‘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 –