A three-part mini-series about the trials of an older model
Part Three: The Reckoning
Older women are increasingly finding their way into fashion shoots. Some are new to the game, but most, like me, are returning to a career they left in their twenties. However, I've discovered that things have changed. And my Test Shoot is about to receive its reckoning...
Following the shoot the booker at Mrs Robinson, agency for older models, rightly criticises my pictures saying I've only 'the one expression'. Oh.
I'm smiling, well, some might fairly say smirking, in every image. But, I argue, that's not because I can't 'do' different expressions, 'it's because I'm trying to look attractive'. Booker, Fleur, is sympathetic, saying, 'Come in tomorrow and we'll take some polaroids and see what you can do'.
I start to chuckle as I put the 'phone down. This would be very funny if it wasn't starting to make me feel a bit rubbish. I decide to practice expressions and look at the husband in what I think is a 'serious yet alluring' way. He says, 'What? Someone's died?'
Back at the mirror a penny drops: looking good whilst not smiling is a feat of dramatic talent and effort for the older woman. Fleur's got a point: it may be beyond me...
Inspired by Zoolander's famous 'Blue Steel', I determine to create some looks.
Husband grinning beside me, we sit down and capitalize on what I've already got. We call it Vanilla Brain - a sort of welcoming, if insipidly attractive, smile. Then we study the older models on the agency's website, and work out what I need in my tool kit. Blank Stare won't cut it - it's clearly classic model eats classic model out there.
We come up with Silver Cow - a disdainful gaze that's all about the eyes. This is followed by Urbane Cowgirl - a cultured, knowing half-smile on a woman who is a cowgirl/hippie at heart. Then we christen Wysteria Hysteria - a classic perfect housewife, involving a look that could easily be mistaken for mental illness were I to overegg the pudding. I suggest Excited as a good expression but husband overrules saying that I don't want to run before I can walk. He has a point.
Taking the Bliss is a mouth half open, dreamy, chilled look, and finally, Happier Than You is a full-on in-your-face laugh, designed to create FOMO in every viewer.
Systematising the looks helps (we stop at 6 - our brains ache), and I try them out.
It's one thing being in a studio, all made up, with lights and a photographer; quite another being at home with a bit of lippy on and your annoying husband who hasn't done the washing up. He points the camera-phone at me as I recreate each facial contortion. All I can report is that this older modelling malarkey is a lot harder than you might think. He laughs hysterically. Undaunted, I take the next train to London.
'I hope you didn't mind my being blunt' says Fleur as I walk in, referring to our last phone conversation. 'Not at all' I say, (this is the British Fashion Industry you see: face to face we're very polite).
Then she sets up the lights saying, 'I'll take ten, keep moving'. Despite my partial confidence in Vanilla Brain, Silver Cow and Happier Than You, I feel my mouth twitching nervously and am thinking in expletives. It's the wrong frame of mind, but I can't help myself.
Head up, eyes to iPad, head to side, eyes to iPad, fold arms, stare bloody iPad out, laugh like a maniac at nothing, ad infinitum...
Fleur flicks through the results with me, clearly unimpressed. Look, she says disbelievingly, you've got the same eyes, in all of them.
At a bit of a loss, I scan Mrs. Robinson's photo-lined walls for inspiration, but with only one shot of each woman, see no examples of Changed Eyes. 'Let's try 10 more', sighs Fleur, 'and don't do that head raised thing! Look, look here', she waves at my image on the iPad (I do look a bit witchy, but you know, that's how I look), 'it only works if you're young.'
So off we went again, valiantly going through the motions against the odds.
Fleur said she'd call me later. I think she'd already made up her mind but wanted to transfer the awkwardness of face-to-face rejection to a text or an email.
In the end, I never hear from the agency again.
And I'm relieved. If I'm honest, when I modelled in my early twenties, it was knackering, monotonous work even then. I admire the courage and tenacity that I know any older woman will need to win in the new Game of Crones: but this is one rebellion I'll be watching, prosecco in hand, from the frow.
Karen Dobres, Chief Freedom Fighter