By high school, I had migrated to an online journal. Although it largely served as a platform for my terrible, Sylvia Plath-inspired poetry, my Xanga also recorded the momentous occasions of my life in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Perhaps most memorably, I documented my short-lived career as a teenage model.
It began with my twin sister, Laura, an incorrigible sloucher. In a way, this was her gift to me: When not slouching, she was a full six inches taller than I, so her terrible posture leveled the playing field. But my grandmother remained convinced that slouching was no way for a real lady to go through life. So, in the summer of 2004, she signed Laura up for a modeling class. For the sake of propriety, I won’t disclose its price tag, but let’s just say that you could buy a lot of empanadas for the cost of the class.
“It’s a rite of passage for the women in our family,” my grandmother explained. “Your cousin Chelsea will be doing it as well.”
“Why doesn’t Kristen have to do it?” Laura asked.
“She has good posture.” It’s true: If there’s anything my Lilliputian stature has taught me, it’s that standing up straight is a powerful weapon. I make every inch count.
“I won’t do it unless Kristen has to,” Laura said in a last-ditch effort to get out of it. But her plan backfired; instead of relenting, my grandmother signed me up as well. Thus began my ill-fated foray into modeling.
The class consisted entirely of teenage girls except for two middle-aged men. I had just finished reading Lolita for the first time, so I maintained my distance from them. The teacher, Beth, assured us that by the end of the two-month course, we would be able to take Harrisburg’s fashion scene by storm.
Our lessons were, at the beginning, indistinguishable from finishing school. We balanced books on our heads, and Beth was duly impressed with my aforementioned posture. But despite showing early promise, I defied any expectations she might have had when I made my catwalk debut. Anyone who has ever had the misfortunate of walking next to me knows that I navigate sidewalks with all of the finesse of a blind pigeon.
We moved on to applying makeup. After my efforts to apply bronzer transformed me into an Oompa Loompa, I decided to try penciling my already thick eyebrows.
“Keep going,” Beth told me as I traced my arches. “Really work those eyebrows.” I furiously rubbed the pencil against my brows. “Very good. You look like a young Elizabeth Taylor.” I looked in the mirror. I was pretty sure that no person with good vision would ever accuse me of looking like Liz. I did, however, bear a striking resemblance to Martin Scorsese.
The final lesson was on posing for photoshoots. Beth instructed us to bring three of our finest outfits. My ensembles, which included fishnet arm warmers and pink bellbottoms, showcased my impeccable sartorial taste.
Beth looked at my photographs and offered feedback. “You, um,” she started. “You have potential. Maybe don’t open your mouth so widely.”
In the end, I didn’t take the fashion scene of Harrisburg by storm, and Laura continued to slouch. But we learned an important lesson: Instead of enrolling our grandchildren in modeling lessons, we would buy them a lot of empanadas.