‘A model ponders her hyper-visibility.’

By Kinga Rajzak
Illustration by Jean-Philippe Delhomme

A letter from… New York. - © System Magazine

I lock the door unhurriedly, taking a sluggish, sleepy step onto the sidewalk. I shuffle ahead unwillingly in the toasty summery heat. It is nearly eight in the morning. The beast’s eye may be half shut, but it will not be long until it pops open. The city’s insatiable desire to capture you with its omnivorous gaze will wake soon enough. I still have a moment to breathe before I am overtly out there – visible and mired in my ‘fleshliness’. Manhattan first needs to awaken to this gloriously muggy day before it can give free rein to its curious perception: a relatively unselective urgency to absorb by looking. I do not think I am special, yet I am singled out by its voracious gaze, a gaze that not only looks, but also shows. In this sense I will be assigned to an imaginary context – whatever that may be – harnessed and informed by my body’s presence in space. I cannot be in denial. After all, I have been in fashion as a model for over a decade. The bodily capital – thanks, mum and dad – is indisputably there and will invite scrutiny, even if I pretend that it will not. No need to be ostentatious. So yes, I will interact with my environment soon enough. The city will blow me up on its neatly cut streets, making me visibly available. The exposure to its denizens will not catch me off guard though. I know how we’ rollin’.

I remember the dude by the crosswalk who offered me sex; the florist at the corner deli who proposed; and the random fellow who sent a bottle to my table while I was dining with friends. You name it. Sometimes you laugh, you smirk, you beam a gracious, ‘thank you’, ‘oh, you are funny’, ‘how generous’. Other times, you sigh and purse your lips, before swallowing an irritated, ‘Leave me alone, will you’. There’s no problem initiating a micro chitchat with me; I am very amicable, gregarious and all. It’s just that being too eagerly in my face because you find me appealing is a no-no.
Over the years I have learned to shrug off all these benign little harassments. Yet if I said that being visibly magnetic was a torturous ordeal, then it would be one of the most memorable extracts from the biggest cock-and-bull story of all time. I mean everybody likes to be considered alluring, because feeling desirable creates confidence. We all want to be given credit for possessing that surplus X factor that will make others tick. Yet in the long run, this form of desirability playing out on the surface is anything but fulfilling – at least, for me.

Often, the problem is not with hyper-visibility, but its opposite, invisibility. It seems that in intellectual circles I need to labour harder to prove myself as someone who isn’t superficial and narcissistically navel-gazing, totally high on her looks. What I am talking about is good old blanket stereotyping, that totally bogus dichotomy of the pretty and the dumb, which despite its genuinely misconstrued logic remains uncannily in place. People will scoff, ‘No, you’re wrong; we’ve moved beyond this!’ But let me tell you, as antagonistic as it sounds, this duo still hovers in the air as some kind of
unarticulated truth. It is as if body and intellect were somehow mutually exclusive.

I conceived of my body first in fashion. Prior to becoming a model, I had had next to no sensation of the zest of my physical presence. Understandably then, to be contained in this vessel, to belong to her, my visual shell that is as much me as it is not, penetrates to deep psychic ends. It is perhaps the taste of my self that has become more distinctive over the years, the flavour of ‘embodied-ness’ above and beyond all other feelings that will remain indescribable here. However, it was also as a part of the fashion industry and this inhabited, visible body that I came to ask questions about the boundaries that played a part in constructing my identity. For this I will remain forever grateful to fashion, since it was within its folds that I got to un-think and re-think whatever I had understood about the frontiers of embodiment and the self.As you can see, modelling means that my life is crisscrossed with the contingencies of visibility, invisibility and hyper-­visibility. While I used to take the interplay of their effects rather seriously, these days I am far more nonchalant about their ‘impact’. Why? It is easy: I have figured out that it is best to take the responses to my image with a pinch of salt.

I shall know better.

Taken from System No. 8.