Derek, this means cut-off nylons, a garish loincloth, and a skin-tight yellow shirt. His face is painted a sickening yellow-green, and rich red circles hollow out his eyes as if all of his capillaries had burst at once.

His partner for the photoshoot is Lola, a sweet 24-year-old with perfect skin and a rail thin body. She's wearing white, high-cut moccasins and a pink dress that has a baggy cowl neck draped with animal skins. Her hair has been ratted and teased to form a chaotic halo around her head. Thick, white tribal lines run from the bridge of her nose down her cheeks and around her mouth.

"I'm going to go home like this and just scare my mom," Lola laughs. "She thinks I'm not normal anyway. I might as well just show her."

Voltage will be Lola's first show. With her slender physique and high cheekbones, she didn't even have to audition—a Hyper Lush designer simply signed her up. I ask if she plans on getting into modeling now, but she says that she wants to be an actor. Sounds like a great idea, I say, having once wanted to act myself.

But just before I grab my bag and head for the door, Lola cries out with a line that makes me think she may have a future on the runway: I feel fat! I haven't worked out in ages!

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