A model's purpose is to be seen - and not. It is to relay a story, an image, and an idea. We are a canvas, and despite being the most visible part of this, often we are what gets lost, partly because it is our job to be, and partly because who we are is never really seen.
If I could have communicated to my younger self that this was part of the job, and not about my intelligence or worth, it would have been easier. However at the time, it was hard not to feel that there was something wrong with me - that I wasn't worth noticing. I felt a certain emptiness in my experience at the time and now I can see it was because I didn't know how to engage myself effectively. I eventually understood through experience and age that it was up to me to change the dynamic if I didn't like it. I thought that my downfall was that I was interested in genuine connections and to be recognised for who I was, not for the image I was posing for, and always felt disappointed when this happened. With experience, I realised it was up to me to seek out these experiences if I wanted them.
I am not moaning. I know that my job looks spectacular, and to all intents and purposes, it is. I travel, wear beautiful clothing, and work with amazing people. This is not a model playing the World's Smallest Violin. I am talking about this from career perspective as a woman, because, for me, it goes beyond modelling; it's about how our society values and engages with women in the workplace.
Let me pan out a little for context.
I was walking for SS12 in Milan and a girlfriend I'd known for years (before working as a model) joined me for a few days. I'd been telling her how I was struggling with things, like not feeling like I was connecting with people, feeling lonely, guilty for being away from Nikko, and just finding it all a little emotionally depleting. She said she would come keep me company and slap me into realising how great my job was. We had a bunch of fittings, castings, go-sees. I was confirmed for some, not for others. I had remerged from my baby hiatus with my bobbed hair and had been with Nikko in Puerto Rico for Christmas. These two points of conversation are more important than you may realise. It was all anyone said to me for five days straight and I didn't realise it, until my friend pointed it out. After four appointments, we got into the car and she said, "Oh my Gah! Arizona, your hair!" and "Oh wow. You're really tan!" with her eyes crossed, zombie like. She suggested we make a drinking game out of it and every time someone mentioned it, we'd have to take a shot. We both knew we wouldn't last fashion week if attempted. We were back in the hotel room later talking about it. "It must feel like you're invisible," she said. "People talk about and around you while you are standing there but it's not about what you think, or your ideas, or opinions."
My friend went on to tell me that she could relate. The day before she arrived, her boss crashed a meeting she had been prepping for for three days. He met with the new client, had no idea what he was talking about and every time she tried to steer the conversation in the direction it needed to go he would interrupt, cut over her or make a patronising remark. But he didn't do that with the men in the room. After, he said she needed to speak less in meetings. She felt like she was essentially there as a space filler.
We talked about this more recently and how we handle this kind of thing now that we have now been in the business for a while. If we could tell our younger selves a few things:
1. IT'S JUST A JOB. This is hard to remember because we spend so much of our time at work, that it can feel like if we aren't thriving, our whole life is in shambles. But it probably isn't. Are your kids safe and healthy? Are your friendships strong? Are there leftovers of some amazing curry in the fridge? Draw strength from what is good.
2. IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT, CHANGE IT. I'm not suggesting that you throw your coffee over your arrogant boss's deserving head. Or yell at an assistant for getting the salad order wrong. Have good manners and be kind, but if something isn't working for you, make a plan to improve it. This may involve 'killing with kindness', or being assertive, but expect to be treated how you treat others. If you respect people in a meeting, they should be respectful. If you crave a sincere interaction, be the one who initiates it.
3. LOOK THEM IN THE EYE. Body language is important when you are making a move. Back in Italy, when people were verbally darting around how I looked and assessing if I was "Too tan" for this season's look, they were just doing their job, but if I looked them in the eye and opened with, "Hi. How are you today?" the sincere intent to make a connection was clear and it made the whole interaction a lot better for both of us. When my friend's boss said she didn't need to speak in meetings, she looked her boss dead in the eye and said, "Then there is no need for me to be there, I look forward to reading the notes you take" We can be strong without being confrontational, the power shifts, and levels out.
4. DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT. Work hard while the sun shines, but the minute you don't feel you are being valued, have a good think and assess why. Refer back to points one and two.