Carolita Johnson | Longreads | August 2018 | 19 minutes (4,656 words)
At first I was worried about saying my first day job was as a model in Paris, because I don’t want to infuriate people out there who have certain very hard-to-shake preconceptions (involving envy and scorn, simultaneously) about models and modeling. But you know what? Screw it. My first day job was as a model in Paris.
This is how it happened.
I was a fashion design student at Parson’s School of Design back in 1984. A reluctant one. I had wanted to go to SUNY Stonybrook to be an English Major, another thing that infuriates certain demographics, particularly the one my parents belong to: firmly middle class, non-college-educated first-generation Americans. They, with visions gleaned from TV sitcoms and 1950s movies of “mad men of advertising” in their heads, decided they’d rather see themselves dead — “over my dead body” said my father, only the second time in his life, the first being when I asked for bagpipe lessons — and made me go to art school instead. Who ever heard of that? But yes:
I fought them to at least let me go to Parson’s, because of the BFA in Liberal Studies that was attached to the art degree on offer, unlike F.I.T. at the time, which only offered certificates but was cheaper and therefore more attractive to my dad. I posited that neither of my brothers wanted to attend college, and it wasn’t like I was asking to go to medical school, so they were getting off easy. Also, after raiding my dad’s dresser and finding his bank book, which explained why I’d been turned down for every kind of financial aid I’d applied for, I shamelessly blackmailed him with the terrifying specter of my mother’s rage if she were to find out he was limiting my access to a better, more high class diploma, which he could perfectly afford. Education was everything in our house, right up there next to financial security and a constant sense of unspecified shame.