I have spent many years posing confidently whilst feeling awkward.
At the age of 17, when I had never been naked in front of another person (including my own mother), I started modeling. My first casting was for Berlei lingerie. It was the same day I walked into the modeling agency armed with a photo that a questionable Club Med photographer had taken of me doing water aerobics in a white crochet bikini. They decided to send me out immediately “to see if I would work”.
After catching my first solo train ride to a part of Sydney I had never ventured to before, I walked for what felt like an eternity in the sweltering Sydney December heat through a semi rural/ industrial neighborhood filled with apparel factories. I arrived at the Berlie headquarters where the casting was to take place.
The agency instructed me to say that my portfolio was being “updated at the agency” to cover the fact that I didn’t have one. A woman ushered me into a circular change room in the middle of their design studio. “34C?” she asked, I lied and said yes. I would later discover that my true bra size, 32D was not as commercially viable. So this was a good thing. She handed me a bra and panties.
I emerged in the lacy set. She asked me to turn around, scanning my body and then said matter of factly, “Great. Thanks.”
By the time I had returned to the modeling agency that afternoon all sweaty and exhausted, they informed me that I had booked the job. My first modeling assignment would be a lingerie show at David Jones city department stores exclusive 7th floor. I booked the following three castings I was sent to. I was officially a model.
As nature would have it, swimwear and lingerie shoots soon became my bread and butter. Before I knew it, I was strutting down a water soaked runway at Sydney Fashion Week. I was alongside supermodels in the leading swimwear show Tigerlily dressed in a few inches of lycra, pythons wrapped around necks.
Next came FHM covers, lingerie campaigns for Formfit, swimwear billboards and Vogue Living spreads that saw me clad in little more than professional hair and make up and a feigned coy look in my frightened eyes.
I looked to be the embodiment of youthful sexuality enjoying my bloom and certainly there was a part of me that felt incredibly lucky. With little instruction on how to walk or pose or even act on set, I felt like a scared pussy cat playing the role of sex kitten.
For the next year I never left the house without my “book” (filled with my modeling shots) and a swimsuit in my bag should I get a call from my agent. My days were spent rush off to a casting, stripping down and walk in front of a group of stranger who decided if my form was befitting their particular assignment. There was a time when my modeling agent had me parade through the agency in a tiny white triangle bikini to show the other bookers the “merch”, inspecting me like a piece of meat, one remarking, “Your body is your ticket, Kathryn.”
My ticket to what?
Instead of adjusting to this level of exposure and scrutiny, I grew even more shy when it came to my body in private. It was as if to protect myself from the critique. I disassociated from my physical form entirely lest my worth be reduced to a couple of inches here or there. “It” was purely for professional usage, not for personal enjoyment.
Despite the objectification that I had both sought and resented, modeling was an entree to an instantly grown up world of glamour and excitement. Instead of being a bookish 17 year old who had just graduated from High School with little world experience, I was seen as a breath of fresh air in an industry always on the look out for the next big thing. People who would not have spoken to me months earlier took an interest in my career. I wasn’t sitting at the local pub with friends or watching movies and getting stoned with many of my peers. Instead I was having cocktails with fabulous hair and make ups artists, doing location shoots with international photographers and being invited to all the most glamorous launch events. If all I needed to do was see my body as a ticket I was allowed entry onto the express train.
Of course when you become a model and start commoditizing your form, everyone feels entitled to an an opinion about it. I had numerous “experts” tell me I should have a breast reduction, others questioned if I was “too commercial” or ‘too sensual”. More often that not I found myself on set posing as people would flutter around me speaking about me as if I couldn’t hear them. “Should we get her to laugh?””Should she move her hand so it’s resting on the table?”
Why wouldn’t they talk directly to me? It was as far from the Jewish family life that had raised me believing that my mind was my greatest asset. My mind was an appendage, and soon enough it started getting in the way.
I craved a cerebral existence more desperately with each passing day and soon returned to University to study Communications Journalism. This had been put it on hold to pursue modeling. At the same time I started writing what would become my first book, How To Tell A Man by his Shoes. It was an attempt to connect the superficiality of appearances (like shoes) with a deeper sense of truth about who we really are. Perhaps I was also trying to marry my own exterior self with my inner world, so divergent had they become.