Let’s pretend we’re at a sleepover. We’ve already snacked on everything in the house and listened to our favorite tunes, we’ve already braided each other’s hair and painted our nails and played “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board”. We’ve exhausted ourselves with boy talk and now it’s three in the morning and we’re all lying there in the dark, feeling bonded in our girlhood and just tired enough to let our guards down and start spilling all of our secrets.
There’s a breath of silence after we all finish teasing the girl who admitted to having a crush on our history teacher. I wait for a moment, knowing how silly I’m going to sound. And then I hold onto my courage with both hands and confess that my deepest desire when I was growing up was to be a model.
That in itself isn’t that embarrassing. Wanting to be a model is not an uncommon wish for a young girl–it’s probably up there with “rock star” and “ballet dancer”. But I really, seriously, wanted to model, more than anything else.
Of course that’s not what I answered when well-meaning adults asked me the dreaded “What do you want to be?” question. I would tell them that I wanted to be a teacher or a therapist. I would describe my dream to become a Spanish translator and work in third-world countries. But my real career aspirations were much less altruistic than that.
I wanted to model. So, so much. I thought about it constantly, imagined what it would be like. I think it was because I didn’t believe I was beautiful and worthy, and I needed something to prove that I was. In my mind, becoming a model would be irrefutable evidence that I was desirable and special and important.
I took a lot of pictures of myself in high school. (Still do. Partly because I’m the only subject I have that will actually sit still for a photo, and partly because I just love me some selfies. Judge away.) I would do my hair and makeup and play with the lighting and photo effects. (Teen angst looks more dramatic in black and white.) I would stare at these pictures and try to figure out if I could be pretty. I’m embarrassed to admit that I put a lot of stock in beauty–something I could see and envy in everyone else but myself. In my mind, beauty opened doors. We as a society like pretty things, and we like pretty people.
I spent hours researching modeling agencies and casting calls, but I never had the guts to actually put myself out there. I was secretly terrified of failing–of being told I wasn’t good enough. It was easier to dream and wish than to take the chance of being rejected. So I quietly fantasized about one day being “discovered”, just like all the success stories I’d read. (Which is unfortunately not very likely to happen when you live in Rincon, Georgia.)
I’ve grown up (a bit) and come to terms with the fact that I won’t ever be a model. And that is totally okay. I’d like to think that being beautiful isn’t life goal numero uno for me anymore. I’m not hating on models or the modeling industry–I have friends who have modeled and I think it would be super fun and badass. (And I’m not gonna lie, if someone called me right now and asked if I wanted to be in a photo shoot I’d be like “HELLZ YES I CAN BE THERE IN FIVE MINUTES.”)
But I have different dreams now, and some of the same old ones, too. That little girl who loved reading more than anything else grew up to be a big girl who realized that words are her lifeblood, that writing makes her feel whole in a way nothing ever has before. She finally decided that she is beautiful, whether or not anyone else thinks so–and realized that nobody who matters to her even cares about that.
My life turned out differently than I imagined it would when I was a fifteen year old writing Evanescence lyrics on my binder. (I still have a deep and abiding love for Evanescence so don’t you dare.) It’s not as glamorous or as exciting as I wanted it to be, and it can be dull and messy and funny and hard sometimes.
But most of the time, I think it turned out better than I could have hoped.
What did you want to “be” when you grew up?