Sitting in an office beside my mother, I was nervous. I’d been called in by my small town local modelling agency to meet a big city scout. A steady stream of girls were going in and coming out of the office she’d comandeered to pore over us and judge our fitness in the “real world” of modelling. She flipped quickly through my book of photographs, aka The Portfolio, then peered over her glasses at me, apprising my value.
“Stand up please”. I stood.
“Turn around.” I complied.
“You’re very attractive. You have a good look. Your height is excellent for your age. But..” and here she turned to my mother, “She needs to lose about 10-15 pounds.”
Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was one of those turning points in my life.
My mother pursed her lips into a smile and stood up. “Thank you. We’ll think about that.”
In the car afterwards, my mind swirled. Was I fat? She liked me, but I needed to lose weight? 10-15 pounds? I was 5’8″ and 125 pounds. By today’s body mass index indicator that borders on underweight, though I didn’t know that then. I thought I looked fine, and certainly had no idea how I’d begin to lose so much weight. But didn’t this woman from Toronto with the fancy glasses and the pencil, and the stack of hopeful girls’ comp cards know better?
“Mom, what do you think?”
“I think that woman is out to lunch. Lose weight?! You? No way. If they don’t like you as you are now, they’ll never be happy with you. And I think you look perfect.”
In my 14 year old mind, that made sense, and looking back, I can see I was relieved at my mothers response. Of course I was struggling with body issues, as every teen girl does. I knew I was skinny, but looking myself over later that night, I had no idea where my body would even begin to shed that much weight from. I could already see my abs and ribs; I had hips and a butt, but Toronto thought I needed to be skinnier? I rolled my eyes: no thanks.
Weeks later when my agency asked if they should schedule a follow up with the bespectacled fancy-lady from the big city, I told them no. I know plenty of other girls who would have started eating carrot sticks the moment it was suggested, but that wasn’t for me.
I can thank smart, reasonable and supportive parents for steering me out of what could have been a potentially bad situation. They raised me to eat food; real food. Meat, potatoes, vegetables. Pop (or soda for my American cousins) was had ONCE a week. Cookies only occasionally. (In fact cookies were so rare and coveted on our house, me and my three siblings would tear open the package, count out the cookies, divide by 4 and write it down so we knew exactly who got how much.) Our family ate healthy, and cooked at home. Dinners out happened only once a month, max. And far from the Honey Boo Boo mammas out there, my parents were not desperate for fame, stardom, money or the ability to brag to the neighbours that their daughter was a top model.
I took a different route in modelling instead; I worked locally, and often. I helped put myself through school doing local newspaper spreads, fitness ads, and fashion shows at all the local malls. I was even a “fit model” for the ol’ Kettle Creek Clothing Company (remember that, Ontario?), and all their Size 8 clothing was based on MY figure. Again, I didn’t know it at the time, but that was a big thumbs-up for me and my decisions about modelling, my weight, and my self esteem.
I learned by getting those small jobs that my body was just fine. And with every fashion show I booked, I gained confidence. A shy teenager, I learned with real-world experience, that all I had to do was pretend to be confident when I didn’t yet feel it, and people believed I was. And when people believe in your confidence, it boosts you even further, and eventually that faux-confidence becomes the real deal.
I learned poise; and how to look graceful. I learned how to apply makeup to look both theatrical for the runway, and professional when posing in photos that would eventually be used in the business world. Those skills would help me later in life as a budding TV reporter and anchor.
I also learned accounting; I had to bill my agency, and keep records about what work I’d been paid for and what was still owed. I had to do my taxes as a self-employed individual. That knowledge is still helping me today.
So I may not have my own TV show; a multi-million dollar contract .. but…I’d like to think I’m a normal human being, with normal habits, a good level of confidence and a sense of adventure. I don’t even wonder what kind of person I might have become had I started on those carrot sticks…