A seventeen year old model has just left school. She thinks she knows herself and is ready for the fashion world. She stood up for herself in school, so hey what can happen to her thats so different, so bad, that she cant handle…
A man like Terry Richardson can happen to her.
A huge name in fashion, the photographer who can make or break her career.
She has waited months to see a big name photographer like him. Her agent tells her he asked for her specially, so she should be flattered. maybe she’ll even make it into Terry’s Diary, his blog of places, models and superstars…
Her room mates tell her that he has a bad reputation as a bit of a perv, and to be cautious.
Yeah, yeah, she thinks, I can take care of myself, they’re just jealous.
She goes on this go-see/casting and maybe Terry takes a few casting shots, or maybe just his assistant sees her. Maybe he ignores her, doesn’t takes any pix, or maybe he needs his fix and maybe things happen that leave her wondering or maybe she ends up doing things that she’ll really regret, something that may even traumatize her.
This happens in the world of modeling. Its been happening forever. There are men who take advantage of their position and manipulate the girls who come and see them for a casting, into a sex act. Modeling is not prostitution nor is it porn. So those people who react like “what do they expect, isn’t that the business they are in?” are dead wrong. Yes, sexual manipulation happens everywhere, but when you go on an interview for an accounting position its not that simple to get talked out of your clothes.
Bank Manager: “I really need to see your nipples for this job…”
She: “Go fuck yourself, I’ll report you, you pervy asshole.”
Photographer casting for underwear shoot: “I really need to see your nipples for this job…”
She: “I understand…” and lifts her shirt.
When I was modeling male predators happened to me over and over again. As if they only saw me as a body. I never had a father, nor an older brother, so the way I felt about men was pretty much formed after I left home and through my early experiences as a model. By the time I was in my mid-twenties I reacted to most men the way a dog that has been beaten reacts to a raised hand. My subliminal message to men was: back-the-fuck-off.
As a result I didn’t meet my husband till I was 33.
BTW, these are not regrets, they are just facts.
Stupid Model in Paris is the narrative I created around these experiences. How 17-year old Bee reacts to unexpected sexual situations. She finds out that her sexual liberation has nothing to do with being sexually manipulated. One is a choice, the other a predicament that feels like shit.
Here is one chapter that narrates just how casually the sexual manipulation can happen…
The following morning Odile announced that she got me a go-see with Jean Loup Sieff, one of the photographers on Janice’s To Do list. This guy was famous, even bigger than the ELLE photographers, like he shot for Vogue, Bazaar, and did huge designer ad campaigns. As soon as Odile gave me the details I ran back upstairs to change into something sexier. I ended up wearing a vintage red and white organza shirt that I tied above my belly button, with a long white skirt that I’d made myself. It had four slits that showed my legs, like almost all the way up, when I walked. I was gonna be so hassled by men in the street, but I’d tolerate it just to impress Jean Loup Sieff.
His studio wasn’t far and as I rang the studio bell I wondered if I’d arrived too early, but the door clicked open, in that anonymous way all Paris’ front doors do, and I walked up to the fourth floor only to find the studio door shut. I knocked and waited. I wondered. What was with these guys? I looked for another bell but there wasn’t one. So I just I stood there, la-la-di-da-da, waiting aimlessly. Then I noticed a camera mounted in a dark corner of the ceiling. It seemed to point at me so I waved. This was the magic password and the door buzzed open almost instantly. Had he watched me as I stood there waiting like an idiot? I entered a dark open space where enormous atelier skylights had been taped up with black paper. The sound of a voice drifted from one corner of the loft so I made my way towards what seemed to be a trace of light. A man, probably Jean, was talking on the phone and again I didn’t know what to do.
“Alo?” he called out, ”qui est la?”
Hello, its me,” I called back. “Bee, I have a go-see with Jean.”
“Sit down,” he said from his office, “voila on my sofa. I arrive soon.”
The door to his room was ajar and some sunlight escaped onto the sofa. Sitting down I realized that, although I couldn’t see him, he could probably see me really well. Was he another creep who liked to spy on girls? Or was this some kind of test of how I could amuse him? I wondered what Janice would do. Like would she pose for him, right there on his sofa and sit back and cross and uncross her legs suggestively? Teasing and performing for him would turn her on. I just sat and did nothing. I realized I was about as interesting as a corpse and, frustrated with myself, I got up and walked back into the studio. Despite the darkness, I noticed three giant photos of women hover over me. I recognized them all, Catherine Deneuve, Jane Fonda and a topless Charlotte Rampling. As I studied her plate-sized nipples, muffled footsteps announced that Jean was behind me and as I turned to greet him a bright flash went off, blinding me completely.
“I caught you snuppin’ around,” he said.
“Sorry,” I said, rubbing my eyes.
“Excusez- moi, I’m Jean, keep the eyes closed.”
I was a dazed mess, light circles bounced inside my eyeballs, and I felt dizzy standing upright with my eyes shut. I could hear that Jean was moving around the studio, switching lights on and off and as soon as I could see again I spotted him with his back to me, loading film into a camera.
“OK if I take some pictures?” He said.
“What? Me? Like Now?”
He pointed towards a wooden table and chair that were placed in the middle of the grey backdrop paper. On the table was a glass of champagne and Jean told me to have some. That it would help me to relax. I wondered if Charlotte Rampling was naked because she’d been drinking his champagne. I sat down, took a sip and waited. He came up to me, the camera blocked his face and all I saw was his chin and long mousy hair that needed a cut. I still didn’t have a clue what he looked like. He moved closer, stalking me like a cat, his shoulders and chest so close that I could feel his body heat. I looked for him through the lens, if only I had a more complete image of his face… still, he’d been quietly spying on me for a while, in the hallway, on the sofa, in the studio, and he must’ve liked what he saw. I took another swig of the champagne before he shifted the glass away from me, out of the frame. I licked my lips. OK. I was ready. I knew what to do.
“Lovely,” he said. “Chin up … just a little.”
“Sexy, oui, comme ca.”
He breathed directions onto my face, moved a strand of hair and lifted my chin with one finger. Then he took a step back and let the hand that held the camera drop to his side. Now I saw his face (thin lips, long nose and narrow eyes) and we looked at each other, but his eyes looked beyond me, past me, through me. Maybe they saw a photo that I couldn’t imagine. He lifted the camera again. Stepped in again, his hips touching my leg as he bent down alongside me.
“Move your hair,” he said, “your neck is beautiful like a cygne… swan.”
While I pulled together my hair and knotted it into a bun, he tugged at the collar of my shirt, ran his fingers down to the first button and undid it.
“More shoulder, more neck,” he said impatiently, and I pulled my top down to reveal my shoulders.
“Take it off.”
He sounded annoyed, like he hated the shirt, hated my clothes, like he was irritated that he couldn’t see enough skin. His harsh order broke the energy between us and I mumbled that I didn’t do topless.
“Ah merde,” he said with a gesture of despair. He turned away from me, walked off the set, and flung his camera onto a desk. Then he shouted, “I’m not sleazy amateur, I’m casting perfume campaign for Yves Saint Laurent … stupide petite fille.”
A stupid little girl, that’s what I was, not a cool superstar like Charlotte Rampling who clearly knew what was best for her. I was just dumb old me, who should have known better, who had been told to do anything, anything, the famous photographers asked for, if I wanted to be in ELLE, or this, a campaign for Yves Saint Laurent. I’d blown it, and Christa would hear about it, and she might finally kick me out.
“Sorry,” I called after him. “I’m sorry, I will do it.”
I fought back tears as I took off my shirt for the man who’d called me a stupid little girl. A man who’d seen dozens of naked women a million times prettier than me.
Jean walked onto the set with such showy reluctance that it occurred to me he might have staged his angry outburst just to get his way. Instantly my tears dried up. If I was a little girl then he was an asshole. I looked right at his lens. Fuck you, I thought, I hate you. So what that you can see my tits, seeing them doesn’t make them yours. I jutted out my chin, I stretched my neck, I wanted to kill him, I wanted to kill all men. He clicked frame after frame as if he were shooting at me – bang, bang – he worked around me from every angle while I glared, shot daggers back. When the twenty-four frames were up, he touched my back lightly.
“Bravo,” he said. “That was good.”
He bent over, picked my shirt up from the floor and gently draped it over my shoulders. I sat at the farm table a bit longer, trying to figure out what just happened. I was exhausted, drained from the range of emotions he’d put me through. I got up, slowly gathered my stuff, fastened all my buttons, and tucked the shirt deep into my skirt, feeling sure that I’d shown enough skin for one day.