For years, I tried to hide my prematurely white hair. Ever since high school, when the first wisps of white appeared at my temples, I hated what I considered to be a genetic flaw, handed down from one generation to the next on my mother's side of the family. I can't count how many hours and dollars I wasted dyeing, frosting and reverse highlighting what eventually turned out to be one of my mother's greatest gifts to me. In my early 50s, when coloring my hair began to take up more and more of my time and energy, I decided that I had way better things to do than spend hours in the hairdresser's chair every few weeks. I gave up the fight and embraced the white.
Not long after, I was approached by a woman who invited me to a casting call for a well-known cosmetics company. She said she liked my look. Always the skeptic, I thanked her for her kind words and escaped before she could try to sell me anything. But the following day, 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 took a huge leap out of my well- worn comfort zone and signed on with a local talent agency 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 significantly lower. If you have white hair and can follow simple directions, you're in.
At one 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.
Wow? Was that a "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. Pay me for my time and I can be whatever version of senior citizen you're looking for.
Senior citizen modeling does have its embarrassing moments. A young photographer for a local craft magazine once asked me to pose at a window with my hand resting lightly on the window sill. He was trying to capture the late afternoon light but, as he zoomed in on the intricate embroidery on the cuff of my blouse, we could both see the effect of gravity on the veins in my hands. No surprise to me, the veins had become engorged, creating a puffy roadmap weaving its way through a sprinkling of brown age spots. It was obvious that this 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? Maybe something 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're looking for excitement and glamour, you probably 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 that covered.