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How to Stay Sane in the City of No Shame


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Is it Me?

Stupid Model illustrations_

I’ve been a bit blue.

And I haven’t been very nice.

The agent of our house texted me this – you aren’t being very nice – after I asked him whether he leaves his car running in his driveway overnight. He had just told me that the AC is like my car and if I don’t keep it running all the time it breaks. (The AC had broken.)

Then a friend asked in an e-mail if I was OK, because I wasn’t usually like this. This was after I got upset that a book launch party for the latest book I’d created had been planned when I’m elsewhere (she’d also described me to the party planner as “the … wife”).  I answered that, yes, I am usually like this – Barbara de Vries, the designer and producer, who would like to attend the book’s party. She wrote back that she didn’t need my resume. Then she asked me if I was OK.

There were two other friends in the last month who didn’t like my reaction to, what I perceived as, their unsupportive behavior.

When it adds up to four in four weeks, that’s one a week, maybe I need to take a look at myself. Maybe I’m really not usually like this. Maybe I’m usually like whatever. Like happy. Like smiling. Like loving. Maybe I’m becoming different from how I’m perceived or maybe I’m really not very nice. Maybe I have just been pretending that I’m nice. Maybe I just want to be liked, but in the end I’m not likable at all. And so it goes in my head. And thus I’m a bit blue.

 I think I’m blue because, by thinking all those thoughts, I’m not being supportive of myself. And then my Dutch Calvinist voice says, who gives a fuck what you think of yourself, stop being indulgent.

 I’m gonna ignore him for a minute. Because I’m on to something. As a mother and a wife and a partner in our studio, I expect from myself that I’m 100% supportive in all those roles. I support my daughters and my husband emotionally, physically and nutrionally. I support the company creatively and intellectually. I expect from myself that I can solve everyone’s problems as well as make the oceans free from plastic pollution.

But I’ve forgotten about leaving just a tiny bit of support for myself. And maybe thats where it all starts. But what does this support look like? There are women who go shopping, have their hair and nails done, have massages and meditate as part of their inner support system. I actually get irritable doing these things. Some take vacations or go running. I like swimming, but not really yoga, although I should do it. It would be very supportive if I could get into yoga and also self -hypnotizing. Like just an hour a day. I love being with a bestie girlfriend, talking women’s stuff, hanging in the knowledge that I’m not so unique in trying to do it all and getting pissy in the process. Sometimes we bitch about the women in our lives who are not supportive of other women. Even the press picked up on that concept after Hillary lost.

 “It’s all because white women do not support each other.”

 I can go there…

 But maybe I should support myself first.

 Maybe we should all support ourselves first.

 And we’d all be a bit nicer…

… to each other.

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Here is an excerpt from Stupid Model when at age 17, I first came across a misconception and the surprise of the unsupportive female:

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STUPID MODEL – Chapter 18

He led me to a softly lit room that smelled of baby powder, diapers, and milk. The windows were open and gauze curtains blew gently in the warm evening air. The drone of steady traffic drifted up from the boulevard below. Collin’s wife sat on a narrow bed next to a sleeping boy. She held out her hand and whispered, “I’m Heather, how do you do? Collin told me so much about you.”

She was not at all as I’d imagined. She was pale with small features and her dark, almost black hair was cut in a Vidal Sassoon bob that made her look a bit intimidating. She gave me a quick smile before she turned to Collin and asked if he could bring her a glass of that delicious-looking Champagne we were both drinking. Her eyes flashed brightly with something I couldn’t quite place. Was it defiance? Sarcasm? Or some inside joke she shared with her husband?

“I heard a lot about you too.” I reached to shake her hand.

I was a bit afraid of Heather and I didn’t say much over dinner. Instead I ate my chicken, mashers and green beans, drank Champagne and red wine, and listened to them chat about his work and her day with the kids. When she told him that she’d been approached by the Herald Tribune to produce a reportage piece with photographer Martine Franck, I took the opportunity to tell them that I’d been booked for my first couture show.

“It’s kinda why I brought the Champagne.”

“Well, cheers to us,” Heather said raising her empty glass at Collin, showing him that she needed another drink.

It didn’t dawn on me till later that Heather’s job offer may have been a really big deal, and that maybe I’d stolen her thunder, especially when Collin reacted by bringing a second bottle of Champagne from the kitchen and I was left at the table with Heather. After an awkward silence she said, “So, do you enjoy this business of fashion?”

It was an odd question. I hadn’t expected her to be so, well, I’d hoped for another kind of conversation, like where are you from, oh, I love Amsterdam, what does your father do? Do you have brothers and sisters? Instead I felt that she’d put me on the spot and I’d better have the right answer.

“I like the travel,” I said, “and the freedom, and it pays good money when I finally get to work…”

“Sure, but that’s not what I meant.” She sounded annoyed. ”Do you feel that it’s a good industry to be part of?”

I didn’t get what she was driving at, and sensed that she was ready to be mad at me. Luckily, Collin returned with the Champagne and three bowls of chocolate mousse.

“Never mind her,” he said, “she’s into women’s lib nowadays, and gets quite passionate.”

I wished he hadn’t said this. It was nice of him to put her question in perspective, but I just knew that it would piss her off.

“Wow,” she said. “What a put down! I just want to find out if Bee is aware that she’s being exploited by a system that objectifies women into sex symbols.”

“I know what you mean,” I blurted out, as if I finally understood the right answer. “And I agree, modeling is shitty that way, like today we all had to strip for a creep. But I’m going to study design as soon as I’ve earned enough money for college… in London.”

Heather glared at me like I’d made things worse, which made my head swim, or maybe that was the entire glass of Champagne I’d nervously finished in one big gulp.

“I don’t mean that YOU are the victim!” she said, now fuming. “I mean that you’re responsible, in the same way that if men didn’t volunteer to be soldiers there’d be no war! Without models women could be happier with themselves—their looks, their bodies—gettit?!”

“I make women unhappy?” I was stunned. How could she accuse me like that? She didn’t even know me.

“Heather, STOP!” Collin said. ”Skinny girls have feelings too!”

“You shut up,” she shouted back. She filled her glass with the remaining Champagne and drank it all.

“You and your fucking ads that are designed to manipulate and make us insecure. This bra for sexier tits, that cream for younger skin, this diet margarine to get thin… you make me sick.”

Shit, she really was drunk! I knew what she was trying to say. My mother was becoming a feminist, and I totally wanted to be an independent woman, but Heather was so mad at Collin, the only person in all of Paris who’d been kind to me. I wanted to defend him, but Collin spoke first.

“My job pays for this nice apartment, and your principles don’t seem to stop you from living here.”

“If I could work, instead of being the unpaid nanny, I wouldn’t be living here.”

I got up and took our dishes to the kitchen. This wasn’t my fight and maybe if I left them alone they’d stop. But Heather wasn’t finished. Once I was out of the room, she ripped into Collin loud enough for me to hear.

“ What the fuck did you bring her here for? Do you fancy her? Are you screwing her?”

“Please,” he begged. ”Don’t you get it? I thought you two could be friends. You seem lonely and blame me. Bee is lonely too. You need some friends here, Heather.”

“With her?” she screamed, like I was Linda Lovelace herself. “That self-centered, dumb creature? Don’t you know me at all?”

What the fuck now? Ever since I’d left home, ever since I’d been here, women had become the enemy; no, I had become the enemy to other women, and I didn’t have to do a thing to deserve it. Just being a model and tall and skinny seemed to be all it took to receive blanket coverage for abuse. Had I missed some critical clues growing up? Like my mother’s best friend who had no problem screwing and stealing my mom’s husband? Had that been a warning sign? And was advertising really so different in Holland? I couldn’t remember ever feeling offended or unhappy with myself because of some ad. The popular girls in school were the only thing that made me miserable and I always thought that was my own fault, because I wasn’t cool enough. But now they hated me for seeming too cool. Or whatever it was. When did this change? I needed my mother. She’d help me out. She was so attractive herself and I’d never heard her bitch about any of her friends, she was even grateful to her friend for taking her difficult husband off her hands and getting her independence back. Perhaps Dutch women were just different.

I finished cleaning the dishes and left them by the sink to dry. It was quiet and I wondered if Collin had split and Heather had gone to bed. The door to the dining room was ajar and I peeked inside. It was empty, one of the chairs had fallen over and our napkins were scattered on the floor. As I withdrew I heard muffled giggling and I pushed the door open just a bit further. I wasn’t exactly planning to say goodbye and thank you for a lovely evening, but maybe I expected a friendly word from them, like thanks for bringing Champagne and doing the dishes, or sorry for being such assholes.

What I hadn’t expected was seeing the two of them on the floor, screwing. Collin was on top with his pants halfway down his legs, his dimply ass staring me right in the face like a final farewell.

On my way out I noticed the bunch of lavender and my two prettily wrapped presents, still lying where Collin had left them on the hallway counter. I scooped them up and carefully placed them on the antique chair by the door, where the kids were bound to see them in the morning. The dried flowers I kept for myself as a souvenir of Heather and her belief that girls like me made her unhappy. Whenever I got a whiff of lavender after that memorable night, I felt grateful that, soon after, my time in Paris had come to an abrupt end.

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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.

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