Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Life of (Teaching) a Supermodel

Yes, I used to teach a supermodel. And yes, she was really pretty and ridiculously smart too. Two years ago, I walked into a classroom at Columbia University, nervous, sweating, carrying a load of hand-outs, ready to teach my first writing workshop, ever. It was a non-credit class and I was teaching for free, but I was still an anxious wreck. There, waiting for me, was a tall, improbably gorgeous, beautifully made-up young woman. I took one look at her and thought, "Oh my God, is that what college students look like now??? I am so screwed."

Eventually, ten other students showed up---undergraduates, graduate students, and uber-graduate students---and once everyone had gathered around the table, I asked them to introduce themselves and explain what their goals were for this workshop. This woman said, "I'm what they call a supermodel." I don't know what she said after that about her writing goals, other than that she had some. She had transferred from Wellesley to Columbia, was taking a full course load, majoring in economics, and modeling to pay for it all.

As the weeks went by, this young woman looked more like a student, and less like a supermodel. (She explained later that she had been so dressed up that first workshop because it was September and she had come to class right from Fashion Week. ) She was always beautiful, and wrote movingly on a wide range of topics, both fiction and non-fiction, some of it having to do with the modeling world, and some of it having to do with the mundane stuff that every writer covers (neighbors, transportation, siblings, etc.) Since it was a workshop, all the students had to discuss each other's work, and this woman always had something interesting and insightful to say. She was modest, very intelligent, laughed easily and (pretty much) looked like everyone else, coming to class dressed in leggings, baggy sweaters, flannel shirts, jeans and sneakers. Most of the time, she didn't wear makeup and looked like the exhausted college student she was. Only better.

I used to cover retail at Business Week so I've been to a lot of fashion shows, and I've seen a couple of supermodels in the flesh. I once watched Cindy Crawford eat lunch at Bergdorf Goodman and last summer, my husband and I saw Tyra Banks eating ice cream in Vermont. But I never got over teaching Cameron Russell. Here she is, working to reduce global warming by combining her beauty and her smarts. She's the first one you see in the black coat, and she's also the one who conceived and produced this ad to promote awareness of Climate Action Day and Kyoto Protocol. Go Cameron.

Supermodels Take It Off For Climate Change, 350.org



  1. I'm flattered. Thank you so much for your kind words. And p.s. I had no idea you were nervous, your class was wonderful from start to finish!

  2. Thank you! I really loved your ad. And I was sweating bullets that first class. Please keep me posted on what else you're up to! I will check out your blog too.