I’ve been reading Ellen’s 2011 book, ‘Seriously…I’m Kidding,’ and found out we have a bunch in common:
1) We both have E’s in our names. I have one in my middle name (Malaea) and she has a whopping eight (Ellen Lee Degeneres is a show-off), which means nothing except her parents loved her seven times more than mine loved me.
2) We’re both funny-ish half-ladies, or maybe we’re unfunny-ish non-men. I’m a twiggy-John Goodman/half-classy Roseanne (depending on my outfit), and Ellen is equal parts Oprah Winfrey and hunky Anderson Cooper, but the main point is, Ellen and I are the exact same person.
3) We’ve both been supermodels, she of the Cover Girl kind and I of the ‘selfies on Facebook’ variety. Also, I did some modeling in high school (said nonchalantly).
No biggie, I was just asked to sit for artistic portraits by Tyrion Lannister (not his real name) for a high school photography project. It was 1991. Fame and fortune danced before my eyes as he leaned in to give me the details.
“I can’t, like, pay you or anything?” he lisped. “But you can have, like, copies of the photos for whatever.”
In the grand scheme of high school politics, Tyrion was near the bottom of the totem pole – short, nice enough, a little weird – but I didn’t really care. Here was my ticket to The Awesome Life.
I imagined billboards, bus advertisements, tote bags, paparazzi, and guest starring on my favorite show, Friends, only to be offered a regular role as a kind-of female Chandler Bing. (I decline so I can instead star as Fox Mulder’s love interest on The X-Files.)
“That’s okay,” I said, writing an Oscar speech in my head. I thank my best friend, Bridget Fonda, husband Kyle McLachlan, and mentor Gillian Anderson for believing in me.
“In conclusion, I owe everything to the humble-yet-flawless high school photos that started this journey into perfection, and the boy behind the lens. To Tyrion Lannister (not his real name). Wherever you are… thank you.”
During my Oscar speech, people laugh and weep and throw thousands of roses on stage like I’m some kind of prima ballerina assoluta, the Anna Pavlova of nineties showbiz that they’ve all been waiting for. I’m so good at writing and delivering fake speeches in my 14-year old head that the entire world gives me a standing ovation.
“….my girlfriend, Lana, and–” I hear him say.
“What?” I asked, snapping back to reality.
“I have this amazing idea that includes you and my girlfriend, Lana,” he said. “You just have to be open-minded.”
Crap. I knew where this was going.
As a sheltered teenage girl in a small conservative town, I wasn’t terribly aware of what country women would’ve called “Big City Dangers.” Up to that point in my life, the biggest ‘city dangers’ I’d encountered were:
-a hairy, masturbating trench coat guy driving next to the bus I was riding
-getting to second base on accident (not kidding)
-Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill “wine”
-a lesbian couple
The biggest small town dangers were inevitably:
But thanks to Saved By The Bell and ABC afterschool specials, I knew that one older male photographer plus two underage girls equaled something maybe topless, so I said I’d ask my parents. Where did he think we lived, in New York City?
“Let me tell you about my vision for this project,” he began. And as he spoke, the never-ending fantasy bubble filled with celebrity hopes and Oscar speech dreams popped with a realistic vengeance. Because even I knew, in my limited art experience, a really bad idea when I heard one.
First, the girlfriend; she of the light blond hair and light green eyes. Creamy, flawless skin — think Isabella Rossellini meets Casper the Friendly Ghost. Perfect ‘My dad’s an orthodontist’ teeth. Tight, acid-washed jeans. An okay personality, depending on the day. In Tyrion’s photography project, Lana represented The Light. Guess who represented The Dark?
Imagine a terrible album cover, brought to you by ABBA, and that’s what the photos looked like in the end. Marika: Lead singer of Darky Dark and the Punchy Bunch, in profile, looking terrorist-level serious, lit from behind. Lana: Quiet and serene with a Mona Lisa smile, white light shining from her pure whitey-whiteness within. After the shoot, I’m pretty sure Lana flew off on a unicorn directly to Heaven so angelic was her light, but me, I went to McDonald’s and ordered two Big Mac extra value meals.
If I’ve said it to one supermodel, I’ve said it to a thousand supermodels: To shoot like a pro, eat like a pro.
The worst part is: There was a show – in a gallery – with our pictures. And then there were people, human people, looking at our pictures with human eyes. I wanted to shout, “This isn’t me! This wasn’t my idea! I’m more of an Evangelista ‘I won’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day’-type model! Just give me a chance to be shallow!” No one ever gave me that chance.
Adding amateur insult to injury was the most up-its-own-artsy-ass title for the show, one that went something like this:
SEEING THROUGH THE DARK: A RACIAL INTROSPECTIVE
BEING LIGHT, BLEEDING DARK: TRAVELING BEYOND RACE
IN THE DARKNESS, THERE IS LIGHT: SEEING WITHOUT VISION
It was probably that last one. I could see him actually saying “In the darkness there is light” and thinking ‘SLAM DUNK! These people are going to shit themselves from all this racial confrontation!’ It made me cringe, both physically and artistically. I also wondered at the time what his photography teacher really thought of the show. Probably something like ‘I make ten bucks an hour with shitty benefits, let’s roll another joint.’
It was all too obvious, this 18-year old kid living in white suburbia finding ‘contrasting themes’ between light and dark for the first time and calling it racial epiphany. In the end, the show felt ironically blind to its own artistic issues, and because I was in the photos, I felt partly to blame for the ignorance of Tyrion Lannister (not his real name).
I didn’t invite my parents to the show because I thought they’d be like, ‘This is how you spend your time?’ and then demand to know what my grades were. I didn’t invite my friends because I thought they’d say, ‘You’re hanging out with __________________?!’ and then I’d get socially lumped in with the art kids before getting a chance to be popular. And I didn’t invite my super hot boyfriend who was Captain of the football team because that never fucking happened. Come on.
Spoiler alert: I had bad grades, popularity was fleeting, and my eventual boyfriend was a skinny band geek. Life is full of surprises.
Even though I was a one-time, unpaid “darkness” model 14 years ago, I haven’t let it go to my perfectly-shaped head. Like I say to other supermodels all the time: “Vanity is next to godliness, or maybe cleanliness is, but the truth is God wants you to be pretty, amen.” Something like that.