11.03.2009

Model Behaviour

‘You should take her to an agency.’

‘Does she model?’

‘She really should do commercials, because whatever it is she’s selling, I’d buy it.’

Since I have had children, the kindness of strangers and their swiftness to remark on the beauty of my babies has been steady. It’s nice to hear, and obviously I think they are quite correct in their assessment of my children’s loveliness – there’s nothing modest in my estimation of my children’s beauty; it has been obvious – no, visceral – to my eyes and my heart since the day each of them was born.

Certainly I do not need, nor do I try to extract complements from people, though I am, like most parents, guilty of displaying my pride in my children. I play up their cuteness in pigtails and adorable clothes and sometimes I put it on overload and dress them alike. It’s my right and my pleasure as a mother. At least until they tell me to cut it out.

But I never did heed the well-intentioned lip-service of stroller-gawkers and actually put either of my children into the hands of a casting agency. I’ve never taken them to audition, model or be cast for any commercial purposes.

Until this morning.

At my art director’s request, I brought Dove into my office (a record company) to cast for the cover of a new album we are doing for a major retail licensor. (We do an entire line of music for this particular company.) Of course, mine was not the only child coming in. Dove would be casting alongside three other coworkers’ two year olds. There was no pressure, no expectation, and the choice would ultimately be up to our retail partner, so no real competition among the kids and moms.

Except that there totally was.

I don’t know what I was expecting. Well, that’s not true; I know what I was expecting, I was just completely wrong. I knew the casting would be at the office, in our cafeteria, and I guess the familiar territory put me at so much ease that the way I pictured the whole thing was ridiculously off-the-mark. I pictured my (blonde) child and my friend’s (redhead) child playing together on the set in such a natural way that the perfect picture would be snapped without even trying. I pictured the other parents shrugging in a playful, accepting way, understanding that these girls were clearly ideal for the project, so no hard feelings.

What I didn’t picture was the individual ‘screen tests.’ Or the little boys that clearly were meant to make up 50% of the composition. Or the other kids, sent from the agency. Or their moms.

Make no mistake: while we did this on a lark because it was easy and Chris was working from home that day, this was clearly a full-time gig for some of those other parents.

I have never seen such perfectly coordinated outfits. Or such perfectly behaved hair. Or such precocious children, smiling such precocious smiles. Or such low-cut tops – on the moms, that is.
Of course, not all the moms were wearing low-cut tops, but man! They were curt and brisk and humourless and stood behind the photographer, snapping and clapping and coaxing as if their children were puppies being taught how to sit up and beg. Thankfully, nobody threw biscuits at the clueless, truly adorable toddlers, who just wanted to undress the teddy bear they had been handed as a prop.

It felt icky. It felt contrived. It felt like we were pitting these babies – each just as beautiful as the last – against each other, and I felt my face flush hotly as Dove – who moments earlier was dancing and flirting and making new friends – refused to take the direction of the photographer, crossing her arms and pouting when handed the coveted bear. I felt like I had to apologize on behalf of my toddler for simply acting like a toddler. I felt like smug eyes were cast our way, as though the sympathetic tilt of the head on the other moms was just their way of saying, ‘Ok, only 8 other kids we have to smoke now, and that one over there has a lazy eye.’

Me and Chris laughed it off, my art director laughed, and we all had apple juice. And I felt like I had totally just exploited my child, though she knew nothing of the intended outcome, or even why she was there at all. I felt gross.

I felt like this was no place I wanted my child to be, and I felt like JonBenet Ramsey’s parents deserved to go to jail whether or not they had killed their kid, because they sure as hell had been her pimps.

Dove stopped pouting as soon as she got some apple juice; indeed, she went back to being the charming, adorable child that I, and so many people recognized her to be. Just not the people that might put my child’s face on the cover of a CD. And I am totally fine with that, the residue of last night’s cute and cozy daydream having been sliced to shreds by the reality of ‘show business.’

Ultimately, I’m glad that we had the experience, because I now know what I was missing by not ever bringing my children to an agency or modeling them professionally –

Nothing.


***

16 comments:

  1. oh god. I KNOW.
    I had these other moms in my group who were running around all over town trying to get their kids in adds. WHY?? I was way too tired.

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  2. People always say we should put Z in commercials too. We've thought about it, but ultimately we decided that we didn't want to put Z through all that when she didn't have an actual choice in the matter.

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  3. I can't even count the number of people who have told me that my youngest boy should model. That he has "a look" or "something special."

    I kind of want to try, but I would certainly not fit in with the crowd you describe.

    So I keep him all to myself, and enjoy his looks on my own!

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  4. I watched a documentary about pageant mothers once that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It wasn't until then that I realize that there are women out there who are pageant mothers for a living.

    I know your post wasn't about pageants, but it reminded me of that documentary.

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  5. Mama T - I totally thought of pageants the entire time we were doing it, and how, like modeling, it's totally for the parents. The kids are just the pawns.

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  6. Yikes! Retreat! For what it's worth, I'm glad that Dove behaved like a toddler.

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  7. We've always had people tell us the same too. After your story, glad I never went there.

    I'm competitive by nature; I would totally turn into a crazy stage mom or something. Ugh.

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  8. I was at a local community festival this summer, and Band-Aid was there with this big portable 'recording booth', running a contest. Kids went into the booth and a sang a jingle, and then the winner's family would get a trip and appear in a commercial or something.

    My 4-year-old really wanted to do it, mostly because she wanted to dress up in the fancy clothes they had on hand and do what the other kids were doing. And I was happy to let her, just for fun. But I didn't expect the teenager running the thing to ask me to come inside and coach my kid through it. It was very weird being thrust into this stage parent role.

    It's not for me. And your experience, which was even stronger than mine, just confirms it.

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  9. Tell me about it.....
    sometimes I can't believe what these parents do just to get their kids on camera.
    Pulling them out of school, driving into the city and spending 2-3 hours in the car just for a casting- then to just be rejected more often than not.
    Not to mention the vibe on a shoot can be pretty intense and not always fun for little ones (except of course when it's at big daddy's studio ;)

    For what it's worth- I would defiantly buy a CD with either one of your gorgeous girlies on the cover.

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  10. Petite - we have had lots of work babies on the cover of our proprietary albums, and like when you and Lulu do it, it can be fun and natural - no pressure. But this time, when it was for a client and not inhouse - waaaaay different vibe.

    p.s. my sister did the cover art for one of our albums years ago. It was fun. So much better when we keep it in the 'family.'

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  11. We took Hud (by request) to Ford when he was three. We were all waiting in the waiting room when a young assistant came in and briskly asked Hudson to come with her. Needless to say, Hudson started to cry. That was the test. He failed and we were glad.

    Cheers,

    J.

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  12. neither of my girls would ever act on command - we wouldn't get far in that business!

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  13. I have totally had people say the same things about my kids and while true, really they are beautiful, they would never do anything on command. They are too free-spirited. And while that does drive me crazy sometimes, I totally wouldn't want them to be the kids that act on command.

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  14. Yeah, people go whack-a-doodle crazy for these things. That's why I've never done it - I'm just soooo not that kind of person. Eventhough I am in the business and do it myself all the time. (Probably why I'm not a real professional actor by now..I just can't be that kind of slimy.) It's hard to resist, though, because you do want the world to see how adorable your kids are.

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  15. I feel violated! ick ick ick. A good story though. Besides you don't need an agent to do family/community theatre!

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  16. Good grief. This made my stomach hurt - those poor kids.
    I love how beautiful my kids are (or how beautiful I think they are), but it's not something I want to make my dime off of, at all.

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