My sides hurt from sucking in my stomach for an hour straight, and my cheeks stung from a false smile I had held for the duration of my interview. My mother sat beside me, and she still appeared more flawless than I was. I didn't know at the time that sometimes having flaws is the only way people can tell that you're human just like them. I was only concerned with living up to a future of lying to myself. So I sucked in my breath a little more.
"So, Violetta, why do you want to do this modeling job?" Mrs. Sherman asked, her plump lips mimicking my forced smile exactly. My mother's face slightly tilted, as if she were giving me a cue. My head pounded from trying to appear skinny and perfect, and the answers we had practiced for this inevitable question for hours on end had inconveniently disappeared.
I was sixteen years old, and this was my first interview for a modeling job. I had missed the other three most important things in my life to be here: I had skipped a creative writing workshop; I had been forced to not attend a concert for a band that all of my friends were in, thus letting them down; and finally, I had not been able to hold my own daily self-criticism session in front of the mirror. Every day I looked at my appearance and told myself what needed to be changed. I could never bring myself to look directly into my own eyes, but I never admitted why: that I feared the emptiness that I would see there, and I was afraid that I would take actions I would regret, or more accurately, that my mother would regret and punish me for.
"Um, well, this would be my first modeling job, and I'd really just love the experience, and the opportunity to, you know, broaden my horizons. And, uh, I just really love to model, so, I would love this job!" My patched up answer of fragments of the various things my mother had told me to say made her mouth drop in horror. Oh, the things I would say to myself in the mirror later that night.
The car ride was silent, which was far worse then if my mother would have screamed at me. She was a classic model, and I had to constantly live in the shadow of so much beauty. Her name was Vada Crelavani and I had memorized her appearance long ago. She had straight midnight black hair that went just past her shoulders. She had Mediterranean skin, and chiseled cheeks that had the slightest natural blush covering them. Her lips were plump, but no too plump. She had an oval-shaped face with a small chin that was smooth and didn't jut out. Her nose was small but perfect, and a tiny ski jump hovered on the end of it. I saved her eyes for last: they were almond shaped, framed by thick lashes, and hazel with gold flecks. They were giant eyes, and made up for her small nose and chin.
When we arrived home I stumbled up the grand staircase, ignoring my father's question of how the interview for the cream cheese ad had gone. I simply went to my room and shut the door tight. A song pounded from my CD player in seconds, so I wouldn't have to hear my parents talking about what was wrong with me. It was what had inspired the mirror sessions to begin with. I would do what they did so often by myself, I would learn to recognize and correct my own faults. I never looked at what was wrong with my insides, only how flat my stomach was or the bags under my eyes that needed to be covered up. Every part of me needed to be changed or covered up.
The phone rang and I answered it, imitating my mother's accent. There were many reasons for doing this: If it was my friends and I wanted to talk, I could make them laugh. It was easier to talk to telemarketers because they didn't think I was some gullible kid. And it was hilarious when a gossip column called, because I could say ridiculous things. But it was also important for the purpose I was using during this phone call.
"Hello, Crelavani residence." I said, in my mother's clipped and foreign voice.
"Hi, this is Christine, is Violetta there?" It was one of my best friends, Christine. I knew she was calling to talk about my modeling interview, and I didn't want to discuss with her the very thing that I had chosen over her and the "Indigo Rose" concert.
"Ah, Christine. Violetta is not available at the moment. I'm afraid she has been detained all night. I'll tell her you called. Would you like me to take a message?" This was the exact thing my mother said while on the phone.
"Oh, OK. No, you don't need to leave a message, just tell Vi I called. Thanks, Mrs. Crelavani. Bye." I could sense the loneliness in Chris's voice, and it matched my own, but I didn't dare share how I felt with anyone. Could Christine ever guess that what I used to make her laugh I was also using to avoid her, so I could further hide what I was becoming, a perfect robot without friends, an unfeeling and unhealthy model? How could I tell her that I hardly ate anymore, that I couldn't sleep because of the hunger? I couldn't even trust myself with my own confusion. I didn't know where I ended and the beautiful and skinny model began.
At the time I didn't know that you could give all your secrets to people, and if you chose the right group of friends to bear the burden of your broken spirit and confusion, they could repair your heart and help you discover who you were. In return, you got to be the shoulder that they leaned on, and you were the one who patched up their heart and showed them who they truly were. It was a human exchange that I had only seen in movies and read about in books. I had never actually thought such a bond between people was actually real.
"Nothing is real." I whispered before slowly entering my walk-in closet to stand before the mirror.
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