When someone says they are a model, it conjures images of a beautiful person who is dressed up fancy, gets a lot of attention, and sometimes fame or wealth as well. Those thoughts about modelling are products of the post-supermodel era that we live in. Prior to the supermodels of the 70’s, modelling was not about fame. Yesterday I accompanied my daughter Kiki on what turned out to be 8 hours of modelling work. It showed both of us that the real work of a model is not the be the center of attention and adulation, but to be a blank canvas or a mannequin upon which someone else hangs a concept. The shoot that Kiki posed for was an art shoot, so every step of the process aimed to create an effect. The final photographs are fascinating and compelling, but they do not in any way represent Kiki even though it is her face. The same is true of commercial shoots, where models are dressed in casual clothes and are smiling. Those models are still subsuming who they are to present an image that will attract buyers to purchase the item being advertised. Modelling is not about being the center of attention, which is not something I fully realized until yesterday.
Kiki was told to show up with no makeup and clean hair. The stylists needed a clean slate, a blank canvas.
The array of tools for make up was astonishing. I wish I’d gotten a shot of this table after the make up was applied. It was a complete jumbled mess which contrasted with the array in the picture.
The photo shoot was arranged by Rebekah McKinney who designed and made the dress that Kiki wore. Rebekah has become a friend of our family over the past year, enough so that Kiki felt comfortable asking to borrow the dress to wear for Prom, but once the dress was altered, everyone wanted to get some fun pictures of Kiki wearing it. So Beckie arranged for two stylists and a photographer. The stylists worked at 9 Salon and Spa. The photographer was Gary of Meaux Photography. I’ll have pictures from him to post later after he’s done processing. All the pictures in this post are ones that I took.
Every time Kiki and I thought things looked done, the stylists would add more: more hair, more sparkles, more eye liner, more lashes. I think the hair was Kiki’s biggest surprise. She has so much hair of her own that she was astonished that hair pieces could possibly be necessary. Before the stylists were done, they’d added a volume of hair approximately equal to a cat, in four colors.
After four hours of hair and make up, we paused long enough for Kiki to eat then made her sit down for another half hour of make up. Kiki was enjoying the process, though she confessed afterward that some stages of the hairdo made her wonder if anyone knew what they were doing. She also still has some sore spots on her head because the stylist pulled hard while braiding. Things got fun again at the photography studio.
We were extremely fortunate in our photographer. He coached Kiki, explaining to her that he was trying to create an S shape in each shot and how that was usually achieved using a human body. He also explained that she should make small moves when adjusting her body, because lots of small corrections would create the right effect.
My favorite moments were when the photographer said “relax” and then held the camera so Kiki could see the photo.
Kiki would melt out of her self-effaced art pose and become a girl who bounced from excitement. She would view the photo with her artist’s eye and see how a pose which felt awkward, yielded a highly effective image.
Yet I was impressed, even with Beckie and I poking fun at her, Kiki would quell her giggles and get back to striking the requested pose. One of the reasons this experience was so fun is that we were working with people who are very good at what they do, but who also don’t take themselves too seriously. The designer, stylists, and photographer were all fashion people who know that there is an element of the ridiculous involved with fashion. We all embraced the ridiculous and had fun.
I did have one concern about my daughter modelling. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking about how much value and emphasis US society puts on physical beauty, particularly for women. I feel it is very important that women know that beauty is not required to be a valued and valuable person. Kiki has always been beautiful, both physically in ways that are recognized by society, and in her mind and heart. This photo shoot showed Kiki her own beauty in a way that she had never seen it before. Seeing that changes her own mental image of herself, and I was concerned about the shape of that change.
We talked afterward, as I was carefully unpinning and untangling all the extra pieces of hair to separate them from her own. This experience has been completely positive for her. She sees and understands now how very constructed all those media images are, that they are creations of concept, not reflections of a reality to which we should aspire. She’ll look at catalogs and remember the ache in her back from when she leaned the same way. Because of this photo shoot she is more able to see the artifice and know that it isn’t sustainable for any length of time. She is best off being herself in clothes that are livable. That’s a pretty good lesson for a girl who is launching into adulthood on her next birthday only weeks from now.
This is my favorite shot from the day.
It is the moment when Kiki had to figure out how to fit all of that skirt into the seat of a car. I love it because it catches her smile and catches a moment when the very ridiculousness of the beauty made us all laugh.