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How to Stay Sane in the City of No Shame


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The Lizard and The Glass Ceiling

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A memory popped up last night.

I won’t say triggered –the word of the day. Of the week, Of the month and yes, going back to Trump’s pussy-grabbing tape, of the year. Expressed first by the women’s march and most recently the #MeToo movement. The club that recruited me as an unexpected member as early as 1972 but, Groucho Marx style, I don’t want to belong to it.

As I drove to see Patti Smith downtown Miami, passing billboards of topless men and women who conveyed their own sexual encounters, I remembered a calendar I did in Amsterdam with a photographer called Lee Kraft. I worked with Lee quite often on newspaper fashion ads for stores like C&A and HEMA. Mundane well-paid modeling jobs. This one was different he said. It was topless for a tasteful Pirelli-style calendar. His client was a friend from America, some successful business man. (Lee was also American). I said thanks but no thanks. Lee said it’s two hundred guilders cash. I said no. He said three. I said no. He said four. I said no. He said five. He said it would be beautiful. He said no one would ever see it. He didn’t take no for an answer, he wore me down and I said yes.

I didn’t know the client would actually be there, I thought it was just good old Lee and me. Call me naive.

The American was a tall, thin man in a suit. He was kind of handsome, but also reminded me of a lizard. There was something scaly about his skin and his long fingers may as well have had suction cups. He didn’t exactly creep me out, but I didn’t trust him either.

I was going to be June he said, referring to the month on the calendar. He showed me the rough sketches of the calendar layout  and stopped at a rudimentary, almost stick like figure with large nipples that were filled in with smudged gold make up. June was written across the top.

I looked at him.

So, I will have golden nipples? I asked and thought of James Bond  and  the girl who suffocates because Goldfinger paints her entire body gold. Thank god it’s just my nipples, I thought.

“Do you mind?” he said rather politely.

I shrugged my shoulders. Of course I minded. It was ridiculous. Surely he knew it was demeaning?

I applied the thick gold paste from the small jar Lee handed me. Then we went into the studio and Lee placed me on the backdrop paper.

“Raise your arms,” he said and I did. Ralph stood next to him and looked at me as if he were looking at his laundry going around in the dryer.

No, this is not going to be that kind of abuse story. I am not #MeToo calling out Ralph Nader here. The, by all accounts, a-sexual or possibly gay independent presidential candidate who screwed things up for Gore in 2000. The consumer rights hero of the seventies and eighties.

“What star sign are you?” He asked. He’d walked over to me as Lee was reloading his camera.

“Leo,” I answered proudly.

“Hmm,” he said. “A difficult sign … for a woman [like you].”

“Why?” I asked defiantly.

“Leos have a very high opinion of themselves. Their expectations for their lives are hard to live up to.”

He looked at me as if he could see through me.

“You’ll end up disappointed.”

I had just turned eighteen. I was modeling to pay for college in London. I was going to be a fashion designer. Something shriveled inside me. It was as if he knew (and I didn’t yet) that I would never amount to much. That I was and would always be as insignificant as I was next to him, there and then. He, dressed in an expensive suit, and me, naked in tiny panties and with painted golden nipples. Miss June 1976.

Ralph Nader had presented me with my first glass ceiling, several years before the term was coined. He was the first man to impress on me that there are limitations to what women should reasonably expect for themselves. I had no idea who he was in the cultural context of the United States. I wouldn’t know for another 15 years. But clearly he delivered his message with such manipulative authority that it impacted me.

I was and am ambitious. I did and do have high expectations for myself. I often fail, in my own eyes. And I often say, well what did you expect? I let myself down. I end up disappointed. Then I bounce back, like I did that day in Amsterdam, when his words became the challenge that was to be disproven. By me. For me. Over and over.

Optimistically, I always assumed the metaphor of glass ceiling meant that if you bash it hard enough, the glass will be broken. Last night I flashed for the first time (duh!) on the real meaning. That women can see through the barrier but can’t get to the other side. This glass is shatter proof. The men stand on the floor above us. We are looking up with our high expectations. They are looking down with the arrogant confidence that only bulletproof glass ensures.

Ralph Nader was speaking from the other side of the glass. I didn’t know it then, but he let me feel it. He wasn’t the last or only man to ever mind fuck me. But I was young and unsuspecting and he was smart and effective. Last night I flashed on him. His arrogance. His entitled manipulation, designed to put an eighteen-year-old model in her place. Who knows what I stirred in him, what led to his urge to disempower me.  As I drove to the book fair, I thought about the divide between expectation and perception (trigger) and in that moment I hated the memory of his words more than the memory of any grope or unwelcome penis sighting.

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Janice Dickinson’s rules for success…

page from my journal

Someone kicked my door.

Janice and her sister Debbie stormed into my room. Debbie held a bottle of wine and Janice grabbed and opened my portfolio.

You can throw all this crap out, she said. If it isn’t shot in Paris they call it merde, shitte. You think you have some cute editorials? Some nice Dutch covers? Honey, they’re gonna piss on them. They’re gonna make you feel like hideous shit.

She pulled the cork from the bottle and filled our plastic cups.

So prepare yourself for the worst.

I wondered what she meant as I watched her, manically moving her bare feet back and forth through the orange shag carpet.

She never stopped talking.

Paris is not Amsterdam, she said. Things are different here, harder, and you’ll only work if you follow my, the Janice Dickinson, rules of success and survival.

Janice had become a star overnight but she was also pretty wild. I wasn’t sure what could I learn from her.

She put one finger in my face as if we were counting together.

The Janice Dickinson rule to success … ONE, she said, you need fabulous editorials for your portfolio. TWO – you have to get booked by ELLE, they do the hottest shoots – once you’re in ELLE, everyone else books you. THREE – the only way into ELLE is through the photographers, Demarchelier, Toscani, Bensimon, and Jean Loup Sieff. So. you have to make your booker send you to them and get these guys to notice and want you. Do whatever it takes. Every photographer you see is a horny rat. Don’t bother with any of them, if they’re not well known they’re not worth it. And always make sure you focus on what you need. Great pictures for your book.

Her loud raspy voice and in-my-face attitude made me claustrophobic. This room was too cramped for her, with the bright walls that were painted in a pattern of a psychedelic mushroom cloud of yellow, orange and red.

A-bomb on acid, she said. Mine is blue. Same decorator, different LSD I guess.

Two white molded plastic beds sat along one wall. Another globular blob was both my closet and desk and I had to walk across my bed to get to a bathroom where the toilet and the sink overlapped.

So my sweetie, she said and poked two fingers in my ribcage.

Next is my rule for survival. These rooms suck, every night you’ll wanna escape. But as soon as you go out alone French men will hit on you – like they’re cavemen who think every girl wants to get laid.

I didn’t believe her. In Amsterdam I always went out by myself. Why would Paris be so different?

Believe me, she said. You’ll find out. BUT. Armand, Christa’s millionaire partner, provides the solution. I call them the Playboys.

Who are the playboys? I asked.

Greasy rich guys who like to play with us, you know, party boys, jet-setters. They show up every night. Like dating models is all they do.

You mean the agency uses us as escorts?

Janice hooted.

You’re so bubblegum. Armand invests in this agency for the perks and guess what, we’re the perks!

I’m not a perk.

Honey, just use these guys the way they use you and you’ll have fun.

She got up and stretched theatrically.

Chill, you’re gonna be huge.

Debbie had not said a word, as if they had an agreement that Janice made all the noise, but on her way out, as she stood in my doorway, Debbie turned, blew me a kiss and whispered:

Sleep tight, don’t let those French bed bugs bite.

I lay down on my bed.

What was that all about?

It was still light outside and people were laughing in the street below. I was restless, my energy bounced off the walls and I had to go somewhere. See the Eiffel tower. Walk along the Champs Elysee. Have a glass of wine on a terrace. But I hesitated. What if there still were playboys downstairs, waiting for me?

This is an excerpt, for more from THE BLACKBERRY DIET


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Meet Janice Dickinson

Excerpt from The BlackBerry Diet:

photo: Jaap de Graaf

I was seventeen when I left home for Paris.

Two weeks after I’d finished high school and one year after my stepfather ran off with our babysitter.

On June 7th 1976 I arrived at the bottom of the stairs that led to Christa’s Modeling Agency.

Covers from Elle, Marie Claire, and Vogue went up the walls and familiar faces stared down at me and seemed to say:

We’re much more beautiful than you’ll ever be – go home.

Home was not an option. I was done with all that; My childhood, school and my wild mother who was indulging her new-found sexual freedom by taking a different lover for each day of the week.

All done. Even if these other models were prettier and skinnier and sexier, I’d been invited by Johnny Casablancas, the world’s hottest model agent, to meet with his partner Christa and try out for the couture shows in July.

There was no way was I going back. Modeling was a stepping stone to my dream career as a fashion designer. Through modeling I’d meet famous designers, wear amazing clothes and make enough money to go to art college.

I hesitated and someone tapped my back.

Allez. Allez. Go, go,

I’m Katja from Amsterdam, I’m here to see Christa.

Ah oui, I’m Christa, the woman said.

I followed her upstairs and she left me behind in a small reception room.

Purple psychedelic letters that spelled Christa were all over the walls and a patent white sofa was jammed between the wall and a door. Pictures of Pat Cleveland, Linda Morand, Kim Alexis and other familiar faces surrounded me. The stale smell of Gauloise cigarettes and strong black coffee made me nauseous and again I felt the urge to leave. Maybe I should enroll at the Rietveld Art Academy in Amsterdam.

Behind a glass door was the bookings room and I could see four bookers working the phones from a series of desks crowded with photos, calendars and charts. They were busy talking to clients. They pulled model work sheets from a central shelf and checked available dates for each girl. On the other side of the room three bored-looking models leaned against a windowsill. One of them, she looked familiar, must’ve cracked a joke and the other two laughed. Then she turned and stared at me like she’d just spotted the ugliest creature in the universe. To my horror she moved towards me. She pressed her face against the glass door and pushed it open with her forehead. This girl was crazy and she scared me.

Hallo, I said.

My voice shook.

I’m Katja from Amsterdam. Christa told me to wait here.

Then I knew. She was Janice Dickinson – the hottest model in Paris. She was the one, the badass American, on all those covers in the stairway.

Janice grabbed my clammy hand and dragged me into the office. The bookers and the other models stared at me but no one said a word. Even the phones seemed to stop ringing.

Janice turned around and put her face against mine.

I wondered if she was going to kiss me but instead she sniffed the top of my head, my hair, my face, my shoulders, around my back, to my breasts and down every inch of my body. She stopped at my crotch like a dog and made a disgusted face. Everyone laughed. I wanted to send her flying through the glass.

But I just stood like a stupid grinning giraffe.

Honey, she announced. You’ve got what it takes! Welcome to Paris, the capitol of lonely horny models.

more from  The BlackBerry Diet:


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The BlackBerry Diet – a novel by Barbara de Vries

“Youth is something very new.

Twenty years ago no one mentioned it.”

– Coco Chanel.

The BlackBerry Diet


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when I worked with Helmut Newton …

One day Helmut Newton booked me for a swimming-pool shoot. I was thrilled at the prospect of working with him. All the top models had worked with Helmut at least once. He liked tall, domineering, angry, sexy Amazons. I could do S&M, I could be his kind of girl. He was working on a famous series of models in swimming pools, contrasting the cool blue water with the black of their sunglasses and bathing suits, the red of their nails and lips, their ebony hair, long tan legs and backs, curved sexy bottoms and breasts.

Mine was an ad for Smirnoff Vodka.

The turquoise pool, my long naked back next to a martini glass.

It seemed simple enough.

Helmut arrived at Ringo Starr’s estate in a black stretch limo, took one look at Ringo’s pool, another look at the sky and declared both inadequate. He needed bright sunshine, a rare event in North London, and the pool was too shabby.

He ignored me like I was some assistant and disappeared back into his limo. The shoot was cancelled. I was paid five hundred pounds for showing up, and a week later ten of us, hair, make-up, stylist, ad-people, assistants, flew to an infinity pool carved into the Portofino mountainside.

Throughout our first dinner Helmut entertained us with witty but brutal anecdotes, like when he had a fireman’s hose pointed between the model’s legs and the jet of ice-cold water accidentally hit her in the crotch causing her to scream in pain. Helmut told the story as if this blast had actually given the girl an orgasm and everyone laughed.

I’d never been to Italy before and I ordered antipasti, Osso Bucco and Tiramisu.

I was in heaven but Helmut stated that if I kept eating this much I’d look like a Dutch heifer next to my fine-boned glass of Smirnoff Vodka and for the next two days June, his wife/assistant, ordered my meals of salad and fruit. I starved but I was terrified of Helmut and his cruel sense of humor, so I kept quiet.

I had my back to him in the shot while he said things like: She looks like a guy from behind, get me Dalma or Jerry, or anyone else who knows what she’s doing, Her hair is too short, her elbows too pointy.

It was hard to model with my back, sitting on the edge of a pool, legs in the water. There wasn’t much I could do to look different, sexier, curvier, more S&M, but I hoped my back looked angry, because I hated him, and I put all this emotion into my butt, my vertebrae, my neck, shoulder-blades, arms, hair, earlobes, and skin.

Afterwards, when I saw the ad, I realized he’d been obnoxious on purpose. He wanted that tension of anger. It showed. The ad was great and I was proud to have a Helmut Newton shot in my portfolio.