I was twice the age of the other models-in-training, which didn’t feel odd at all because as an only child I’d always felt comfortable in the company of much younger or much older people, and in my teenage years I was more often surrounded by a gaggle of young children I babysat or taught piano to than my peers.
I adored my Barbizon classmates the same way I had my junior high students during my brief student teaching experience. I’d forgotten how much I liked being around giggling, blossoming young girls.
At the end of the third session, Jean Curt, the director of the school, asked me to come see her before I left. She greeted me at the door and walked across the room in a way that demonstrated everything the school taught about graceful movement and sat down at her modern, glass-top desk. She lit a cigarette and brought it to her mouth with flawlessly manicured fingers and inhaled it like the leading lady in a 1940s movie.
I felt like a country bumpkin, sitting across from a woman dressed and coifed like the glamorous fashion models in the photographs that accented the burgundy and pink walls of her office. I was afraid she was going to tell me I couldn’t stay in the class because I didn’t fit in. Instead she invited me to come back to teach after I finished the course.
One day I was sitting in the pediatrician’s office with my seven-year old daughter who was suffering from yet another earache. We’d been waiting a long time and she began to sob and to distract her I lifted her onto my lap, grabbed the only reading material within reach, a dog-eared copy of Soap Opera Digest, and made a game out of having her pick out any “pretty ladies” she saw as I flipped through the pages. When I came to the back section, filled with small ads for things like longer nails, wallet photos and slave bracelets, a phrase caught my eye: “Be a model or just look like one.”
It wasn’t the promise of being a model that interested me. I was, after all, a thirty-year old mother of four—plus, ever since I’d learned to walk, my parents had been telling me I was clumsy and I’d believed them. My mother had never been interested in fashion, but I loved it and had always wanted to learn how to dress, use make-up and move across a room with the poise and confidence of Loretta Young, known for her whirling entrance at the beginning of her TV show. I borrowed a pen from the receptionist and jotted down the number of the Barbizon School for Modeling on a coupon I found in my pocketbook.