Life is not a Casting Call, You are not a Thing
Life is not a casting call.
This phrase took shape in my mind in the same way a sudden fog emerges on an early morning sail; always there and forming, but only noticed in time. Particles of this recently-learned lesson began to manifest during my formative years mid and post-modelling, as I began dealing with the weight that comes with closing a chapter in life. The inevitable analysis and shift begins; our perspective broadens, our empathy grows.
My first day of business school was my first day as a non-model - I couldn’t yet separate myself from the sensation of going to a casting, of competing, of raising my guard as easily as I slipped on socks, earrings, shoes, that morning. I wore heeled boots, an asymmetrical miniskirt and a steely gaze; the first student I spoke to asked if I was the professor. The second asked if I was a model, and then sat beside me for the rest of the lecture, taking photos as I took notes.
Eventually, I started feeling uneasy in what I'd hoped would be a safe space; though I now realize it was I who dictates my treatment, who enters the room with a set of expectations, and sets the pace on being judged, assessed or labeled. At the time, all I knew was the systematic ritual of entering a room, being told how to feel about myself, and leaving, portfolio, heels, hair tie in hand. Life didn’t have to be like that anymore, and this prospect was jarring. I was learning to find my footing in a brave new world; a turtle very much afraid of leaving her shell.
I remember spending my 20th birthday on a first date, a completely un-Madison-like gesture as I made a day of celebration one of subservient insecurity, my need for self-assessment much greater than that of self-love. The rest of the men I dated that year were greeted with my anxieties, faults and reasons to run; not abnormal in today’s romanticized rom-com culture, but not a part of me.
On one date in particular, I felt so inadequate and apologetic that I told him, over a spread of thoughtful, gorgeous food, that I was aware I wasn’t beautiful, and I was sorry about that. So many of my interactions - romantic or not - were prefaced with apologies; I remember meeting people and subconsciously bowing my head, mumbling “sorry” before even making eye contact, aware my value to society was in flux, uncertain, adrift somewhere in a different time. I felt sorry to be letting all of these people down, who expected a specimen and got a person, instead.
At this time, there was a glaring conflict between what I saw in others and what I saw in myself, and it’s been one of my proudest accomplishments to bridge, understand, and heal this gap over the past few years. In my own life, it is the people with parts, pores and perspective whom I ascribe adjectives of magic, whimsy and awe. I find attraction, even, in these things; in those even-keeled aggregates of stardust that exude a kind of confidence because of, not in spite of, the chaos that makes us whole. Learning more about our observable universe has indirectly taught me this - our chaos is what got us here, it's what holds us together, it's what keeps us alive, grounded, and like everything else in this world.
Bottom line: It’s been such an adventure letting down the expectations of my past to welcome the softness of an uncertain, but embraced, future. It’s obviously difficult not to instinctively assume that my worth (and subsequently, the reasons for my failures, lost connections, and choices) are rooted in my measurements, hips and eye colour - I have, of course, spent my most formative years believing this, paid for my textbooks knowing this, and been celebrated, ironically, because of these underlying legacies. But that’s not, and wasn’t, all there is to me. That’s not all there is to you. These qualities aren't what make us great, interesting, captivating, magnetic. And surely, though many people may tell us our value exists in things beyond the physical, material and financial, it is truly and simply up to us to figure this out.
It took me five years to actually see my soul in the mirror; to really notice a presence there... a fluid kind of thing. Instead of trying to pin down my identity, or nourish myself with external, subjective, previously formulated opinions, I *try* now to see us as circles with many points, sides and secrets; with many facets in which to forgive.
In philosophy, there is this famous case with Descartes and a ball of wax; when we move this wax closer to the fire, and the shape of it morphs with the heat, eventually becoming unrecognizable in shape, is that wax anything else? Is it now a rock, or a bottle, or a piece of cheese? No. It’s the same wax. We, just like this, are ever and constantly changing. And that’s what makes us dope as hell.
With respect to relationships, it took me five years to see a date as an open hand, the chance for a new connection. It took me a while to look at desire as its own thing, to embrace sexual tension for what it is, not as the intent to possess a person, judge, or hurt them. I see dating as a gift, sort of - something super mutual, equal, and fair. No one owes me dinner in exchange for my conversation, just as I'm not obligated to share my body in exchange for attention. Dating is, at first, a mingling of conscious minds for a moment or two; nothing owing, nothing lost. That’s it. And that's kind of awesome.
Life is not a casting call.
You should not feel the need to always be whole, or “on” or “perfect,” in order to deserve success, happiness, or experiences out in the world. You are not in a contractual relationship with the universe, except if anything, I'd recommend you be kind; to yourself and to others.
You know that fullness, the present-ness, that cinematic lightness of being that makes you feel buoyant, alive and happy? That comes through real, honest life, not in finding an aesthetic, or by being a thing. To be beautiful comes when you allow yourself to BE. Those who judge you like a trophy to be placed on a mantle (we can be guilty of doing this to ourselves, too) are casting directors, not friends, and some casting directors too, ache to infuse more life in such a process.
So, my message to you is simple, open-ended, and as gentle as I can make a mission be. Live, breathe, move in all your ugly spaces. Inhabit the hurt, dare to dance in all the moments of your life, even the ones that have no light in them, no Instagram-worthy tagline. To stand still and wait to be admired only guarantees that your dancing shoes never catch the light, or even more importantly, make any light of their own.