Lauren Wacht
Interviewed by Paul Vee
I didn't plan on getting into modeling at all. I was in college at Southern Methodist in Dallas, and they were doing a calendar called "The Girls of SMU" and I got picked to be in it. The guy who was shooting it was a Dallas photographer who did a lot of catalogues in the area. He said that I should try to get into modeling, you know, for real. So I just started kind of dabbling in it my senior year in college. This photographer--he's actually a pretty good New York photographer now--he gave me leads. He told me which agencies to go see. You know, he would say, "Tell them I sent you..." And it worked, eventually. I mean, it took me longer to break into the business than a lot of girls. It was about three years before I started being able to not have another job and to just model and support myself. I think most people quit before that point, but not me, and I've been doing it now for fourteen years. And that's a very long time for a model. 

Luckily, I was born at the very end of the baby-boom generation, which extended my career a lot because those people who have the money to spend now, especially the women, they don't want to see eighteen-year-olds doing the wrinkle creams. They want to see people they can relate to, so they go for the thirty-year-old model now. Ten years ago, thirty years old was ancient. You were out at twenty-five. It's all changed. 

Over the years, I've done a lot of different types of modeling. I've done Armani runway shows, and print stuff for WWD magazine and Karl Lagerfeld, I did some of his stuff for Italian Bazaar. Department store ads for Macy's. I've been kind of all over the place--Norma Kamali for Spanish Elle. I've done Cosmo, cheesy stuff, though (laughing) you know? Bathing suits and high heels. And then, I've done a lot of TV--everything from Clairol commercials to Easy Spirit Shoes to one of those General Foods International Coffees things. You know, the ones they always make fun of, "Celebrate the moments of your life?" I was, like, coming home from work and just so thankful to have my Irish Cream Coffee. I also did a Dannon Yogurt commercial. That was an awful one. I sat there and ate yogurt for about eight hours. Actually, I only really ate about one container of it. After that, I had to start spitting it out. They have a spit bucket for you for that stuff because you just can't eat all day long. The bucket is kept just out of sight, so like, they're shooting you from the waist up, and I'd have it in my lap, and you'd take a bite and as soon as they'd say "cut," you just would spit. It's pretty gross, I guess, but I don't know which is grosser, doing that or having to eat eight hours of yogurt. Anyway, just tasting that stuff all day long was awful. I will never eat lemon yogurt again as long as I live. 

When I was younger, I did the more glamorous, cosmetic, hair color stuff. Now that I'm older, I tend to do more of the real person, you know, the businesswoman, the mom kind of thing--as opposed to the glamour thing. Like, my son and I have a commercial audition this week for Cheerios. They want a mom and her real child, because it's easier to work with a mom and her real child. So, even though my son doesn't model, per se, they asked if I would do it. I said okay, but I'm going to be very careful with him. I mean, I worked for Aveeno lotion with eighteen-month-olds, they had three of them, and it was just a nightmare. They expected these little infants to be able to stay for five hours under hot lights. And then they couldn't figure out why they didn't want to participate. By the end of the day I was like, "You are all nuts." 

I think I was probably really lucky that I was more of an adult than a girl when I started. I mean, I actually graduated from college. I'm probably one of the few models that ever did. And I've always known that I had my education to fall back on if this ever fell through. That's a very rare thing in this field, a very rare thing. Everybody always says "Oh, models are so stupid." Well, my take on it is they're really not stupid--I think a lot of them are just very under-educated, because they stop school before they're done with it. There's a lot to be said for life experience, yes, that goes a lot further than a lot of education, but there's also something to be said for having an education and the discipline of having to get that education behind you. It's a problem for all the young kids who go in now, at fourteen, when you don't have any sense of self. It can get really screwed up. 

There are so many stories about models who are anorexic from trying to lose weight. And I struggled with that a lot because they really want you very thin and, in person, I'm not skinny. The girls that are skinny are scary skinny. Very scary skinny. And I have to tell you that maybe one out of every ten is naturally that way. The rest have to work at it very, very hard. And that is where you get a lot of the drugs, and the drinking and the smoking comes into play. 

Some agencies regulate the food intake of their models. You know, like you have to go and weigh in and get measured. People used to get tossed. Or they'd say "You have a month to lose fifteen pounds," or ten pounds, or whatever. That was before they got a little more conscious about this stuff and realized that you can't just lose fifteen pounds in a month and do it healthily. They used to say "Well, if you really want to be a model, you'll do it." That was basically their attitude about it ten years ago: "You'll find a way to do it if you want to stay in the business." 

It was pretty harsh. I think the situation has changed, though I don't really know. I mean, it's become a big controversy, but I've met teenagers who are still growing, thinking they have to lose weight, who are five seven and a hundred pounds, you know? Ridiculous things like that. I mean, I understand that to be a model, you have to have a certain look, but a lot of young women have died from anorexia and bulimia. And it's not really talked about in the agencies, either. It's a big problem. 

There are a lot of pretty faces, but they can't all be models. I think you have to handle a lot of pressure. The year I was pregnant with my son, I couldn't model, so I was an agent with Wilhemina in Los Angeles. I didn't have anything else to do and I couldn't stand just sitting around. Anyway, they sent me to some of those model conventions you hear so much about, you know, where you're looking at three thousand girls who want to be a model. I ended up signing two girls out of three thousand, and of the two, only one ended up being able to even make a living at it because the other one just didn't have the mental fortitude. She was absolutely gorgeous, drop-dead, but didn't have the mental fortitude to deal with it, so it's not just about the looks. I mean, she had that, and the body, and everything else. But she had no discipline, no sense of what she wanted to get out of it, and she just got eaten up alive. She just couldn't handle it. I mean, maybe it's obvious, but it's not just the looks and the body. You have to be willing to put up with a lot of bullshit to make it, you know? 

Posing is hard work. The days are very long and it's physical work and you get very tired. The hardest part is just standing under the lights and waiting for everybody else to get their stuff done and then suddenly--bam!--you have to work, you have to smile. 

If you're on location, it's always too cold or too hot and you have to stand there and work through it in the wrong kind of clothes. (Laughing) It never fails that you're in bathing suits in twenty-degree weather and parkas in ninety-degree weather. For some reason, it's always that way. And regardless, you have to be on when it's time to shoot. It's your job. You have to be on no matter what. You have to smile. No matter how miserable you might be, whatever it is they want to shoot, that's what they're paying you for, and that's what you do. So if it's smiling and you could care less or you're freezing your butt off, you smile, you know? You just have to get over it if you want to make any money. You kind of put on another persona to do the job. 

I mean I once did a bathing suit thing in Nantucket, in September, up to my waist in water for five hours. My lips were turning blue. And the other girl and I had to pretend like we were having the best time, goofing off in the water. Everyone else was fully clothed in like winter clothes. But the photographer was in the water, too. She, at least, had the fortitude to deal with it as well. A lot of times, the photographers and everybody else expect you to do stuff they would never do. 

And you really have to know what you're doing in front of the camera, because if you don't, well, you run into some harsh or rude people in this business, anyway, and if you don't know what you're doing, they can be even worse. Cause they expect "Well she's pretty, but I can say anything to her and it doesn't really matter, so I'll just cut her down." 

Then there are certain basic things: you have to stay manicured and pedicured. You have to stay that way. You have to stay in shape. You have to stay shaved. Your hair has to always look good. Your skin has to always look good. Those kind of things. You have to be like you're going to your prom every night, basically (laughing) like you're going to your prom or your wedding every night. You have to be that

And that's a lot. And you can get kind of crazy. It's your job to be pretty. And you get used to people commenting about your looks. You get critiqued on all of your physical attributes in this very harsh, very objective and cold and sometimes mean way. And it has nothing to do with who you really are. 

I feel ugly a lot. I mean, I still go into jobs where, like, I don't have on any makeup or anything, and they're, like "Who are you?" I've gotten used to that. It used to really upset me, like, "You can't tell I'm the model?" And I finally realized, no they can't. (Laughing) I got used to the fact that that was just the way it is. I have no features or no anything and I'm very white. I'm not like your Pamela Lee Anderson walking down the street. So, that used to be kind of embarrassing and awkward at first, but I've gotten used to it. 

There are good things about the job, though. Modeling has been a good way to segue into doing other things, or to get into clubs, or to get in to meet whoever you want to meet. Those are the perks: being able to get behind the rope. It's how I got to meet a lot of people and get into a lot of places that, had I not been a model, I never would have gotten into. When I was single, it was great! (Laughing) When I was single, it was the best thing in the world! You automatically got invited places just because you were a model. And you got really cheap rates at gyms, or you got in for free. And clubs you usually got in for free, too, cause they want models in there. They figure that if they fill a place up with models; the guys will come; they'll spend the money and they'll buy the models drinks. It's all a supply/demand type of marketing ploy, the oldest type of supply/demand story in the book in some ways: sex appeal, right? 

Basically, if I knew that I wanted to meet the drummer from whatever band, you know, the Rolling Stones, or whoever, and I knew where they were playing in New York--well, I'd just go to the club before. I'd go there, the guy at the door would recognize me, and I'd say, "I want to go up to the VIP room." He'd say "Go right on up." And had I not been a model, this would never have happened. The guy at the door knows that. He knows the agency I'm with. And I know that, and I blatantly used it, you know? But now I'm married, which is great, but you know, I'm not going to shows anymore. 

I sometimes say "I wish I'd started younger," but then again, I often wonder, had I not started when I was in my twenties and you know, kind of an adult, would I have been able to handle the pressures of being in Europe by myself and dealing with these old men and their parties, you know? (Laughing) I mean a lot of the agencies are owned by men in Paris and Milan and a lot of your working ability depends on you going out to dinners with these men, who supposedly have the money or the backing or the power to say "Yes, use her" or "Don't use her" for a particular job or whatever. 

No one ever said, "You have to sleep with him," but they would say "You need to be very nice to him." "You need to make him feel very special." "You need to treat him well." You know, euphemisms. You knew what they were talking about. You weren't like "What do you mean, buy him a glass of wine?" 

And these were older guys I'm talking about. Never any young guys. They were always--not to make enemies--but, they were always fat, balding old men who had lots of money. They were married and had kids, you know? It wasn't my thing. I mean, I understand sometimes when people compare it to prostitution, because I understand that there are some aspects that do compare. 

It's really not so different from the famous "casting couch" in Hollywood. If you play the game right, you could get work, and I was not a game player. I know that it hurt me in certain aspects as far as my career went, but I never wanted to get anywhere because I'd slept with anybody or because it was a sexual thing. I always wanted to get there because I deserved it or I was right for it or whatever. I think that that attitude really hurt me, especially when I was starting out. But then I got to an agency that was more female-dominated, and I didn't have that problem anymore and I can look myself in the mirror now. And I know a lot of girls who can't. And I also know a lot of girls who have made it because they've done that, and I often wonder how they feel. I haven't seen them because they're so far up there now that I don't run into them anymore, but I often wonder if they've just completely, like, blocked it out and think, "I did it 'cause I had to do it to get where I am." 

I think, in the end, modeling has made me a much wiser person. But I also think I judge human nature a lot more critically than I used to. I'm more cynical in some ways. I mean, I come from Texas where everybody's, like, "Hi, how are you? Come stay at my house." You know? They don't ask any questions. That's the way I was raised. I'm naturally kind of trusting, and I know that has kind of been taken away from me because of this job. I mean it's not a very fostering industry as far as camaraderie goes. You can make your friends, but there's always that level of competition at some point, you know, the competitiveness of the girls, the agents, the photographers, everyone. You never get away from that, no matter how successful you are. And I think that I'm a lot more cynical and analyzing than I would have been had I not had this job. Because I've seen so much of human nature, you know? I wouldn't say "raw aggression," but something like that. I'm kind of at a loss for words for what to call it. Let's just say I've seen a lot of human nature.

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