It's a fair question. You stand before Connie Stahl, modeling instructor, and ask her to evaluate your look.
She rakes her eyes over your rumpled self with this cool, professional gaze, followed by a long pause, and you have the feeling she's groping for euphemisms. Was this a good idea?
The advertisement said "ADULT MODELING. Looking your personal best gives you that uplifting feeling that will help make you a success. . ."
It ran in a Ventura city Recreation Department catalogue of adult classes--and one day last week it winked at you. You're the agreeable sort, so you wink back. You call Connie Stahl, discover that her adult modeling course is in the third of seven weeks. (The cost is $42, which covers the entire seven weeks. The one-hour classes are offered once a week.) The next batch of courses begins June 25. The deadline for this column is approaching, so you talk your way in for one session right away.
Your first mistake is arriving early.
Stahl is finishing an advanced modeling course for adolescent girls. There are 11 of them at the Barranca Vista Recreation Center. The girls, all giggling, gossiping and learning about hair, are: Shannon Eckberg, Jennifer Pullen, Cordi Brewer, Shirnett Gordon, Sara Nowlin, Cherise Hatfield, Gina Tachera, Tara Stewart, Jennifer Murray, Gina Musgrove and Yvonne ("Call me Holly") Woods.
The girls, from ages 11 to 14, are all very pretty and very nice. Then they are asked how your hair looks. Your hair, for the record, is perhaps a little on the shaggy side, obscuring your ears, collar and eyebrows.
"It's too long!" one model-in-training said.
"You need conditioner."
"You need to cut it."
Never mind. They're only children. And modeling training, Stahl reminds you, can benefit virtually anyone--correcting posture, revamping wardrobe, generally instilling confidence.
"People notice me more now," said Shannon Ralph, a Ventura 16-year-old who has been studying with Stahl for three years. "I hold my head up and people. . .like me more, actually. They don't think I'm as shy as I was. And people think I'm older. One student thought I was a teacher once. I'm not sure how I feel about that."
"Generally," Stahl said, "the confidence shows itself after about the third lesson. The shoulders go back. The walk straightens."
For Stahl, a redhead with bright green eyes and more than her share of perkiness, modeling was a high school job in Wyoming and a flexible career when she became an Air Force wife. She has been teaching for 14 years. Asked about the skepticism her line of work sometimes provokes, she offers warnings against those few modeling schools that promise jobs they can't deliver.
"They can't promise," she said. "If you hear that, turn around and walk out the door. The same thing when a modeling agency asks for money, for some reason. A good agency doesn't ask for money."
On to class, which tonight will be held at First Impressions Hair Designs. There, you meet your two classmates: Christina Carpenter, who has blonde hair and a green outfit, and Sonia Hudgens, who has short brown hair and a blue and white dress. Soon they are both reclined, heads flung back into sinks while stylists rearrange their tresses.
"I went through a very traumatic time at work this year, and I decided to try something new," Hudgens said. "I figure I'll be Racquel Welch or somebody gorgeous when I get through."
When she is through, she will have heard about visual poise, interviewing skills, skin care, videotaping and her wardrobe. Today, however, is reserved for hair. In the next chair, Christina Carpenter peruses a book of looks--four models on the page, each well-sprayed, each with locks cascading below the shoulders.
"That," Carpenter said, "wouldn't be good in my business. Only if I wanted to be a rock star." Carpenter is a certified public accountant. Her hair is shorter, and less inclined to reach skyward.
"I never learned how to do wardrobing and makeup and things," she said. "I want to do the best with what I've got. That applies with everything--work and school and everything."
Carpenter and Hudgens, both pressed for time, settle on styles close to what they already have.
This seems like the right time. First, you straighten up and covertly inspect yourself--brown shoes, socks, pants, shirt and sweater vest, in varying hues, and a two-tone silk tie. If this is an offense against the fashion gods, it is at least a quiet and unassuming one. Now, the question:
About my appearance. . .
"First of all," Stahl said, "you stand very straight. Also, you're very well color-coordinated--I like your basic beiges there. . .
"Your overall appearance is very well-groomed. . ."
You can sense that word but. . . hanging in the air.
"But," Stahl said, "I think you look like a journalist. Whether you want to look like a journalist or not, I don't know. But you just reek of being a journalist."
If you were a trader of stocks and bonds, she said, your tie would be wider, your hues would be blues and you'd have brought your briefcase in, whether you needed it or not. Also, your hair would be shorter. And that leads directly to the styling portion of the program.
It leaves a lot of hair on the floor, bares most of your ears, your collar, your eyebrows. It involves gel but, thankfully, entails no tail.
"Now you look like a million dollars," said Helen Michetti, the stylist and owner of First Impressions.
"A new man," said one of the other stylists.
Fine. Now, about this reek. . .
This week's reluctant novice is Christopher Reynolds .
* THE PREMISE: There are plenty of things you have never done. Fun things, dangerous things, character-building things. Dare you try? Let the Reluctant Novice try for you. After all, the Novice gets paid to do them--and besides, he has no choice.