First Steps

I am not one of those girls who was stopped in the street, supermarket, bar, or someplace like that. No- I went to a casting. I convinced myself that the decision was right, following this logic:

I am not ugly, according to some people.

I am skinny as a stick- I can see that myself.

It will not cost me anything to try.

Anyway, In case I am not good enough, I will continue doing everything I have done till now. School first, then college, then work as a donkey without any sight of a bright future until… forever!

Let me explain:

In Serbia, where I come from, school, college, a diploma mean nothing. When you are done with schooling you have a 0.01% chance to get a job, unless you have tight connections with “someone” “somewhere.” As we say with sarcasm, you can always smile for the camera.

So I said to myself: Lets model and smile in front of the camera and get paid for it. Maybe I can make and save some money like that. At least I will travel the world and finish college somewhere else.

I was very attracted by the money modeling offers. The travelling, too. And options I could get for my future. So, I thought, let’s do it.

Money became the only reason I stayed in this business after many unpleasant situations, but I concluded that since you can have unpleasant situations in any job, it’s better to model and get paid well. If I have to go through these things, at least I know why I’m willing to deal with it. It is because of good money. Later I can use that money and get the best education, and after I am done with modeling, I can do something I love and I enjoy. Money will be second place. Because of money, I am still in modeling.

Let me tell you how I got started:

I decided to go to the casting in my city, Belgrade. In the room that they called an office, three sullen women were seated behind a table, pretending to look like ladies. One took off her shoes under the table, and I could see ripped stockings and a liberated toe. I wanted to burst out laughing, but I managed to control myself. I used the situation to relax a little bit in this “serious” moment of my life.

There is no point in telling you the details of that meeting. Here is the short, clear version: no way would we ever work together. They wanted me to pay $100 for a school of walking! (My mama’s salary is $150 a month.)

And then $500 more to have Photo Smile shoot my first few photos for my “book”- or portfolio. After that they wanted me to sign a 7- year contract. In 7 years’ time I can have grown a tail, have twins on the way, or be fat from eating cookies… After signing of the contract THEY will see which direction my career will go. Yeah, right!

I left the room called “office” with a big smile. I looked at the girls waiting in the hallway with hope in their eyes and predicted that more than half of them would agree with their offer. I hoped that the lady would make enough money to buy new stockings, maybe of better quality.

I thought that that casting was a good answer to my doubts about modeling. I thought after that fiasco I would have a clear vision of my future. Back at school, I even asked around about learning from a home program in case I started modeling. But something else happened.

Somehow I got an appointment at another model agency, but even that one didn’t go well. They were asking for everything and giving back nothing, except the possibility of being by my side in case some fortune from abroad came to me. Then they would be more than happy for me to give them half of my earnings (if you went into debt they wouldn’t share that). After that seriously funny offer, I just had more self-confidence. Maybe this was a job for me. Short term, of course.

I decided to pay a visit to the third and last option of an agency in my country.

That one offered me a trip in the next 3 months, with a commission split 80-20. For the beginning, that was not bad. They wanted my parents to come for the first meeting, and then we could start doing everything step by step. It sounded cool. It looked like they are cool only to me. They had a few girls only. They didn’t have an office. It was someone’s apartment-office-studio, all in one. The secretary was little bit older than me, with a strange accent. The booker was playing a serious man with a tie, but he was super young, too. It struck him funny, too, that two pigeons were having a love moment out of the window while we were in the middle of a serious business meeting. He would look for a second at me, and then another second at the immodest couple outside the window. A few minutes later I could not hold it in anymore, so I burst out laughing. He followed me and the serious moment was gone to hell, but we made a deal. They would make some photos in their apartment-office-studio as a beginning, so they could email them to different agencies all around the world.

My parents listened to all the offers and took some time to give me advice, because they wanted to know how sure I was in my decision. At the end they agreed and gave me all their support.

Nine days after shooting our first photos and meeting with my parents, we got a first proposal. A few days after that we received a few more, even better ones. It was a time for serious and big business decisions for me to make.

For two days I was talking to myself, negotiating, explaining the pros and cons. At the end I made a decision based upon a reason that is unfortunately the main concern to everyone today: Money.

Then I told my decision to my parents. Mum began crying; that was the moment she realized I was serious about modeling.

“So you have to go to France, it is far away? Who is going to cook for you?”

For a second it was funny, and then I realized how hard it was for mum to leave her child to live life by herself. That question was probably one of millions she had in her mind, but it was the one that came out.

“And if my daughter needs me I cannot go, I have no visa!!!”

Dad hugged her, but she just continuing crying and said nothing for the rest of the day.

Dad was more optimistic, and very supportive.

 

We talked together for two days. After that I was sure in my decision, so I shared it with my parents and the agency. A few days later I received the papers for my visa, and I could start packing.

But before packing, and long after that for almost all my trips later in my career, there was a departure to the embassy. My first time looked like this:

I had the thousand documents I was told to bring. Then I had my photo taken, and I dressed myself nicely for going to judgment day at the embassy counter. But my small naïve head didn’t suspect at all that before coming to the counter, there would be 40 hours of waiting in the queue in front of the embassy. Mum, dad and I, taking shifts, were standing, sitting, jiggling, snoring in the line until we got a number. With the number we got a date when I would have to come to wait in another, shorter line. But it was outside again, and the temperature was around 40. Cold, but no choice. Shut up and wait. With that number I was closer to the counter; that meant closer to the border and Paris. Let’s make the story shorter: waiting was boring. After 4 days in total of waiting in the lines, I was in front of counter number 1. Working hours with mortals at the counter was only 1 hour and 45 minutes a day. Cool.

At the counter a clerk with a pretty face but not a pretty character was waiting for me. She was firing questions in a mix of French and my mother tongue. Gunfire was just striking my brain; I had finally managed to get in and there was a deadlock. I was looking at her with a pale blank look, asking myself what is wrong in her life and what is she missing when she is like a machine. While I was struggling with information from the first line of gunfire, the rest of her questions were firing in an empty space. Couldn’t she tell that I was not following her at all, that I was totally confused? No. With a higher tone of voice she was telling me that I was missing the copy of parental approval that was verified in court and a bank account as well. Foreign currency account, of course.

Where do I get a foreign currency account, I was asking myself, walking down the stairs out of that magnificent building. We didn’t even have a normal bank at that time in my country. Why did they have to be such a pain in the a… I mean a foreign currency account, yeah right. Like I could just go to the bank now and ask for a foreign account. Very funny. Well, nothing, I was going back home to think. Why would things go smoothly when they could be complicated?

I made a copy of the verified parental approval form, and tomorrow I would bring it to the court for a seal; but I was under age, so how could I manage to open an account?

And what to put in it?

Mama made a suggestion to open an account in her name, but she would give me authorization.  So if it went through, great.

And it did.

A few days later I had a three-month visa. The very same night I was packed.

School approved my absence. It was time to go.

I don’t even want to remember the day of my departure. It was very emotional for me.

Mum had been crying for a few days now, even though she agreed and was giving me full support. But her tears were just too strong for me. I didn’t want to have her crying face stuck in my memory for the rest of the trip.

Dad was smiling and hiding his real emotions very well, so I wanted to do the same. Good thing was that my brother was at school. Very good plan by my parents. If he was here, I was not sure I would have enough strength to leave him. Last night when he fell asleep, I gave him millions of kisses salty from my tears. But I had to do it, for a better future for both of us.

The bus was departing from my city to another town in a neighboring country where I would catch a flight to Paris, because at that time it was not possible to fly out of my country.

Mum and dad were waving for a long time, and I had to make myself sleep immediately. Later on I made “sleeping by command” a good stress relief weapon, and I used it every time I had a chance.

I was 16 years old.

2 thoughts on “First Steps

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