Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Excuse me, but you want to be my model?
This is.. a bit hard for me to talk about still. Because I've never really shared about this experience of mine in detail. I've shared about this once on Razor a long time ago in brief - when we were talking about a police case about a girl who was taken advantage of. Why didn't she see the signs earlier? How she could have avoided it.
I will talk about it, solely because, I think too many girls go through this. And in fear - because the photogs have compromising photos of them etc - do not speak out. Do not report the perpetrators of the crimes. And while I did not go through an experience as bad as some of the girls I know have... It still is mentally harrowing for me. And is still hard for me to talk about. I still feel embarrassed when I think about it.
Which shouldn't be the case at all.
A LOT of girls get cheated in the hopes of becoming someone famous, or becoming a model. Tons and tons and tons of girls a year actually get snapped in compromising poses, all because they get trapped in positions they could have avoided being in in the first place. (And in some countries, they experience worse, get kidnapped, and sent into prostitution rings. So always, always, have your guard up. You can never be too careful in this industry. And sometimes, even those who seem to be your friends, other models/ agents/ bookers - have their own agenda too. From landing you jobs that you find... eventually are more escort jobs - to getting you hooked on drugs which they traffic so you are stuck. Yes. These are just some true horror stories, and I've seen victims of many sorts.)
To be fair... It can happen to anyone. And even more so now with the internet which opens up more doors for predators.
But I know these things do happen. Because it happened to me.
I could have gone through worse. And I got away relatively lucky. But it still haunts me. Perhaps it is a mental thing. Knowing that me - someone streetsmart, who had about at least 4 years of experience in the industry at that point, could still be gullible enough to be vulnerable and be taken advantage of.
Getting offered test shoots as a model is pretty normal. Lots of photographers actually want to work with you if you are good, and it works out to be mutually beneficial. They get a good test subject to try new shooting techniques and lighting with. And the models get great shoots to beef up their portfolio.
But these days, especially as we get more desensitised to highly sexualised images - I worry many more girls are being taken advantage of, even by professional and legit photographers too.
I find, even sometimes while browsing a friend's - a model now based in New York - instagram feed, that some of her pictures, while very nice, do come across as well.... questionable. They are toeing the line a little too closely. I wonder if the photographers have an entirely pure agenda.
But because she is a model... no one really says a thing. Everyone just thinks.. well.. she's a model. She wants to be a VS model. I guess it's expected of her... Right?
AND THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED TO ME.
So.. this happened back in 2002.
I was doing a shoot. A legitimate shoot for a bridal magazine. And I remember the photographer, a short, rather stout man from Taiwan, who worked at a prominent bridal studio along Tanjong Pagar.
After we had finished the shoot that day, he asked if I was keen on doing a couple of test shoots.
Like most models, I jumped at the chance to get more shots into my book.
But, on the day I was supposed to do the shoot itself. I just had a bad feeling. I'm not even sure what it was. Premonition maybe.
My bf at the time (yes, the one I used to call TLOML), and I, had just gotten into a quarrel about how I behaved at events. He felt that I was too flirty with people when we were out - though for some reason, he never realised that most of the ones that I was "flirty" with, were gay. And I on the other hand felt that I had to socialise and be friendly as part of my job, and that he was just being possessive and jealous.
TBH, I think at the time, we both we right and had our points. I could have been less friendly. He, could have been less possessive.
BUT, that quarrel.... well. In a way, was the start of the end.
That morning itself, when I had a bad feeling, I had asked him to come with me for the shoot.
Because he was still angry with me, despite the fact that he was not doing anything that day - he completely refused. Turned me down flat even when I told him that I had a weird feeling about it.
When I turned up at the shoot, there were certain things that were amiss - that at the time.. I guess I was still too wrapped up in my emotions to notice.
I had met the photographer at his place, a condominium along Club Street. And when I asked where we were shooting, if we were going over to the studio that was just a street away, he said the lighting was better upstairs at his place.
I was a bit unsettled at this. But, again. This is not that an unusual a request. And, he had taken some really, really great shots of me at the photo shoot for the magazine.
Hair and makeup? No artists present. Well... I had done shoots before with my own hair and make-up.
Where are we going to shoot? - The bedroom. The lighting was better.
Go get changed.
When I changed, he asked if I had anything else sexier.
I remember he was using a small camera. Sort of like a leica. Why was he not using the big camera? This was better. Had a grainy quality he wanted.
He took a few shots. And asked me to change again.
When I was back. He took a couple more shots. And then asked me to take off my top, very casually. Like it was no big deal.
I said no. I was not comfortable with that.
He started scolding me, telling me that I was being very unprofessional. That I was not being a good model. That people won't hire me if I was so un-cooperative.
At that time, my mind became a complete blank. I couldn't really think. Here was a photographer, that shot me days earlier at a professional shoot. I actually was scared that I was going to be blackmarked and thought of as a bad model. I'm not sure how, or why, but I started to question whether or not I was being professional. Whether or not I was being rude, or in the wrong.
Somewhere while he was yelling at me, he came at me, and ripped my top apart. Exposing my breasts. As he roughly handled them as well. I remember... feeling like a piece of meat. And having a metallic taste in my mouth.
And yelled more in Mandarin.
YOU ARE NOT ACTING PROFESSIONAL.
YOU ARE NOT BEING A GOOD MODEL.
WHO WILL HIRE YOU IF YOU ARE SO CONSERVATIVE.
Telling me that my breasts weren't good enough. They were too far apart. That I would never get hired for shoots.
I don't know if he continued shooting. What shots he got.
I only remember pulling my top together, and tears falling down my face. Asking if I could go.
Him being angry. Telling me I was a horrible model anyway. To just get out. The door was unlocked.
I don't even remember what happened then because my mind was in a daze.
All I recall, was walking.. and walking.. and suddenly I was outside a stall called Big Chicken, at what is now POMO Mall along Selegie Road.
I called my boyfriend. Told him I was coming over. Asked if he could pay for the cab as I had no cash on me. He said to wait, he would come get me, but I told him I just needed to leave then. Right at that point.
I think he sensed that something had happened.
When I got to his place... he asked me what happened. And I couldn't even bring myself to say it. I was too embarrassed. But I started blaming him. For not coming with me to the shoot like I had asked and begged.
"Why didn't you come.." I screamed at him, tears running down my face. "The one time I asked you to come... And you were here! In Singapore for once. But you didn't come..."
"Well, even if I came.. if I said anything, you might have just told me it was part of your job what."
It felt like a slap to my face, because I had not even told him what had happened. And to be honest.. till this day. My memories of everything are patchy. All I remember was grabbing my stuff hurriedly.. and wanting to get out of there fast. I don't even know how I got from Club Street to Selegie, because I know at the time, I had been broke. So I definitely did not catch a cab.
It took me a week before I could finally come to terms with what happened. And told my then bf.
Two weeks, before I spoke to one of my agents about what happened. Soo-Ann jie, from Fly - was the only one I could speak to about it. I told her everything. And she asked me what I wanted to do. She said that the company would support me if I wanted to press charges.
And it was something I do sort of regret.
I had only just finished Miss Universe barely a month before... and the media spotlight was still glaring on me and all the other contestants.. it was tough. Everything we did. Every misstep we took. Every stupid thing we said in any stupid interview. Was brought up again and again and again. Published in tabloid magazines. In the papers. Nothing we did... not for some of us anyway... was private.
I already had felt like I had been made a fool of enough. All the forums with their hateful flaming. The people with their unkind words. How stupid. Ugly. Fat. Tranny-looking we were.
To me, I wanted to just forget about it and move on. Not risk having something blow up and out of proportion. I was embarrassed because I prided myself on being street smart.. and yet, I had been conned, into a situation like that. Me. A smart cookie.
The thing is.... it wasn't over. About 3 weeks after the incident.. I got an overseas call on my phone. I still remember where I was when I got the call.
I was sitting with my then-bf at the old Marche at what used to be Heeren. And there was this lady that asked for me by my Chinese name. When I answered, she started yelling and screaming at me - for having an affair with her husband.
The Taiwanese photographer, not only outraged my modesty -- gave my number to his wife -- and made me the scapegoat for his affair. When I had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.
He probably knew that I would be scared, because I did not know if he had compromising shots of me or not. He probably just wanted to protect his mistress. And my number, was the easiest one to give.
But Crystal, (the Taiwanese photographer's wife) called me and hurled verbal abuse at me over the phone. It just sent all the memories flooding back. The fear. The confusion. The resentment. Disgust.
I told her that she had the wrong idea. If anything, that I had been a victim. It was only 3 phone calls later, because i kept hanging up on her - sick and tired of trying to explain myself - and drained from all the emotions... That she finally listened, and realised what I went through.
She apologised to me. Said she was sorry.
Said that she will try to get any photos of me back from her husband.
Till this day. I don't know if he took any photos. And I did live in fear for a while, that if he did, that some would emerge and cause a scandal. I don't even know if he had any film in his camera. Because this was somewhat the pre-digital age.
But for a few years, Crystal. The photographer's wife. Kept calling. Telling me that her husband had gotten some Singaporean woman pregnant. Laying her problems on me. How she had a son, another one on the way, and how she was still taking care of her loser husband's mother, though he was refusing to give her any money.
Each time she called, I was filled with a familiar sense of disgust. Revulsion. It made me relive the moments again.
I took the calls, because I felt guilty that I couldn't help. I hoped to God at the time, that the woman he knocked up - hadn't been someone who had been taken advantage of like myself. Though I was told, she was the sister of a bridal client. Who knows.
For those three years, each time she called, I felt betrayed by my then bf. Who at the one time I felt I needed him to protect me.... didn't.
I know I held it against him, thought it wasn't his fault.
I know that he held it against me too. Getting molested. Though it wasn't mine.
The thing is. These things DO HAPPEN.
A photographer asking a model to pull your straps down. Take your bra off.
I don't know when to tell you that it falls within the lines of the profession. Or when it does not.
A friend of mine, a top male supermodel, told me once about a big shoot he had in China for a huge men's magazine, where halfway during the shoot - he and the other male models were told to take off their clothes.
The other male model - who was then just embarking on his international career- just took everything off straight away, while my friend gasped, and asked the other guy, "Don't you have any pride? We don't have to do this. Geez. Put your pants back on."
The other male model, now, a very famous one hailing from the Republic, just shrugged. And continued.
The shoot still went on. My friend, in his swimmers, and the other guy, naked. The images - all splashed in their full glory in a magazine.
YOU DO HAVE CHOICES.
These are the things that go on behind closed doors. Behind the scenes. Behind those glamourous pictures you see touched up in all their photoshopped glory.
This is the industry, that I still feel shocked, when I see parents willingly pushing their kids to get into. Because it's not something that a child - no matter how physically developed, and how much "potential" as a supermodel she might have - should be exposed to.
When I was at a show last year, and met a pretty, but insanely skinny and tall 12-year-old, being nudged forcefully toward the gaggle of media and photographers... a very tall, thin blonde girl - who had just been put in sexy lingerie for a magazine shoot, and on the cover of that magazine...
I am not exactly the most conservative person around. I have no qualms with racy shoots. But I think there is a line that we all have to draw somewhere.
I shared this story, because I saw this article, written by another blogger on the blacklisted photographers in Singapore: http://www.thydowager.com/juicebits/2014/01/14/caution-top-15-blacklisted-photographers-in-singapore/
I spotted a few names I am familiar with as well.
I have been approached and called by Devine TWICE. Want his hp number - I still have it stored here on my phone. Just in case. He wanted to hire me as a host for a "private event, in a limo. With 8 other girls. All in underwear. To celebrate the anniversary of a lingerie brand."
It was supposed to be a private party for girls - but... no. For some reason. He and his crony, would be in the limo itself.
The girls? Supposedly clients.
The brand? Still secret. It is a high end brand. With very high end customers.
Why would they want to be in their underwear/naked in a limo together - I asked?
Are you willing to do it? It's only for 30 mins, at $5k.
- If the sum, which is about 1.5 times my pay in a month at my full-time job, is tempting even for me. What more a young girl, filled with hopes, and dreams, and plans to buy a new branded bag or handphone?
If you are a young girl and in modelling - I urge you to please, look through these photos. These names. And even if these men are not on the list..... Please, keep your guard up.
They can easily use a different name. Change their numbers. And as soon as one is clamped down, another creep seems to pop up. And some of them, just reappear even after they are exposed to the public for what they are.
GREAT protection we have here in SG as models. Where there are no unions. No lists for legit agencies. Or photographers. And anyone who owns a DSLR, can hand out a namecard and call himself one.
But take local supermodel Sheila Sim as an example. She got to where she is today, without a single racy shoot. She has not even been shot in a bikini. It is something she has simply REFUSED to do from the start of her career, till this day.
Don't think it's harmed her career one bit if you ask me. Clients who want her, just work around it.
So if a photographer tells you that you can't model if you don't do a shot like that? Hogwash!
This is only ONE STORY, out of my many strange encounters. Being approached for weird shoots while I am on the way back home. Being asked to shoot for Playboy - by really- an engineer?
I have had obscene calls on my phones. Heavy breathing. Asking me to participate in surveys, that suddenly take a weird turn. And these days I'm sure young girls are faced with much worse. They have different approaches. Starting with being a friend on Facebook. Instagram. Ask if they can shoot you. And you might feel flattered that they are asking for you to be their model. Maybe even another modelling friend recommends you, because she has shot with this photographer before.
And worse still, some of you actually PAY to get your photos taken by these so-called photographers.
Please. Please. Please. Check. Check. Check. And Verify. Are these people legit. Do they have a portfolio? Who else have they shot? What kind of shots are they? Compare those to the ones in magazines. Are they REALLY similar? Or somehow, do they have that cheap feel. Tacky makeup, and usually, are of girls in all manner of undress.
Fashion, is about clothes. Not the lack of it.
And please also be aware, that even if they are professional and legit - if you have a bad gut feeling, get out of there. Take the case of Roman Polanski, and the then 13-year-old Samantha Gailey (now Geimer). He, a famous director, had even asked her mother, a model and actress, if he could shoot her daughter, for an issue of Vogue that he was guest editing.
The girl was brutally abused and raped. Her tormentor, protected for many years.
The person. Legit. Premise. Legit. But what happened, I'm sure.. was horrible and harrowing. And it must have been torturous knowing that he was out there, and not caught.
She said one thing in her testimony, that struck a chord.
"... I realized he had other intentions and I knew I was not where I should be. I just didn't quite know how to get myself out of there."
All I am saying is..... girls and guys out there... just... be careful. Ok?
Don't make the same mistake I did, of thinking it only happens to someone else.