My Life As A D-List Model

We shot for 3 hours at a posh house in San Diego. The campaign was for a Frito Lays Halloween ad.  I’m dressed like a pirate, standing in some make believe congo line and holding the shoulder’s of another model who’s dressed like a zombie. The photographer kept yelling, “YOU’RE HAVING MORE FUN!… FUN!”

I grit my teeth and do my best fake laugh.  I’m an expert at this and know that this is an easy way to bring out a natural smile on camera.  It’s a trick I learned after twelve years of professional modeling.  I secretly think, “I’m 30 years old and dressed like a pirate. How did I end up here?” 

If you think modeling is just showing up for auditions and smiling and then going to print shoots and more smiling, I have news for you… you’re absolutely correct!  If you have a somewhat decent smile (no meth habit), you dropped out of high school, and don’t have any substantive financial plan for the future then you have potential to be a commercial print model!

For me, it started when I was a student at NYU.  An agent asked me how tall I was.  “Um, 6’2.” (First rule of modeling. Lie. I’m actually 6’0, always lie.)

“Perfect, we’re submitting you for a print job!”  I’d like to think it had to do with my amazing looks, but I think it had more to do with the fact that every other South Asian male my age was busy studying organic chemistry. I had no idea what print modeling entailed, but I thought that it would be a good side hustle to make up for my lack of career ambition.  

I went to a casting office in mid-town where a guy with a digital camera took my photo and then asked me to turn to the left and then right.  The whole thing probably took about twenty seconds.  This cathartic experience booked me my first ad and led to years of consistent commercial print bookings.  Since then, I’ve done everything from posing for Target catalogues, playing volleyball on the beach, to wearing a turban and driving a cab.  The one thing I’ve learned about myself is, I WILL SELL OUT.  I’ve been with about six different agents, some better than others, and I think I’ve booked a few hundred jobs, which is pretty good.

Some rules I live by include: I never ask what I’m modeling for or how much I’m getting paid. If my agent says I booked the job I just show up and do whatever they tell me. People expect me to be dumb so I avoid any intelligent conversation and over laugh whenever someone makes a lame joke on set.  My neglect to read contracts explains why my image now pops up in places that I would have second thoughts about allowing to license.  Most recently, someone said they saw me in a magazine ad that reminded people to get tested for HIV, and another person spotted me on a website that encouraged human scientific testing. (check my FB).

I'm not saying this to brag. In fact, I’m the first to admit that I’ve pretty much failed at everything I’ve attempted in showbusiness and print modeling is the one thing I’ve put ZERO effort into. However, there are some perks.  You get to hang out with hot girls most of the time, fly to cool places, and I’ve learned how to flirt with male photographers so they’ll recommend me for more jobs. By the way, I’m NOT gay.  They don’t teach you that at Goldman Sachs.

Currently, I’m now in my “dad” modeling phase. Having no offspring, I do shoots with my pretend children.  I push my model son down a slide, the photographer yells “RESET,” and we do it all over again.  I imagine that this is what fatherhood is like.  My dream job is to do a wedding print shoot so I can create a wedding album and tell my nephews and nieces that once upon a time Uncle Tarun had a normal existence and a wedding where everyone was attractive.

I had a spiritual awakening this past year.  I’m not claiming to be like Ekhart Tolle or Wayne Dyer, but I’ve noticed that nobody can predict life.  I think to achieve success you have to just be in the moment and not worry too much about what happens after that.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’ve always had an unintended zen approach to modeling.  It somehow seemed to work, unlike other things where I tried to strategically plan and coordinate.

A few years ago, I decided that I should probably also get a real job so I don’t end up as a male escort in France. I’ll continue to be a D-level model as long as I can and will always be grateful for the amazing opportunities – easy money and hooking up with girls who were way out of my league in high school.  That’s really it. I’m serious.  Still, not bad though.

 “I wasn't like every other kid, you know, who dreams about being an astronaut, I was always more interested in what bark was made out of on a tree… Do I know what product I'm selling? No. Do I know what I'm doing today? No. But I'm here, and I'm gonna give it my best shot” – Hansel (Zoolander)

Frito Lays Pirate Ad – footage from iPhone



Tarun ShettyComment