There I was, reading this passage from the official Jim Beam 2004 Calendar Girl Profile for Miss August, Lauren Shaw, when my cell-phone rang to let me know that yep, I was already late for the interview. I was still wondering about what exactly the quotation marks around “happily taken” were meant to imply when I sat down to talk to Lauren, and I decided that honesty was the best policy. I told her that I had no idea about models’ lives outside of the randy pieces in FHM and, thank the Gods, I got a laugh out of her.
“I was in FHM in September of last year and it was really funny because basically they weren’t allowed to use us as models if they made us look like sluts, which is what they always try to do….
“For example, I did a shoot on the snow. So the entire shoot was on Ruapehu, the mountain. And [the interviewer] said something like, ‘Would you rather have lived in the Ice Age or today?’ And I said, ‘Today.’ But then he cut a huge section of it out and he actually said, ‘I’ve always fancied a nice woolly mammoth steak,’ and then he quoted me as saying that. And it’s actually quite funny, because I don’t eat meat.”
Since modelling agencies have vested interests in their clients, they screen a lot of the stuff that is published in magazines, she tells me, but they can’t avoid the pitfalls of live radio and the dirty minds of DJs. For the most part though, the agencies are just out to make their girls seem interesting. “They just try to develop everyone’s character. They asked for something quirky, and my friend Julia said she liked to clean her house listening to Guns’n’Roses in her lingerie. But all the radio DJs asked her about it.”
It wasn’t so much the confirmation of all of my suspicions regarding the integrity of my fellow anatomy-obsessed journalists at FHM that surprised me, as the intelligent conversation from someone whom, I readily admit, I had not exactly expected it from. OK, onto the next topic of conversation: the stereotyping of models.
Shaw hasn’t even seen Zoolander, so there goes my only other frame of reference. I take a punt on the Yankee accent and the Americanisms that she peppers throughout her sentences, and before you know it we’re talking about the wonderful world of modelling.
“I knew a lot of girls that went over to Milan at 16 or 17 and got chewed up and spat out. And I guess you get a few dodgy photographers, but New Zealand is pretty mild on the scale of what people think of modelling. It can get you down in the sense that you’re not going to be the look that everyone’s looking for. It doesn’t mean that you’re not pretty.” Now that she mentions it, I notice that she isn’t tall enough to be a catwalk model. Her vital statistics are in her official profile, but you won’t find details of her height among them.
“The reality is that there is [only] a handful of girls here that can afford to model fulltime. Because you just can’t support yourself doing it here. There just isn’t enough work.” Which is OK with Shaw, because she isn’t that interested in being a model until she’s counting down the crow’s feet until the end of her career. Remember, according to her profile, she’s got other things going for her. Surfer? Actually, that’s just a hobby she picked up while she lived in Hawaii. Academic? Only if having a BCA makes you one. She laughs and tells me that when her agency found out that she was into cars, they tried to put “petrolhead” among these epithets – unsuccessfully. Shaw’s character doesn’t really need developing anyway, and she gives a heavy sigh of relief once the small talk is over.
Shaw speaks fondly and proudly of the time she spent studying at Victoria. “I’ve got a BCA with double major in Marketing and Commercial Law, which I got in two and a half years. With no student loan.” So proudly in fact, she’s racing way ahead of me, and I can only sit back and hope that the tape recorder can pick it all up.
“[Marketing lecturer] Peter November was fantastic. Awesome. I probably got more out of his class in my capacity to actually analyse a problem or extract opinions from a paper. He was definitely one of those teachers who you never knew what his opinion was, because he could fully be taking you. This was his tack on something, and half the class would be parroting this back at him, going, ‘Oh yes, this is our opinion too.’ And then he’d just completely switch and take the opposite view. So he actually did force people to have their own opinions, and people either loved or hated him.” I can see the effect on Shaw: she really goes for the jugular on every issue. If you think back to last month’s photos of the swollen Manawatu River, you’ll get some idea about how quickly and unpredictably Shaw’s stream of consciousness flows. By the end of the interview it left me a little waterlogged, and scratching my head as to what just hit me. Shaw had thoroughly divorced herself of any of the stereotypes of models, and her readiness to speak on any topic made me wonder how she managed the pedestrian sound-byte interviews with men’s magazines or on breakfast radio shows.
Shaw on the racial polarization of Don Brash’s Orewa speech: “It’s so typical of New Zealand. No one actually has the balls to speak out. If someone had asked me a year ago, I would have said, ‘Yeah, I don’t necessarily think this is the right way to go about this. I don’t think that because of your colour somebody should be losing out on a spot [among Maori quotas],’ but there definitely needs to be some way that they are encouraged to pursue higher education or whatever else. It is funny how one person stands up and everyone else says, ‘Oh, yeah.’”
On fee freezes: “To put it in perspective, I think that students bitch way too much over here. If I fall off the couch right now and break my arm – it’s free. People underestimate that. If I didn’t have insurance in the States, that would be a two grand doctor’s bill. I never had insurance and I broke my wrist once in the States, and I never went to a doctor. If I was going back to school in the states, sure I could go to a shitty state school, but your bill’s going to be well over US$10,000 a year. For me, the debt that students are complaining about, it’s like, ‘Come on guys! That’s nothing.’”
And since it’s an election year and she’s spent enough time in the States to have a US passport, she offers her two cents on American politics. “You wouldn’t believe the number of incredibly intelligent people in the States, that have worked for this company or run that one or whatever, that think that [President] Bush is fantastic. They’re so blindfolded, it’s quite unreal…. By the nature of the system in the States, you’re always going to have a little bit of a puppet because you’re never going to get there without having people backing you, but you should at least have someone with a degree of integrity to them.”
So she’s not voting Bush then? “My opinion is that if Bush could be taken out and given a bullet to the head, I’d do it myself.”