A Modelling Contract? Yeah Right!

I like to think of myself as a level headed, rational and generally ‘cool’ individual. A person who is not easily swayed and relies more on logic and reasoning than emotions. This is quite often the case, but I am of course a hot blooded human and not some kind of ice maiden. I am fallible (if having emotions is indeed a ‘failing’) and I am certainly not immune to flattery. This became very clear to me recently.

I was checking my Facebook page when a friend request came through. I used to have my security and privacy settings very tight and only friends of friends could send requests, see my profile etc. This was done to preserve my privacy and for security. I also used to be very picky about who I accepted as a friend. But when we opened Priscilla’s I decided to be a little less restrictive and allow relatively free access to my page. I opened up the request and other privacy settings. I have since received many more friend requests than I used to get. Some of these are made by admirers and chasers, some by other transgender people. I have become used to weeding out the stranger types when necessary. It was therefore with some trepidation that I received a request from AC. She had some mutual friends, but her name was a little unusual. Nonetheless I accepted her request.

Upon perusing her profile I saw that it was quite detailed, employment history, educational history etc were all present. In short her profile was more ‘legit’ than many Facebook profiles you see. This made me think that despite the dodgy name, she was a real life person. I started to trust her a bit more. I also noticed that she was working as a modelling agency talent scout for a easily identifiable brand in the fashion industry. I thought nothing more of it.

A few days later I received a Facebook notification saying that she had ‘liked’ one of my (better, at least in my opinion) pictures on Facebook.

The picture that started it all…

This was closely followed by a private message from her asking if I had ever considered doing any modelling, adding that she was looking for male and female models between the ages of five and 60 years old for a variety of international and local clients. She then listed a few of her current requirements and said that if I was interested in any of them I should contact her.

Now I will admit to being flattered. It is not everyday that this kind of thing happens and especially not to a forty-something year old transwoman. I was also a little skeptical. I mean really? I am self aware enough to know that forty-something year old transwomen don’t get contacted by modelling agencies out of the blue for a reason, usually a very good reason! On the other hand she did say she was looking for a wide range of models for different kinds of work, so maybe it wasn’t completely bogus… Or was it?

I decided to give it some thought and I even consulted a few close friends who I knew wouldn’t laugh at me for being a vain old cow. The consensus was that it was not necessarily bogus and that if it was something I was interested in pursuing I should go for it, but cautiously! With that in mind and emboldened by my friends’  support I decided to contact AC. I messaged her, thanking her for the interest and also saying that she should be aware that I was transgender. she replied that this was absolutely not a problem. She then asked me to send through a few non-Photoshop pictures of me so that she could assess and put a portfolio together.

Shortly after sending off some pictures she replied to me saying that I was ‘a stunning woman with a lot of potential’ Exactly what I wanted to hear! She was speaking to my need to have my femininity acknowledged and celebrated and she was building me up. She then asked how I felt about doing lingerie and topless modelling. saying that she had two very well paying shoots lined up, one for Levis (topless) and the other for a lingerie company. She said that the Levis shoot, although topless, would be ‘fine’ because I would be holding a Levis sign in front of my chest and my breasts would thus be hidden and that only the photographer would see me topless. I was amused by this and I will admit that the very lucrative pay day was tempting. Very tempting. I did find it a little too good to be true, so I asked AC if perhaps the amount had been incorrectly shown. She assured me it was correct and that it was so high because of the exchange rate and the relatively low price of South African talent compared to the USA. She said that USA and UK based clients could pay South Africans really well for a fraction of what their models would work for… Hmmm…

She asked me to please send her some pictures of me in jeans, preferably topless (but that I shouldn’t worry, she would Photoshop a Levis logo over my boobs) so that she could present a concept to Levis. I explained that I had no topless pictures that I could giver her, but I did send her some pictures of me (fully clothed) in jeans.

Then came the kicker: She sent me a message saying she had sent the pictures I had supplied of me in jeans to Levis and they wanted to book me (yes little old tranny me) for the Levis shoot (how could they resist?). You know, the topless one. With the Levis branding covering my boobs. That would only be for the US market. So all was good. But before she could book me she needed to get me on her books. So I had to register with the agency. This did kind of make sense (the registration bit) but I did find it amusing that Levis were prepared to gamble their international brand on an unheard of transgender forty-something South African tranny… But on the other hand what did I have to lose?

I looked at the registration form. It was very detailed. Asking lots of (relevant) questions, from height, weight and shoe size, to details regarding scars, tattoos and eye colour. They also wanted identity document numbers and address and banking details. This was starting to feel a little too real, but I will admit to being flattered at even the possibility that this may be a genuine ‘thing’. I was just about ready to start filling in the form (like I said what did I have to lose) when the second foot dropped: AC sent another message telling me that I needed to pay a registration fee of R1 000.00 (about US$70). This fee was an administrative fee and would allow them to book me for jobs. It would also mean that they would cover all my transport and other associated expenses when out on a shoot.

Now I was really suspicious. This was starting to sound very cliched. I asked her if this was a legitimate agency. She seemed quite upset and set about proving her credentials. She sent me a website link (to a multinational company that proved absolutely nothing), the company registration details and even a copy of her South African identity document (which looked fake to me).

I then asked her if the Levis deal was a done deal. She said it was and that there was absolutely no risk to me. Pay the R1 000 today (I had to do it really fast) and I would get the job. I then spun this back on her and said if it was risk free and a done deal, why not take the registration fee out of my fee for the shoot? I even offered to allow them to take R5 000, a multiplier of 5:1 on the original fee (it really was a very lucrative offer). She said that her boss would never allow that and that it was against company policy, but that if money was short they would be prepared to register me for only R500. I was now convinced that this was not a genuine deal, (but I hasten to point out this is purely my conjecture, I have no actual proof). So I decided to string her along a little…

I replied that I was not convinced of the legitimacy of the deal. She said she would happily provide me with more credentials. I said I was busy in the bank (the truth) and that I would get back to her later. she said to me that she would then tell Levis that I was not interested. I said that she should not do that, that I was very interested but just needed time. She told me that they needed to book me now for Levis as they were desperate to get going. (Did she think I was born yesterday?) I came back to her with my proposal that they should take the registration fee out of my modelling fee after the job. She said (again) that this was impossible due to company regulations. I said that I was surprised that the company would be prepared to forego a large revenue slice (if my share was as lucrative as it was the booking agency must have been making a good slice as well) for the sake of a mere R1 000. I pointed out that this made no sense.

Crickets… She clearly didn’t know how to deal with that.

I have subsequently done some research and it seems that this modus operandi is quite common with a number of media reports in South Africa over a a number of years detailing the remarkably similar experiences of a number of people who had been caught out by the scam. (I never got the naked photo of AC, should I complain?) The only difference being the names used and amounts of money requested by the person.

It is clear that the person (or people) involved targets people who may be considered in some way vulnerable: young women (especially students) who may have some fragile egos and thus enjoy the attention and confirmation; transgender people who are notoriously fragile when it comes to their bodies and body image; and of course these groups often need cash (students for tuition and living fees, transgender people for hormones, surgery etc). It is also no coincidence that these people are often economically marginalised, unemployed or in insecure jobs.

I have subsequently unfriended AC on Facebook but I am still getting the odd Whatsapp message from her, I have not blocked her simply because I find the messages amusing at this time. The latest message asked me if she could add my pictures to her ‘models to look out for in 2017’ feature on Facebook (more ego stroking). She then went on to ask me if I wanted to do a ‘no fur’ campaign for animal anti cruelty… I am guessing that would have required me to submit a series of pictures with ‘fully shaven pubic area’ I have also sent a message to the fashion brand AC said she represented (via their website) pointing out that someone was using their brand in this way, but that I had no proof of any wrongdoing and that they may want to investigate this further…

Whilst none of this really is unequivocal proof that this was a scam, I strongly feel that the circumstantial evidence and similarities to other scams is overwhelmingly suggestive that at the very least all is not right. All people considering a career in modelling should remember that according to Model Management SA ‘the crucial thing to remember is that no reputable modelling agency will charge any money to sign you or to attend castings. Any agency that asks for money upfront is not your friend: back away and keep looking.’ I can only hope that my experience can serve as a warning to other people out there. Please be careful it is surprising how easily you can be swayed. They know how to flatter and push your buttons. They entice you in with seemingly realistic offers and then try and ensnare you with the big lucrative deal, all the while skillfully stroking your ego, flattering you appealing to your greed (yes that is what it is) and going for the hard sell. Putting you under pressure. Don’t fall for it. Good luck!

Please don’t be cross with me for using ‘tranny’ in this piece. I am doing it for effect and not to insult any transgender people… (Also, clickbait… KIDDING, or am I)…

As an aside I seriously considered for the first time how modelling and my particular brand of feminism intersect. I have always said that women are free to be their authentic selves and that they should be free to follow whatever careers they choose without societal interference. I do also acknowledge that the fashion industry is a significant player when it comes to the objectification of women. Can one be a feminist, transgender model with ethics? I still do not have the answers to that one. If you do, answers on a post card (or even in the comments section below) please.

Please don’t forget to vote for my blog in the SA Blog Awards (voting closes 31 December). To vote simply click on the friendly, big red button at the very bottom (very bottom, seriously, right at the bottom) of the page). It is free and would be a wonderful and much appreciated Christmas present for me if you did so.

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Nicole Higginbotham-Hogue is a lesfic author at amzn.to/36DFT2x. Sign-up for her newsletter at higginbothampublications.com

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