As Alison and I were discussing rent outside her three-bedroom, West 88th Street brownstone, an attractive brunette with a clipboard asked if we would be interested in makeovers. I dismissed her with the cynicism of a jaded New Yorker, though I was a 22-year-old who had only ever lived in a small New Jersey suburb and on an insulated college campus. Besides, I’d come to the city that afternoon for my first post-graduate apartment, not a conversation with a salesperson. Alison, a Manhattanite of two years, surprised me. "Sure," she agreed.
Of course, I knew I needed to lose the freshman 15 and the frumpy corduroys I’d donned since my days playing Frisbee on the quad. Still, I was insulted by the implication that something was wrong with the way I looked, and skeptical of clipboard woman’s credentials. Alison, who was much thinner and prettier than I, with her perfectly coiled auburn locks and flawless skin, was simultaneously less in-need and more eligible than I was for whatever this person had to offer. Alison humored all of her questions, from "What size shoe do you wear?" to "What do you do for a living?" until I abruptly interjected, "Who do you work for?" "I’m a beauty editor at Glamour magazine," she replied, handing me her business card. Suddenly intrigued by her apparent legitimacy, I expressed interest as well. I provided my shoe size, name and phone number, before promising Alison I’d call to let her know whether I’d be her new roommate.
Two days later, while sunbathing on the beach in Manasquan, my cell phone displayed an unfamiliar number. It was Glamour. They had chosen to feature me, not Alison, in their monthly makeover. All sense of insult washed away with the June tide. I was elated. Sure, Alison was cute, but I had charmed that magazine editor. Instantaneously, I transformed from a liberal arts grad with no marketable skills into the world’s first 5-foot-4, 140-pound supermodel. The next morning, I hopped aboard the Northeast Corridor train to Penn Station, hailed a yellow cab and arrived at a Soho loft for eight hours of grooming by celebrity stylists.
From the moment I arrived in my plain white Gap tank and jeans, everyone in the studio—editors, producers and assistants alike—kept telling me I was fabulous. I said "thank you," writing them off as condescending phonies. One editor said I needed to answer two questions before my "before" photos: How would I describe my look and how would I prefer to look, which I had never considered. I described my look as "casual" and said
I would prefer to look more… fabulous? The editor laughed and said, "How about sophisticated?" "Great," I agreed.
A stylist wiped off my makeup, revealing my pasty skin and a twicepicked blemish on my forehead, teased my curly coif and shone a light on my face. A shutterbug snapped my "before" photos and sent me to Nicholas, who had been instructed to turn me from a rosycheeked blond into a ravishing brunette.
Before I could see the transformation, Nicholas blow-dried my hair to Japanesestraightened perfection. I’d walked in with yellow ringlets, but would leave the studio with chestnut corn silk. With a precision amount of bronzer and smoky purple eye shadow applied by Vincent Longo, who had apparently done Trudie Styler’s face the night before, I was ready for wardrobe. No item in the closet was larger than a size two. They squeezed my size eight body into a too-small tunic and photographed me from the waist up until my cheeks hurt from smiling. I felt even less glamorous than when I arrived.
A production assistant promised I’d be in the July issue. I changed back into plain clothes and left the loft with a full face of makeup, which I hid behind a newspaper on the New Jersey Transit ride home. I returned to my parents’ house, where I washed my overdone face and cried on my sister’s shoulder about my freshly darkened tresses. I hated the new me. I might have been frumpy before, but at least I could recognize myself in the mirror. With barely enough money from my part-time job for a security deposit, I couldn’t afford to get my hair fixed at a salon. I had to wait for it to grow out.
A month later, when the July Glamour hit newsstands, my makeover was conspicuously missing. I was devastated. I’d already advertised it to everyone I knew. I called Alison. "You’re lucky they didn’t choose you," I confessed, before asking if it was too late to move into her apartment. "Someone moved in yesterday," she explained. I sunk deeper into my parents’ oversized couch, figuring I should get comfortable. After all, it’s where I would sleep until I found a place of my own. I felt about as phony as the compliments I received at my photo shoot. I’d been shamelessly seduced by the allure of big city fame, all before signing my first lease. For weeks, I fielded phone calls and emails asking, "What page are you on?" I had no explanation. All I had was the memory of clipboard woman, whom I’d chosen to trust for no good reason, and the lesson that a healthy dose of skepticism could serve me well in New York City.