Outside the studio, however, it was a different story. On the street, the whistles, lip smacking, and cat calls directed at me from the hard hats on their lunch breaks were a given. There, it didn’t seem to matter if I had a scrap of makeup on or my hair was a mess or I was dressed like a slob—I felt like a piece of meat, and it pissed me off. I would hiss invectives barely under my breath and wanted to take a baseball bat to their heads.
There was one exception. I was in Milan, and a bricklayer, distracted from his work and gawking at me, fell about five feet off his perch, into the street. Something about the incident was so charmingly innocent, I couldn’t help but giggle. The rest of them could go to hell.
Of course, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some perks to such notice. You slid by the gatekeeper at the club; you got the table at the restaurant that was being held for someone else. It happened all the time. You’d walk in the door and say, “I’m really sorry, but I don’t have a reservation. We’re two, is that okay?” You’d smile big. And it was okay. The worst of the abuses was having an Air France flight wait for me on the runway. I was 18. Yes, I was a spoiled brat who loved the attention from the people I deemed acceptable—but not from the ones I didn’t. Yet as we all know, that’s not how it works.
It did dawn on me that at some point, the currency off which I was making my living would diminish. I remember sitting in a cab on Park Avenue and 57th Street at a red light. I was 30, and I thought, Oh, my God, this is all going to be over really soon. But don’t worry, because in 2000—and I was actually calculating that in the year 2000 I would be in my 40s—no matter how god-awful I look, by then they’ll have some magic elixir.
Now it’s 2013, and there is still no such fountain of youth. When the contracts did in fact dry up, I cried and cried, because what was I going to do with my life now? I was accustomed to the routine and had finally come to appreciate a career that for so many years I had discounted as frivolous.
The modeling world places a much higher premium on youth than the real world does, and what I eventually had come to recognize as the everyday equivalent of those contracts—the double takes and whistles on the streets—didn’t start to disappear until I was in my late 40s. Ironically, what had once bothered me so much now provided a peculiar sort of comfort. As my friend Kirat Bhinder Young, once a runway model and muse to Yves Saint Laurent, puts it, “It happens gradually, so one has time for a soft landing.”