Monday, April 22, 2013

Reluctant Model

After my mother pulled me out of 12th grade, we made the rounds of department stores and shops and photographers. To my surprise, I was hired by Halle’s to model in the tearoom at lunchtime; by Higbee’s and May’s for their fashion shows; photographer Harry Cole for his fashion shoots and catalogues and Quinn-Maas, an expensive specialty shop. I strutted on runways, stretched my legs and pointed my toes for the photographer, and in fashion’s convoluted calendar, posed in fur coats and rivers of sweat in July and bathing suits and goosebumps in January. I demonstrated vacuum cleaners at conventions, sprayed cologne at ladies in department stores, paced runways in my new hip-swinging stride, all the while feeling an immense sorrow. I had become my mother’s creation, her idea of me, a no-brainer not even fit to finish high school, a moving, speaking walking size 8, her windup girl-toy, an early pioneering Barbie, pushed down the road of her vicarious fantasies. With no idea of who I was or wanted to be, I went along, riveted by her will as she sat in the dark corner of the photographer’s studio, the front row of the style shows, the table in the tearoom.
Backstage I changed outfits in 50 seconds. Or rather the two dressers did, one of them stripping the clothes off my back while the other pulled the next change over my head. They grabbed the shoes from my feet, thrusting my toes into another pair (you hold onto the dresser’s back for balance) hung my neck with jewelry, patted down my hair and there I was, out on the runway again. 50 seconds flat. If it was a swimsuit show you were stripped naked but no one looked at you, not even the male buyers and merchandisers who were milling around backstage. They’d watch the audience through a part in the curtain or appraise the clothes hanging on racks, or ask someone why numbers 26, 14 and 43 weren't in the show.
            Every day from twelve until two I modeled in Halle’s tearoom. In the dressing room, staring at my reflection at the stranger in the mirror with the breasts and shimmering silver gown and silver sandals, I seemed to have emerged overnight willed into being by my mother.

Read more of Lost & Found by author and model, Babette Rosen Hughes
OR read her novel, The Hat, a story of a bootlegger's wife.
Sequel, The Red Scarf, to be release in July 2013

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