I’ve had the nude picture of me hanging in my back hall for years. It’s smaller than the one Willow had in the show, and it isn’t decorated. Even though it’s not obviously me, I never brought it into the living room, or even to my workroom. I wanted it up because I thought it was a great image, I was close to Willow, the photographer, and I didn’t want to insult her by not having any of her work up in my house. But I thought if I started talking about it I’d end up revealing that it was me. And then Willow, whose image it really was, would be pushed out of the frame and the whole thing would degenerate into my telling stories about what it was like being her model. And because that picture was more of a collaboration than any of our others, I didn’t want that to happen.

On a simpler level, I also didn’t want to be talked about as that guy who puts up pictures of himself naked.

Willow found me outside of her circle of artists and gallery people, and she kept me outside it. I was her secret. When she had images of me up she took me to the openings, but asked me not to tell.

“Someone else might want to use you,” she said, “but you’re all mine.”

That was fine with me, because I had no interest in having my Dean, or any of my ex-wives, learn that I was moonlighting as a model. I preferred keeping my freedom of spirit to myself, or at least inside and out of sight.

Willow liked to work at my house, which was a presentable Victorian, with a full complement of room styles. There was never any need to rush, unless it was late afternoon and we were worried about the light. We could always go down to the kitchen for more plastic wrap, catsup, Perrier, or tin foil. We sometimes used my video setup to check the posing. Willow turned the monitor so I could adjust myself.

She wasn’t an equipment freak. She did wonderful things with a Brownie Hawkeye; sometimes she used my old Nikon F instead of her new Canon, if I had a lens she didn’t. For Willow, the negative – and sometimes the print – was only the beginning.

The picture was done in my attic. We liked working there, because of the light, the interesting windows, and the floors. Willow chose the setting, and I chose the pose – head on arm, arm on headboard, all muscles strained. I tried for the most definition, even if it meant some awkwardness in wrist and foot. But my muscle sheaths and tendons cooperated, giving her good contrasts. Upper thigh and buttock were particularly effective, she thought. I tried for a man-in-agony pose, but Willow modulated me into a tense, perhaps worried or dejected one. The muscles worked either way. I still think I should have tipped my head down more, and looked more directly at the camera. But she said that might have made me recognizable.

Willow made a large print and painted a blue acrylic swirl in my lap, and laid a heavy black outline down my side. It went up in a gallery near my house.

I told my haircutter that I was on exhibit down the street, and she said she’d go over after work to check me out. When I stuck my head in the salon the next day all she said was “Nice.”

I was hoping for more. She’d been cutting my hair and listening to my secrets for fifteen years – why wasn’t she more interested? I let it drop, but I was disappointed. I think I was looking to push our intimacy further – not sexually, but into another mode of revealing. When we talked in the chair, she had only my words to go on. Meaning and implications fell away with the cut hair; when she swept up, she swept away what we’d talked about. I understood that. But my picture was another matter: physical, immutable, myself, at once presented by me and by Willow. I wanted her to understand, to acknowledge, the complexity of the collaboration that produced the image, and admire it for that.

And admire – hey, I can admit it now – my upper thighs and butt.

One February Willow took me across the Peace Bridge into Canada because she wanted to do me against the piled-up winter ice. She’d been waiting for a day with low, yellowish late afternoon light. Across Lake Erie, Buffalo’s lights would be coming on.

She’d already worked out how to keep me warm and functional: a sleeping bag, an overcoat, and a toboggan. I undressed in the car, laid the sleeping bag and the equipment on a toboggan, put on the overcoat and shoes, and pulled the whole works out onto the ice.

After each shot I got into the sleeping bag to warm up and wait for her to change lenses, move the tripod, or work with the light meter. Then I’d climb out, do the pose she wanted, and get back in. When she changed locations I stayed in the bag and she pulled me on the sled. Fortunately for my extremities the quality of light she wanted didn’t last very long.

Willow hoped to place some of those shots in a magazine. The prints were wonderful: a nude man lying on his side, a city in the background, across the lake. Long shadows. Long lens, so he’s jammed up against the city. Another, wide angle, camera high, man embracing column of jumbled ice. Man under outcrop of ice, egg pose. Man leaping – that one was tricky. Man, back to camera, legs spread, arms outstretched as if to embrace low clouds, city lights in his armpits.

“Come on,” Willow said, “Spread a little more. I want some scrotum in this one.”

I could only laugh, because my scrotum was about the size of a walnut and somewhere near my kidneys.

“If that’s what you wanted,” I told her, “you should have brought one of those hunter’s hand warmers.”


In 1988 I was fourteen years old, five-foot-nine, skinny, flat-chested and at least four more years away from any proper evidence of puberty. To compound all of this luminous adolescent joy I was also morbidly shy and horrifically self-conscious. In short, I was a child. A bloody tall child, but a child nonetheless.

My hair was long and brown, my eyebrows heavy, my cheeks full. I was so thin, and so tormented by my thinness, that I ate as much as I could to try and gain weight. I ate all sorts of crap. Nothing happened. I remained, despite all efforts, a wisp of skin and bones, stumbling when I ran, blown hither and thither by gusts of strong wind and glances from strangers. The sad truth is that I come from a family of stick insects, and the physique I would later be grateful for was a thing of shame and sadness in my formative years. Victimized and scorned, I was teased mercilessly about my stature by other children. My nicknames were, amongst others: Olive Oyl, Bean Pole, Stick, Twig, and, my personal favorite, Inverted, a name given to me by the boys in my neighborhood in honor of my invisible breasts. Humiliated by my non-existent chest, I covered my body as much as I could and engaged, whenever possible, in the bust-increasing exercises I read about in Judy Bloom books.

These were not my glory days.

As an only child growing up without television I sought solace in books and art. I wrote and drew and ate up words and pictures with my heart and mind and soul. Aesthetics and language nourished me. I wanted to be an architect, an artist, a writer, a filmmaker, a designer of things. I had dreams and ambitions that most parents would be proud of, at least any parents with artistic persuasions.

But then something happened, something my mother had known was going to happen for some time, something she allowed but didn’t necessarily want, something my father had dreaded and detested, and something I would never have expected.

Boom!

They came a-calling.

Model agents are a curious bunch—always on the lookout for young girls they can take on and “protect” and “nurture” while at the same time pushing them into a hyper-sexualized and shallow world where they will earn money for being blessed with good looks, without having to use their brains or their creativity, and where they will be rewarded for being a glorified clothes hanger who knows how to work a camera (and maybe, if they’re really good, a room).

These agents I speak of have eyes and instincts that can see beyond the shyness, the scrawny exterior and inverted bosom. They have minds that add the numbers, do the math, envision the war paint and see, through slitted eyes, the finished product.

Click. Whir. Click.

The photographer who shot my mother’s loft for a spread in Vogue Living requested to take a picture of me as I skulked in the corner in my ill-fitting, unflattering, blue-and-white checked school uniform, with ink stains on my fingertips, a snarl upon my youthful lips, and daggers in my diamond-eyes.

A vicious little virgin was I.

She took the photo and, when she left, took it with her, changing my life in an instant in ways I will never be able to digest without feeling a cocktail of conflicting emotions.

Tick-tock.

The phone rang.

Will you come down and see us?

My mother, reticent but loving, conversed with me as she would an adult. Her first mistake.

In a matter of hours we were sitting in an agency. This was nothing very new to my mother. As a designer and semi-retired fashion icon herself, she was clued in to the scene. But, as a disciplinarian, she was a tad… elastic. Either that or I was an uncontrollable hellion, given an inch and greedily taking a hundred miles.

Conversations were had. Things discussed and mulled over. The nice people who wanted to represent me were comfortable with the restrictions my mother placed on the arrangement.

I could only work on weekends, in Melbourne, and only, only, ONLY if it was a high-profile or high paying job. Considering that the majority of all modeling/fashion industry work in Australia stemmed out of Sydney this seemed like a perfectly tight arrangement. Enough to keep me quarantined while also allowing me to feel special—something a gangly girl in the art department with a funny, foreign accent had a hard time feeling in a school full of righteous upper-middle-class bitches with a knack for cruelty.

Unfortunately for my mother (and my ego), something else happened that changed the course of our lives.

I booked a job.

Two days after that first meeting we got the call.

Vogue magazine was flying their entire crew down from Sydney to work with me on an eight-page editorial. Over the weekend.

BAM.

Poor Mum.

I was off and posing, and nothing in my world would ever be the same again. Over the next few years my grades would suffer, my ego would soar, my belligerence double. By 15, I would be living in Tokyo alone over the holidays; by 16, in Paris and Milan. I would leave school. I would be hit on by vile cretins, assuming me to be stupid or willing to advance my career with sexual favors. I would be punished with no work when I didn’t play the game. I would see strange things, do even stranger things and sometimes even do strangers. I would meet wonderful people and terrible assholes. I would make lots of money and spend it all. I would look like a young girl but live like a woman while I behaved like a princess and partied like a devil. I would move on and on, traveling for the better part of twelve years, never finding a home but always seeking one. Eventually I would find it in America in the least likely of places. But that’s another story. At this point my life was still a vague, uncertain, exciting future, and I was just a kid with dreams. And, two months later, when my first editorial in Vogue hit the stands, I looked like a prepubescent, innocent, wide-eyed virgin-child caught playing dress-ups in her mother’s most expensive evening gowns and stiletto-heeled shoes.

It’s an ugly reality that those pictures appeared in a magazine targeted towards 35-to-40-year-old women, and higher. This magazine became one of my regular clients and frequently used me to sell clothes, style and a physical ideal to middle-aged women more than twice my age. Even as a kid I thought this was weird and somehow inappropriate. I didn’t understand it but nor did I question it, and I still willingly danced with and followed the piper, for he played a most enticing and seductive tune.

It’s a strange, strange world, and we’re in it.

Growing Up Model

By Zoe Brock

Memoir

Recently I was asked what I wanted.

Not what I wanted in my tea or what I wanted on my salad, but what I wanted out of life.

Ugh.

This seemingly innocuous little query dredged up tumultuous feelings inside, forcing me to realize that-

A) the things I’ve always wanted had, while I wasn’t paying attention, morphed into something
different, and

B) that I needed to have a serious rethink before I could answer definitively.

I opened a bottle of wine and had a good chug from the neck. Clarification often accompanies a good Cabernet.


There I sat, glass beside me, “writing it out”.

What do you want, ZB? I asked myself. The answer was surprising.

If I’m going to be honest with you, and myself, I’ll have to admit that I used to want wealth, fame and glory, an ugly remnant of growing up in the spotlight surrounded by people with big dreams and big lives. Teenage dreams are hard to let go of sometimes, especially when they still seem within reach.

I used to want a life filled with expensive, minimalist things and easy opportunities for adventures and madness.

I used to want an eternity of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

I used to want my days to be filled with private jets, high-budget catering and make-up artists who would satisfy my craving for fuller lips by drawing mine bigger. I wanted photographers to tell me I was beautiful and designers to keep giving me their clothes. I needed those things to feel valuable and alive.

And now?

I still want the adventures and the eternity of sex and rock and roll, only now I want less casual sex with much more love in it, and even louder music.

That’s a relief.

So what HAS changed?

A lot.

Now I want babies and security and love and simplicity- I want a family, something that, despite all my beautiful relatives and their unconditional love, I never felt I had. Now I have to write to feel worthy. Now I have to create in order to feel alive. Now I have to be present to feel beautiful. All I have to do is show up.

My how things change.

The thing is, if I were to really consider it, I’ve already had a pretty big life.

I’ve been to every continent (except the frozen one).
I’ve loved and I’ve lost, many times over.
I’ve experienced death, depression, disaster.

I’ve hit rock bottom and seared my wings against the sun.
I’ve done the most glamorous things and the most sordid.
I’ve cat-walked all over the world, shot covers for Elle, been photographed for Vogue, and been forcibly ejected from the most gruesome dens of iniquity between Hong Kong and Manhattan.
I’ve lived the high life and licked the underbelly.
I’ve amused people and offended others.
I’ve been a brat and a belle.

I’ve stayed in castles and squatted in shacks.
I’ve partied with presidents, skinny dipped with rock stars, discussed architecture-politics-urination-sexual proclivities and literature with celebrated thinkers, and committed petty ‘crimes’ with unexpected celebrities.
I’ve traveled with dear friends and nursed them through madness.
I’ve done lots of crazy shit and blah blah blah seen things that would make my poor mothers hair curl if I wrote it here.

In short, I’ve lived, but I’ve never done anything, no matter how debauched, for any kind of personal gain or anything without honor and good intent.

I might be twisted, but I’m not bent.

I know for absolute certain that the life I’ve lived since I was thirteen years of age would not and could not have happened had I not been modeling. It’s a fact.

My first foray into the inner sanctum of the fashion industry was in the late 80’s, at a time when the catering budget was higher than the collective wages of the entire crew, and a time when nobody was eating. They couldn’t, their noses were too full.

I was young. So young.

And so impressionable.

The times were decadent, destructive and delicious. High camp ruled the social scene and air kisses were often a prelude to hasty sex in darkened corners. It was an irresponsible time. AIDS had made it’s appearance and we were, unknowingly, about to lose several of our finest, maddest and most creative. It would take a long time for us to slow down and grow up. We all thought we were invincible. I know I did.

The fashion industry is a strange place to grow up in. But, like anything, it is what you make of it. For me it was a hard road of misadventure and madness… a road that has come full circle and is now winding through gentler pastures with more creative scenery.

It’s pretty.

I like it.

Perhaps I’ll send you a postcard.