For years, I blamed my mother for my prematurely white hair. Ever since high school, when the first wisps of white appeared at my temples, I hated our shared genetic flaw. I can’t count how many hours, and dollars, I wasted dying, frosting and reverse highlighting what eventually turned out to be one of my mother’s greatest gifts to me.
In my early 50’s, when my white hair gradually refused to be hidden for longer than three weeks at a time, I decided that I had way better things to do with my time than spend hours in the hairdresser’s chair every few weeks. I gave up the fight and embraced the white.
Not long after, while in New York, I was approached by a woman who invited me along to a casting call for a well known cosmetic company. She said she liked my look. Always the skeptical New Yorker, I thanked her for her kind words and escaped down 5th Avenue before she could try to sell me anything. But the following day, on my flight back to Denver, I began to wonder if she might actually have been serious. Maybe there really was a call for white haired models? Someone had to be in those ads for retirement homes and dental adhesive. I signed on with a local talent agency in Denver to try my luck.
While I haven’t been deluged with offers, I have managed to get a couple of jobs each year. The demand may be low but the pool of talent is small and the competition far from fierce. Casting directors expect young models to have perfect hair, perfect skin and perfect bodies. For my age group, their expectations are low. If you have white hair and you’re mobile, you’re in.
At a recent casting call, I was asked if I could ride a bike, ski and/or snow shoe and did I have equipment for any of those. When I replied “yes” to all of the above, the young casting assistant looked genuinely impressed.
“Wow!” she exclaimed.
I wasn’t too sure about that wow. Was it “Wow, I can’t believe you’re just what we’re looking for”? Or, more likely, “Wow, how adorable that someone your age still owns athletic equipment!” Not that it mattered really. As long as I’m paid for my time, I can be whatever version of senior citizen they’re looking for.
Working with older models can be a challenge for the crew. The young photographer for the craft magazine asked me to pose at the window, with my hand resting on the window sill to capture the late afternoon light. As he zoomed in on the intricate embroidery on the cuff of my blouse, I noticed how old and decrepit my hand looked. My veins had become engorged, creating a puffy roadmap weaving its way through a sprinkling of brown age spots. The photographer had seen the effect of gravity on my veins and it was obvious that it was not the look he was trying for. Too polite to insult someone who reminded him of his granny, he just stood there, looking awkward and uncomfortable. I needed to think fast to save us both from further embarrassment.
“Would the light be better if I rested my hand up higher, like this?” I asked.
I slid my hand higher along the window frame, elevating it higher than my heart and allowing the blood to flow back out of my bulging veins. Now the embroidery stitches would be the most prominent feature in the photo and my hand could fade into the background where it belonged.
“Oh yes,” he agreed. “The light is much better that way.”
We both pretended it was all about the light. At my age, it often is all about the light.
If you are looking for excitement and glamour, you won’t find it modeling as the granny on the set. But, if you are looking for a fun way to spend a few hours and earn a few dollars, you should give it a try. You never know when a casting director may decide that you have just the look he needs to sell senior living centers or walk-in bath tubs. Just please don’t try the Denver market. I’ve already got it covered.