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What did fashion teach me - Part 2

Soon after turning 18 years old I left Moldova. Took my bag and went to Romania to study.


The months before getting the news that I was on the list of those granted a scholarship to a university in Constanța were decisive. But I don't remember much.


I remember long bus trips, sleeping in dorms with loud people who where happy to be away from home. I remember seeing their food bags tucked away and the smell of goat cheese, steaming meat. I remember how completely isolated I felt. I wanted to be away from Moldova and the hopelessness my life was floating in but also I did not know how to be where I was.


As it happens most often, people or groups of people don't know what to do with me or out of me. I am not joining groups just to be part of anything or "let's suffer together" cults, or "let's hate together" ones, or "fuck everything" or "we are the best" groups. I am not doing it on purpose, I just don't feel it. It seems like I don't belong anywhere, didn't belong to fashion either. I outsmarted it and took myself out as soon as I was strong enough. Recovery expenses on me.


I left home with a mission in mind - I was not to become a burden for my parents, they would not have to struggle to pay for my studies and I would be self sufficient. I would be doing all it takes to get there. And I did.


From that point on I lived in steeping material poverty but proud that I was sharing the struggle and have taken the burden of my parents' shoulders.


On that day, second year at the university, walking down the street in Constanța, doing my round, searching for cheap food supplies that I could cook for the old and sick lady I was taking care of (and thus had a place to sleep) a woman approached me wanting to talk to me. I don't remember what she said exactly but after that I had a card in my hand.



This is the first photo ever taken of me, the close up, on that Saturday when I, out of curiosity went to the agency, which soon after would become my mother agency. That summer I went to Shanghai.


Some people are naturally drown to this, they do like to be photographed from all angles, they might be playing a role even when walking down the street, having a movie rolling in their head, them being the main character.

I was awkward and did't know what to do with my physical self. Up to that point I used my body to work, carry heavy things, handle waves of pain, move around, run, protect others and sooth others. When I was told to pose and do something I found it so incredibly amusing, absurd and silly even.

Why? I kept repeating in my head. Really? Do you really want me to stay here and you will take photos of me standing there? I could not believe this was and is a thing!

But, I had to learn. I also learned to play the role, to become multiple people and portray different feelings not my own. I even could cry at castings if the role required it.


When you sign a contract, thus agreeing to be considered an instrument, a money machine, a voiceless and soulless instrument, you do learn and very very fast.

After that first one contract, I signed many others and I respected and honored them all, meaning that no agency ever lost money after having trusted me.

The reason I am here now to tell the story, the thing that saved me was precisely my awkwardness.




As I mentioned last time, fashion is an environment for those who are engaged in a never ending search of identity, the creative search of inventing themselves constantly, falling into the abyss, into the self damaging and addictive cycles offered by the narcissistic mind. Even there, where nothing existed and nothing was strange enough, I was not feeling part of anything.

I would do my job military style - the precise reason it worked and I wasn't owning anything to the agencies. If you didn't know, an agency is investing in a model a certain amount of money in the beginning. Afterwards, the model has to pay all back and even more. A model can keep something only after all the expenses are covered. A model has to cover the accommodation, transport, food and maintenance of their physical self and all other possible expenses, not to mention health issues. If you scale that to what life in Hong Kong or Shanghai or Paris or Seoul costs, you get a feeling of the risk.

A non effective fashion instrument, a model without success or not making profit, is doomed. That human will be sent to worst jobs, the most dangerous places, doing the most denigrating things just as a way for the agency to get their money back. That will be happening until the agency has redeemed their loss or until the model has lost any value. The model who dares to ask to see the balance is not liked by anybody. Swimming with the sharks might be easier since you know who the enemy is, in fashion you never know, and you get toasted all the time.


Thinking back now, I am amazed at my courage back then. I refused to do any job that I did not like. I did hundreds of catalogs and shows, but never nudes or anything that would mean selling that image of myself away, letting it be used on that particular markets for unknown purposes and unknown amounts of money.

I also remember all those 15 years old girls not caring what the job or casting was for, being sent there by their own mothers out of desperate family situations somewhere in rural Russia or Ukraine or Brasil, posing because it entertained that image of themselves, the dream of becoming someone, that image of being adored and looked at. All those people wasting their minds and souls and thinking they are beautiful, living the dream.


What did I learn while being a fashion instrument? I learned to:


-handle rejection: several times a day a model is refused, harshly and publicly criticized and dismissed. Castings are not fun, no, no, no.


-to adapt to changes fast: changes are always happening, either slow and we don't notice them or fast, like being pushed of a cliff type of shifts. Dealing with the requirements of the industry, pushing my real needs back and denying feeling or seeing anything was a survival strategy, an adaptation to the environment always in metamorphosis.


-to organize myself : running from casting to casting in huge cities, not speaking the language or know anyone who could help, taking the train/airplane/bus/boat to a shooting location at 4 am, several times a week - all that requires discipline and endurance.


It takes years to get to the point when you run on auto pilot and basically feel nothing. It also takes one failure to be thrown out of the race.


-accountability: soon after signing a contract a model becomes responsible for everything, the financial success of all agencies counting on them and their own. Their life, their mental and physical health is at stake too. I failed in this sense. After a while I could not cope anymore, not mentally, emotionally neither physically. Just so you know, it is not good nor smart to work non-stop, to sleep sporadically and to eat crap as an attempt to fill your poor self up.


-how humanity works : this job made possible for me to shake hands with Jackie Chan, have photos of me hanging all over big cities, cast for Chanel and walk up and down Champs-Élysées until I could't see straight but these moments are so insignificant compared to the amount of desperation, poverty and loneliness I was, humanity at large is, sinking in. The amount of loneliness my parents and I felt during all that time. What kept me sane was also the fact that my parents never showed any interest in what I was doing. My mother never left Moldova. When I could help them financially ( towards the end of my activity only) they did accept it but only because the situation in Moldova was desperate at the time (as most of the times). Otherwise, they never asked me about that. I guess they could see that I was struggling, trying to understand what I was .

...


I am not a fashion model anymore, thank God. It took me years to recover to the extent that I could get back to normality. To be able to proudly include that part of my life on my CV (it is linked to strong negative assumptions) to have a job and try to live somehow.

While my colleagues where having families, children, buying homes and cars, going to vacations I was still struggling with the feeling of being an outcast.



A photographed misfit. Will I be like this forever, I wonder. Is this the story of my failure or is it a success?

I do feel it is (another) victory.



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