Some years back, when I was modelling in Hong Kong, I was surprised to hear there was such a thing as a “Model’s Night” in a famous nightclub downtown.
Of course, I had heard about a “Ladies Night” but I had never heard of being allowed free entry into a nightspot, provided your occupation was that of a “model”.
I found this an alien concept and I was even more morbidly curious about it when I met flashy bankers at glitzy launches bragging to men about going to this club because every man they knew was begging them for an invitation.
However, it was not easy to just waltz in due to its ‘so-called’ exclusivity and some men were turned away on sight, unless they had a model draped over their arm or looked ‘good enough’ or ‘successful enough’ themselves.
Goodness, what does that even mean considering some of the richest men in the world may have shown up badly dressed and would have been turned away at the door if they did not look ‘rich enough’?
Yet, models that might have been struggling to pay their rent were allowed to party in style with free flowing champagne, because they were born with certain symmetrical facial features?
I was complaining to my childhood friend about these double standards and she wisely said, “The world is an unfair place and that’s not going to change. Neither is the fact that men are always going to love beautiful women.”
I was disgruntled nevertheless and went on to explain the inconsistent system of club access.
Patrons needed to be connected to the industry in some way, or be willing to spend quite a lot of cold, hard ‘mullah’, or alternatively, learn the “secret handshake” that was rumoured to get you into this nightclub for free.
She just chuckled, “Pretty horrendous, no doubt but if you meet a guy there who is as superficial as this club, you won’t even be attracted anyway. You’ll still be ‘you’ no matter where you are. You can’t change the world honey, and it can’t change you, unless you let it”.
I knew she was right and there was no help for it. The economics of demand and supply and society’s preoccupation with looks, power and money was a sad fact of life, whether I liked it or not.
The world was full of labels and if I could not avoid the depressing reality of this, then I sincerely hoped I would have the strength to rise above it and not be too seduced or tainted by it.
With all this in mind, there I was lining up to attend my very first “Model’s Night” with a mixture of dread and amusement that such a thing could exist.
I went there with some of my modelling colleagues, who were mostly cat-walkers that towered over my short height, yet this stern-looking bouncer stood there blocking the entry with his question, “Are you all models?”
The Brazilian girls I was with looked like they had just walked off a high-fashion runway but this no-nonsense bouncer wanted to see “evidence” and it was only when we produced our agency cards, did he wave us on imperiously.
I gasped at the sheer audacity of the man but when we shuffled past him, just beyond the curtain was an unreal world of women as far as my eyes could see.
They were all models.
For every man that wanted to be in this room, there probably was an uncomfortable female who didn’t want to be there at all.
In fact, one of the models I came with gripped my arm in a bit of a panic because apart from being very shy and soft-spoken, she was intimidated at the sight of so many beautiful women congregated under one roof.
I learnt something vitally important that night. We often stereotype people and pigeon hole them into boxes that may be far removed from the truth.
Just because the girl I was with seemed to be drawing a lot of attention, not just from men but from other models in the room, did not mean she welcomed this attention. She did not even believe she was beautiful.
She had arresting features and she looked poised, elegant, and almost regal as she moved through the crowd but without anyone ever guessing how unbearable she found this entire scene.
She whispered to me urgently within moments of arriving, “If it’s okay, you take me back with you if you’re going home early? I’m really not used to being around so many pretty girls.”
What amazed me is how separate she seemed from her comment. I learnt later on about the sort of abusive background she had, growing up with a father who constantly put her down but she learnt how to put on a brave face, and to even catwalk with the utmost of grace to hide her innate fragility and low sense of self-worth.
As my eyes scanned the room, instead of just seeing incredible looking women, I knew if you dug a little deeper, you would find out that they all had a story. We all do. But when we are often dazzled by the surface, we sometimes don’t look beneath the sunny smiles.
I ended up leaving early with my modelling friend who taught me to never judge a book by its cover.
These days, I try not to judge at all because until you walk in someone else’s shoes, people are almost never what they seem.
Jojo Struys is a TV host who used to model throughout Asia. You can catch up with her on instagram @jojo_struys or email her at email@example.com