All teenage girls say they're ugly, but I knew I was ugly. I was pale and tall, with medium-brown hair in unmanageable curls, medium-brown eyes, thin lips and a very pointy nose. Resigned to my homeliness, I just hoped that my looks would improve as I got older, that maybe one day I would be considered pretty.
In college I chose to study abroad in Japan for a semester. While I was there, my friend Ayumi told me that a friend of a friend was studying fashion at a prestigious school, and she needed a Caucasian model for a shoot, and would I be interested? Flattered, I quickly agreed, and we boarded the subway to meet this fashion student. Ayumi got on her phone and said in Japanese, "yes, yes, we're on the way. I am with model-san now. Yes, she's very cute, just like a real model."
My stomach tightened as I came to the realization: this poor fashion student is expecting a real model, and she's going to get...me. I looked at my reflection in the dark subway window: my hair was frizzy and my face shiny from the humid weather. I was dressed in jeans and a Beatles t-shirt and my heavy backpack was weighing down my posture. Oh no. This poor, poor girl. I started practicing apologizes in Japanese, trying to think of a way for us all to save face in what would surely be an awkward situation.
Ayumi led me through the busy train station. She waved at a group of girls in stylish, eccentric outfits. When the girls saw me, they gasped and exchanged glaces. I held my breath.
"Oh, she's so cuuuute! And so tall, just like a real model! Her skin is so pure white!" they squealed in the way only Japanese girls can. I exhaled with relief. But despite everyone's bubbling enthusiasm, part of me still wondered if they were just being polite.
I walked with Rei, the fashion student, to her art school. Her project theme was "fall fashion: play with color." She dressed me up in black heels, purple tights, a red minidress, a purple turtleneck, a blue belt, a blue scarf, a green beret, and blue nail polish. I looked like an oompa-loompa princess. I had to stifle laughter when I saw myself in the mirror.
"Okay, let's go to the photoshoot location!" She announced.
"Great! Where is it?" I asked.
"In a park about 15 minutes away from here."
Outside? Oh man. As a foreigner, people tended to stare at me even when when I was dressed normally. Sure enough, as I stepped out of the building in my colorful outfit, a man sweeping the sidewalk stopped to stare. I shuffled through the middle of downtown Nagoya with my head down, a walking blob of color-saturated foreigner.
When we got to the park, a professional photographer was waiting with lights all set up. Rei posed me by a tree, daintily arranged my scarf in perfect little folds, and told me to give a "cute little smile." I did the best I could.
As the photographer started snapping pictures, people strolling around the park began stopping to watch. They started whipping out their cell phones and taking pictures of me. Within a few minutes a small crowd had gathered, pointing at me and snapping pictures. They really thought I was a model. My smile was real now.