Cute and quirky. Pretty on a good day. Tall and slim. (Thank you, genetics.) These are words I would use to describe myself. My hair is never exactly straight, nor exactly curly. “Beachy” if you want to be nice, “messy” if you’re mean. Makeup masks most of the evidence of my historical battles with acne, but it’s a rare day that I don’t have some sort of blemish on my face. “Blame Estrogen, not much you can do,” says my sympathetic dermatologist. My legs bare scars of childhood scrapes and ineptitude at shaving. My favorite shoes need to be resoled, but I wear them anyway.
Oh I have flaws, the list could go on and on. In my 26-year-old wisdom, I can even say I like my flaws, they make things interesting. But my line of work sometimes doesn’t understand that. Or care.
I was booked last minute to work a New York auto show as a promotional model for a luxury American car. Trade shows notoriously hire beautiful women to smooze and entice Big Money to their booths. Looks matter, which made me a bit nervous. Like I said, I’m pretty, on a good day. But beautiful? Guys on the streets of my new neighborhood tell me I’m beautiful as I walk by, but they are hardly the target demographic for an auto show.
It’s a cliché that
men boys use a number scale 1-10 to rate a woman’s physical appearance. 1 being hideous and 10 being drop-dead gorgeous. It’s a short hand, probably developed in fraternities, for talking to your buddies- “I banged an 8 last night, bros!” Yes, it objectives women. Yes, it’s disgustingly superficial. Still, if you’re a woman (in your 20s), chances are you’ve wondered what your number is. The scale is somewhat situational: plop me down in any Walmart in Iowa and I’m a 9, easy. My number is higher in my new Harlem neighborhood than it was when I lived by Lincoln Center. But for the most part, I’m a New York 6. Maybe a 7 when I have auditions and am trying to look like my headshots. It’s a numbers game. Am I pretty enough to be a trade show model? No denying, I live a charmed life if this is my greatest job concern, and yet it’s something not exactly in my control.
After confirming my availability, I was asked whether I was a dress size 2 or 4- the only options for the provided attire. Fortunately, I am a size 4 (again, thanks genetics and NYC for making me walk everywhere) so I passed that numbers test. I was then told to arrive look-ready, “hair and makeup must be flawless”. That’s when I really got nervous, so my palms began to sweat. Not the hands of a “flawless” person! A vision flashed before my eyes of me being sent home, an Amazonian woman of Heidi Klum proportions pointing her perfectly manicured finger at me and glaring, “TOO MANY FLAWS! AUF WIEDERSEHEN!”
I spend the morning before the auto show flat ironing my hair, trying to control the stubborn fly-aways that usually lend to my “free spirit” vibe. Today I am not a free spirit, no! Today I’m a flawless woman who loves cars! (It is so far from the truth, I might as well be acting a role. I haven’t played that against type in quite a while.) My hair refuses to go pin straight, but I subdue it enough so that from about 7 feet away it looks flawless. Same for my face. If I just keep a car distance between me and potential clients, everyone will think I’m perfect!
I run into the venue so close to late I barely have a moment to slip on my requisite black pumps. It’s a car fanatics dream, towering ceilings housing an array of the newest luxury cars, palm trees spaced between for effect. Men are drooling over the Bentleys across the way, no one’s going to notice me! I breathe a sigh of relief. And then I’m told the only dress they have left for me to wear is a size 2.
Numbers again! If I don’t fit this dress, will I be sent home? I might worry about my looks not being up to standard, but I never worry about my size! I am not a size 2. Nothing I own is size 2. I remember being a size 0 in eighth grade and if memory serves, the next growth spurt put me at size 4: I have never been a size 2. Nor at 5’8 do I even have aspirations of being a size 2. And yet here I am, pulling my pants off in a bathroom stall, my very job depending on whether or not I can squeeze into a size 2 Banana Republic little black dress.
I riggle in, holding my breath, and the zipper slides up smoothly. It fits perfectly. Praise the retail gods for inflated vanity sizing! I let out another sigh of relief lo and behold, there’s even room to breath! I strut out of that bathroom a flawless, size 2, 5’11” (in heels) tall, blonde Amazonian. Honey, I’m a model (albeit a trade show model). It’s attitude that skews the scale of clichéd ratings. Talk to me about cars; I’ll flirt with you and even laugh at your lame joke asking if I come with the car. I got this: I just beat the numbers game.
Your thoughts on being “flawless” and the numbers scale? Men, have you used it? Ladies, have you? Or have you wondered what your number is? Have you ever had a job based on looks?