The strange kindness of beautiful women

The thing that really struck me about my first modeling casting call was that it was really nothing like anyone ever says it is.

The media likes to tell you that beautiful women are horrible to each other. That cheerleaders squabble and steal boys and try to rip out handfuls of their rivals' hair when it finally gets physical, that models are snooty and egotistical and pick catfights in order to sabotage each other. I've seen beautiful women being horrible to each other in everyday life -- and beautiful women being horrible to average women, and average women being horrible to beautiful women, and average women being horrible to both themselves and one another. Physical beauty and other peoples' reaction to it is a very public thing, so if someone is just generally inclined to be horrible and is looking for an excuse, it's a very popular target.

I've never met another model who made the decision to be horrible to me. For all I know, they think I am short and squat and have a face like the Taco Bell chihuahua; they have every right to think this if they want, as the photons that bounce off of me when I leave the house are public property and people are allowed to have opinions based on them. But if so, none of them have ever actually voiced it, which is the part that counts when you live in a free but civilized society. Personally, I tend to hand out compliments like Halloween candy. Firstly, I'm kind of notorious for not noticing whether someone is "beautiful" or "ugly" according to prevailing social standards unless someone else specifically draws attention to it. And secondly, I've noticed over the years that people for some reason are often completely blind to what other people consider their major, defining traits, particularly if said traits are positive. It results in a lot of surreal arguments when I try to tell people that they're pretty or smart or thoughtful and they insist I'm wrong, but I've had an unfortunately long list of surreal arguments in my lifetime, and this one is probably the least upsetting.

I don't know if it's the same at an audition for a very specific part, where everyone shows up looking more or less alike, and everyone is trying to be the very best at whatever the casting director asked for. There's a kind of direct competition there, I suspect. The VienneMilano call asked for something like "over 18, all shapes and sizes", so there weren't any attendees that had been bleached and tweezed and tucked into a Hollywood-esque plastic Starlet #584. Everybody just wanted to look like the best them that they could be.

There was a girl who told us that she dyed her hair so often she had no idea what her natural color was. As of Monday, it was Joan Holloway red. She had a dozen tattoos and wore a respectable work dress with a robin's egg blue print and an off-center Peter Pan collar. She was beautiful.

There was a girl who was six feet tall if she was an inch, mostly arms and legs, and flat as a board. She had platinum hair, and was the only one brave enough to show up in white lace lingerie. She was beautiful.

There was a girl who was half-Asian and had part of an Australian accent, who told the coordinator, while standing in front of a camera in her underwear, that her mother used to freak out if she left the house in a sleeveless dress. She was beautiful.

There was a girl with soft dark hair and an olive complexion who had two small children at home and confessed rather shyly that she'd chosen a bright red corset for her lingerie because she had stretch marks. I had to ask her where she'd gotten it -- Frederick's of Hollywood. She was beautiful.

There was a girl with the flattest stomach and the most impressively round hips I've ever seen. She did not try to hide or compensate for them at all, but walked around the room as if she were proud of being herself. She was beautiful.

There was a girl with a Muscovite accent whose street clothes were a black bustier and an antique white lace skirt. She was thankful to find people who would speak to her in clear, slow English, about modeling and Russia and other things she had the vocabulary to talk about. She was beautiful.

There was a girl whose wardrobe bag was mostly full of leotards, except for the navy chiffon skirt she asked me to hook up in the back. She made her own jewelry, and cheerfully invited about five of us to stay at her place if we ever booked shoots in Maine. She was beautiful.

There was a girl with a sleek dark bob who never did say much to anyone. She didn't wear much makeup, but had a golden tan complexion underneath the most vivid sea foam green eyeliner I've ever seen. I wish I could find that color, but it would never look the same on me. She was beautiful.

The one thing I regret was that the staff had moved everything but the sofas and TV out of the hotel suite in order to set up the tables and the photographer's lights. If the internet has taught me anything, it's that thirty attractive women hanging around a hotel room in their underwear will be drawn inexorably into having a giggling pillow fight if you leave the cameras on long enough. Oh well.