Skip to main content
first person

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

Illustration by April Dela Noche Milne

This past week I attend an Open Call with a modelling agency. I show up, as instructed: no make-up, in jeans and a black T-shirt, wearing heels. I am 60.

Never have I ever worn heels and jeans together, not even in the 1990s. I feel glamorous and a bit sexy as well. But no make-up? No way. I settle for a swipe of gloss on my lips, light foundation. A dusting of blush and I fill in my faded eyebrows with a little charcoal.

My interview is conducted by a supermodel. I know she is a supermodel because I discover the name on our emails matched her bio on the agency’s website. Years ago, at age 15, this Alberta beauty became a megastar. I think of myself at age 15: shy, wide-eyed at the breadth of the world. Kim is a home-grown success with an international modelling career, who has returned home. Her aquamarine eyes still dazzle and when she smiles at me, dimples stitch into both her cheeks. Her hair is straight, auburny, held in a single elastic at the nape of a neck rising from a denim-shirt under a houndstooth blazer. I like this look. I could wear this look.

I spot her leopard-print sneakers and think of my worn and faithful Birkenstocks waiting in the car. “I don’t often wear heels,” I say, and tell her how I parked down the block and couldn’t run for the traffic light. She laughs and waves her hand over her head, “I gave up heels years ago!” I tell her I purchased the pumps for my daughter’s New Year’s Eve wedding and how fun it was to dress up, given the past two years of bathrobes. She agrees in her easy, relatable way. I am liking this feel of heels and glamour.

When I confirm my birthdate, I add, “Which makes me 60.”

She doesn’t bat an aqua eye and asks for my eye colour. “Brown,” I reply in what could sound like an apology for my crow-footed and common brown eyes. Then I remember my first love, at age 15, said he fell for what he called my puppy-dog eyes.

“Hair colour?” but she answers on my behalf, “Grey,” and lowers her head to type the answer. My grey hair is naturally highlighted with shades of silver and white. Surely, I think, something more glitzy than grey. Think timeless, a collection of silverware.

“Hmm, silver?” I offer. “Platinum?” I say hopefully. Her head rises, dimples at work. She is looking at me. I am looking at her. “Yes, it’s grey,” I concede, “I have grey hair.”

She beams, “I have those threads coming through, too.” When she lowers her head again, I do see a few silver strands.

Then she asks for my dress size and lists choices: 2? 4? 6? 8? . . . I interrupt, tempted to rhyme, but answer, “I’m an eight.” I add, “And I have never been a four, ever.”

“Neither have I,” she said brightly and laughs again, “And now, after all the work of showing up in those heels, I need you to take them off.”

Barefoot, I follow her to lean against a wall with a vertical orange tape measure. At age 15, I measured 5-foot-8 and stayed there; at age 60 she announces I am the same. My yoga all these years has paid off, gravity being tenacious.

Heels on, I clack-clack across the concrete to stand against another white wall, this one lit true by a north-facing window. I am aware of the fade of the worn black T-shirt and jeans I pulled from my closet that morning, refusing to stress about what to wear. I lower my shoulders, I exhale. I pull my abdomen back into my body. I used to be photogenic. Any photo was good enough. Now? She picks up a large lensed Leica. I feel exposed.

Close up, no smile. Click.

Close-up, smile. Click.

She asks me to tuck my hair behind my ears. I wear hearing aids and they register a rustle as I tuck. Profile right side. Profile left. Click. Click.

She steps back for a full-length, then, “I like to get a three-quarter shot.” Click, click. I see the shadow of my 15-year-old self standing beside her, nodding.

What will the 60-year-old me captured with her lens portray? Because all the photographs can show is the two-dimensional me. It either works or it doesn’t.

The camera lowers, a smile. “That’s it. We’re done.”

The random YouTube video, “How to Prepare for an Open Call,” said I would be asked to “model walk.” I pulled a full-length mirror into a hallway and practiced, in heels, arms swinging, but not too much, hip points facing forward, but not too much. Shoulders back, feet straight.

Kim, the supermodel, does not ask me to walk. The interview is over.

I say, “Thank you.” I ride the elevator to the main floor and then walk like a model, arms swinging, but not too much, down the street to my parked car. Oh, how I laugh. I’ve auditioned to be a model. What possessed me? I am not sure, but my 15-year-old-self is amused, if not a little impressed.

My life has brought challenges; I have learned what my heart is capable of enduring, which makes the Open Call at age 60 a bit of whimsy. I possess the wisdom to know that my intelligence and personality are truly who I am. But this experience is fun, fresh, a way to embrace the next decade, and a way to make some extra money. A way to be seen at 60.

Back at the car, I trade my heels for my old Birkenstocks, and dream of a new pair – perhaps in faux leopard. I will keep my modelling ambitions quiet, even if my 15-year-old self is cheering me on. If yoga has taught me anything, it’s to never hold your breath for too long. Yet, when an offer from the agency for representation arrives a week later, I finally exhale and accept.

Donna Williams lives in Calgary.

Sign up for the weekly Parenting & Relationships newsletter for news and advice to help you be a better parent, partner, friend, family member or colleague.