Up until today, castings have been in the Istanbul suburbs or more industrial parts of the city. But today Atti drove us to an office near the Grand Bazaar where the small sidewalks are packed with merchants selling throw pillows and carpets, clusters of veiled women walking in packs, and young men pulling heavy carts.
The rickety roads were much too small for anything other than pedestrians or scooters, so Atti pointed in the direction of the office and we all poured out of the car toward the casting, which in itself was a comical scene: a bunch of super tall girls walking in high heels on the treacherous cobblestones, clutching our books, talking loudly in English. People stared at us with long quiet glances, taking slow drags from their cigarettes.
This was a casting for hijabs, so a shop attendant greeted us at a scarves store where we were suddenly surrounded by pashminas in every color—greens, blues, pinks. We sat in a bright, cheerful office while an elegant man silently flipped through our books. He offered us tea, and a small woman came in with a tray, while another woman came in with a small selection of hijabs in different colors and patterns.
Even if I didn’t book the job, I still wanted to try on the hijab. When you have a limited time in a new city, and are therefore unable to sightsee or indulge in tourism, you take what you can get. And a photograph of me wearing a hijab was the most exotic experience I would have while working in Istanbul.
Quietly, the man began beckoning the model’s over, one by one, to a stool, where his lady colleague would carefully arrange their hair and before placing the hijab on top.
Everyone got to try on the hijab except for me.
“I’m sorry miss, but your head is too small,” he informed me, before showing us all to the door.
“Fine,” I said, tossing my head proudly. “I’ll take my small head elsewhere then!”
As a model, you are physically scrutinized constantly. The criticism often goes beyond being “fat” or “thin,” which forces you to think of your features in a different way. For example, your arms are a completely different physical subject than your legs. Your nose is a part of your face, but is also its own entity. Some girls are stronger than others, and can take criticism easily, while for others this type of feedback breeds insecurities. It’s interesting to hear what makes girls in the industry insecure, or what features they obsess over.
There’s this one American in our group who’s the only black model. At one casting, she noticed the clients discussing her in Turkish. When they didn’t ask her to try on any garments, she asked Atti very simply: “Was I too black for them?”
But “too black” or “too blonde” or “too skinny” is world that models live in. It’s never personal. It’s a business. A client has a clear vision of what they want for their campaign, and they’re sent many different types of models to choose from to fulfill that vision.
When the hijab client informed me that my head is too small, I didn’t get offended or start obsessing over my head size. (Although, I honestly never thought a head could be too big or too small. I just thought it was good to have one!) I realized I simply wasn’t what he had envisioned. In fact, I agreed with him: A girl with blonde hair and blue eyes isn’t the ideal model to sell Muslim women their headgear.
Still though, I really wish I could’ve tried on that hijab.