“Yes, yes! That’s it – now smile. Not so wide, more seductively. Tilt your – yes! No! Stop blinking!”
He rolls his eyes heavenward and sighs. Her shoulders slump and her not- so-seductive smile disappears. But when he looks up at her again with pursed lips and narrowed eyes, her smile is back, and her head is perfectly tilted.
“Sorry, Jed. It was a late night again. I’m ready now.”
With a sigh of a thousand sighs, he points the camera at her and pulls the trigger again. This time she does not blink at the explosion of light but maintains the alluring smile she knows he wants to see and concentrates on sucking in her stomach a little more.
Underwear shoots are a killer. But they pay the rent. Besides, that’s how all the Greats began their glamorous careers, isn’t it? It will happen for her too – she just has to be patient.
Be patient, be beautiful – and be thin. But above all, keep the photographer happy. He has the power to start or end a career (before it’s even started!) and he is GOD in this industry.
Don’t blink. Don’t blink. Hold the pose, Jenny. Shit, he’s starting to frown again – suck harder!
The clicks of the camera are starting to sound like gunshots. Louder and louder. Brighter and brighter. Explosions of light are shooting through her head and making it difficult to look sexy, carefree, alluring. It also doesn’t help that Jed is frowning again.
You can do this. Come on. You want to be a star, don’t you? Come ON! This is what they’ll pay the big bucks for one day. It’s hard, but it will get better. Don’t blink. Don’t move. Don’t stop looking down the barrel.
She knows she will be paid the big bucks one day soon. This is her dream, and she’s working towards it with every ounce of energy and every cell in her body. Soon all this hard work and putting up with the horrible comments by shoot directors (is that the best we could get?), and the obnoxious photographers (you need to eat less girlie – this is not a wide-angle lens!) will pay off.
Today is a bad day.
Jed is a particularly nasty photographer and it’s a struggle to keep her chin up and her mouth shut while she’s prancing for him. Thank heavens she’s spent so many hours looking at the Greats and practising that haughty look in front of the small, tarnished mirror in her bedsit.
Nobody will ever know what she’s really thinking or feeling – especially Jed and his asshole colleagues.
It doesn’t help that she’s feeling more dizzy than usual today. Gigs have been tougher to bag since Covid, and the bloody lockdown has put a temporary hold on her forward march to stardom. Things are picking up again, but her savings are long gone and being an underwear model for third rate magazines is not quite covering all her bills. Not being able to afford proper food is actually a blessing though – at least now her leaner body is a bit more in demand.
If an apple a day is enough to keep the doctor away – then it’s good enough for her!
What a joke. She’s even started believing it herself.
“Mom! I’m fine. Really. I’m just tired. It was a late night of shooting again, but the pictures look amazing. You should see them. You really should. I’ll send some soon. You’re going to be so proud of me, Mom.”
“YES – of course I’m okay. I can see it's starting to happen for real Mom.”
“Um. Maybe. Actually – no. I’m fine. I don’t need anything. In fact, I’m going shopping in a bit for this stunning leather jacket in Saks. Thanks for offering Mom – but I’m absolutely fine.”
“I love you too! I’ll see you soon – promise for real this time! Oh, and tell Dad I say hi – and I love him too. I Miss you so much. But I must run Mom – fame awaits!”
What she wouldn’t give to feel Mom’s arms around her now. Drinking her hot chocolate and eating a piece of her famous banoffee pie.
Eating anything right now.
Stop it. Smile. Don’t blink. Hold the pose, Jenny.
Keeping Jed happy is all she needs to focus on right now. If Jed is happy, the client is happy - and she is happy. She needs Jed and all the other Jeds to ensure these gigs continue. These magazine shoots are just the first step on the staircase to her holy grail. The ultimate prize of a real modelling career. Seeing her face on the cover of Vogue … being part of fashion week … keeping the torch of the Greats flying high – will make all this soul-destroying drudgery worth it.
You’re being dramatic Jen. Soul-destroying? It’s how all the Greats got started. The Jeds are cruel to all the up-and-coming models. That’s how they toughen us up. That’s how we learn. They’re helping me to achieve my dreams. Just keep smiling.
So long as mom and dad think everyone’s fine – then everything will be fine. Soon there will be better-paying jobs and better Jeds. These gigs will lead to others which will lead to others – and then BOOM! She will be able to show her family and friends – and the WORLD – that she has made it.
And show them work she is proud of.
“Mom, stop. Everything’s going to be okay. Have I ever let you down before? Haven’t I always got the best grades? College can wait a few years. If this doesn’t work out, then I’ll come home and get my degree. You know it’s what I’ve always wanted. Nothing bad can happen mom.”
Nothing bad can happen.
Focus on Jed! It’s going to be fine. This is just a stepping stone. You need the money, Jenny. It’s JUST a steppingstone. You can do this. Just keep smiling.
Modelling is modelling, right? That’s what the Jeds all say. And they are right. Modelling is modelling – even if they do say it with a sneer on their faces and their eyes looking in the wrong places. Underwear modelling is just temporary. All the Greats did it.
“Okay, we’re done for now sweetheart. Don’t go too far though. That was just the warm-up.”
She sits down heavily on the bed. The gun is lowered for now and she can relax for a bit. Her shoulders slump with a heavy sigh. There doesn’t seem to be anything to eat at this shoot. But she has worked through the dizziness before – and she’ll do it today.
She. Is. A. Professional!
A tall girl with skin like burnt caramel comes in. She is all confidence and swagger, flirting with Jed and winking at her. She’s been doing this for a long time obviously. Her silky robe reminds Jenny of the mango and peach cocktail sunsets on family holidays gone by, and her heart wrenches on a sudden pang of longing.
The only cocktails she sees these days are the ghastly-tasting, coloured water wannabees on these tacky sets. The shame of the realization slams through her fuzzy brain like the set lights that are mercifully dimmed now – she is as fake as those cocktails.
“Right girls let’s go! I’m not here for a long time – just a good time.”
The innuendo brings her back with a harsh flash - Jed’s reputation precedes him. The new model laughs and winks at him while slipping off her sunset robe to reveal more perfect caramel. She looks like the Queen of Sheba lying on the bed of fake fur with her fake smile and fake eyelashes.
“C’mon Skye, don’t be shy girl. I’ll make this easy for you. Let’s get this over with, yeah?”
Her sad eyes and gentler voice are the only real things in this room. Relaxing her rigid jaw and lifting her chin, Jenny sits on the edge of the bed and her mask slips back down.
C’mon SKYE, you can do it. Push Jenny away - she belongs on sunset beaches and drinking hot chocolate.
It’s just temporary.
I’m a professional.
This is not forever.
All the Greats started as … underwear models.
The mantra relaxes her, and the harsh lights cut through her dizziness again. She needs this gig. She needs Jed and all the other Jeds to want to work with her. In this business, it’s who you know, and they will help her onto the next step. She believes them. She has no choice anymore.
Their co-star joins them, and she shuts down her mind.
This is not forever.
Nobody will ever know.