Thursday, November 19, 2009

VANITY KILLS!

Today, I was rudely awakened.

The alarm for my wake-up call was set the week before last when, on a whim, I entered a contest on the gay online-dating website Manhunt. It was a search for 12 models -- three from Argentina, three from Colombia, three from Mexico, three from Spain -- for the 2010 Manhunt calendar. I don't know why I entered. I was bored, or looking for something. Validation, maybe.

I never expected anything to come of it. I entered and forgot about it. On Sunday or Monday of last week, they sent me an email telling me that I had made it past the preliminary round, and I needed to send five to 10 photos and provide all of my personal data. I did as I was told, not taking much precious time in selecting the photos or filling out the information form because, you know, why would they choose me? I'm so obviously not even from Argentina!

On Wednesday -- surprise! -- I received an email saying that I had been chosen as one of the 10 finalists in Argentina. Over the next five days, people would cast votes on the website, and the Top 3 would make it to the calendar. After another round of voting, the winner would be named the Top Model of Manhunt.

Now, I started to take it more seriously. I had no desire to be the Top Model of Manhunt, but I wanted to get into that calendar. I started off my campaign slowly, but before long, it was approaching Barack Obama proportions. On Thursday, I sent an email to all of my MSN contacts, some of whom I hadn't spoken to in years, all of my Facebook friends, most of whom I've never spoken to, urging them get out the vote -- for me! I sent personal messages and even went so far as to post the link to the voting page as my Facebook status update. I spent the five voting days on pins and needles, not daring to check out the website for updates on who was winning lest I be sorely disappointed.

In the end, I didn't make it to the Top 3. Despite my grand effort, I'm not at all surprised, but I am more bummed out than I thought I would be. Not so much because I didn't get enough votes -- the voting process was more flawed than American Idol's, with anyone anywhere, including my mother and my dead grandmother eligible to cast theirs. It would have been more of an honor had Manhunt's powers that be selected me, as opposed to a vast voting public of who knows who -- or what.

So why should I care? Because I even cared in the first place. Three years ago, I never would have considered entering such a contest. For most of my adult life, I've been told that I should model, been mistaken for a model, and, on occasion, even been model scouted on the street and once, recently, in the gym. I never took any of it seriously until I moved to Buenos Aires, and an ex-boyfriend encouraged me to have professional photos made. I always thought modelling was beneath me. I wanted to be recognized primarily for my mind, my work, my personality. The rest was just gravy.

I never knew the extent to which my career propped up my ego until today. Suddenly, I realized that in Buenos Aires, without a full-time career to round out my personality and help others define me, I'm stripped to the bare essentials -- mind, body and soul -- as semi-naked as I was in some of those contest photos.

With straight guys and women, this works out perfectly. If they want to be around me, I know it's not because of what they can get out of me. But with gay men in BA placing such a high premium on physical beauty (in New York, quirky is at least rewarded), what they see is what they want to get -- nothing more, nothing less. Mind and soul are thrown out the window, and it's all about the body. When I get attention from guys, it never seems to be for anything other than the way I look. Somewhere along the way, I began to believe the hype, and I think I began to depend on it, too.

I was talking to someone recently whose brother is a model in New York City. He's had a successful run, but at 28, he's pretty much washed up. Luckily for him, he has a career in finance to fall back on, because in modelling, he's as out of favor as an actress over 40 in Hollywood. Considering that, I suppose I should consider it a huge compliment that at 40, I was able to compete with guys half my age. That said, it's time to let go of the hype.

If you said I had a beautiful body would I hold it against you? Not a chance. But tell me, "I love your mind," and I'm yours to keep.
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