“I have a surprise for you.”
“Ooh what is it?”
“It’s something we can do together…but I’m not sure you’re going to like it.”
“Oh…It’s not a photoshoot is it?”
[Quietly] “Yes.”

Some people are naturals in front of the camera, instinctively knowing how to angle their features to catch the light, or move their limbs into interesting positions that flatter their figure. Sadly I’m not one of them. Most pictures of me include my trademark huge grin and wrinkled up nose, and I tend to only like one side of my face thanks to a slightly lopsided schnozzle.

Leading up to the shoot, I looked online for inspiration, watching more YouTube tutorials than I will admit to. I even resorted to WikiHow. Tips included:

  • The famous ‘smize’, where you tense the lower lids of your eyes for an intense gaze/eyes that are smiling independent of your mouth.
  • Pushing your tongue to the roof of your mouth to avoid having multiple chins.
  • Sticking your neck out like a turtle emerging from its shell to create a stronger jaw line. However, square jaws should be tilted to create a softer line.
  • Never ever having your hands flat to the camera as they will look like paddles – they should be shaken loose and then only presented side on for a more feminine look.
  • Arms that are not suspended away from the body will appear larger as they squidge against your torso, and the old ‘hand on hip’ pose has served women well for years.
  • Lean weight on the back leg to make the front leg appear leaner, and create shapes through the hips by adjusting your weight to accentuate the hips or bottom.
  • Model from head to toe. Apparently it’s incredibly difficult to keep control of all your various bits and bobs. A stray foot can really ruin the dynamics of a pose.
  • Pretend you are walking to make it look more natural. Jump if in doubt.
  • Keep moving, changing your facial expressions and body to give the photographer more options. Basically, there’s got to be one decent shot in a hundred.
  • For longer hair, there are rules about how to arrange it on your shoulders so that it doesn’t look messy. It should hang on the side opposite to where your parting lies.
  • Finally, my favourite – tense your ears and give yourself a mini face lift.

As you can probably tell, I was rather overwhelmed by all the advice out there.

I consulted the company’s website to see what they recommended. ‘Beauty is self-confidence applied directly to the face’ was their tagline – something I could get on board with.

Clicking on the ‘Preparation’ tab, I read down the list and was alarmed to see that they suggested the whole process could take 6 hours in total. Just how long was the makeup and hair going to take?! Another point I ignored was to not drink alcohol within a week so that your skin remains hydrated.

My sister Carla had told me that I needed to bring along four to six outfits.
“Forty six?” I jibed, having understood what she meant the first time.
“No, FOUR. TO. SIX.”
“Four hundred and twenty six?!”
Winding her up is my sisterly privilege.

Although we were both nervous, we decided that we’d just go and enjoy our time together. As Carla so delicately put it, we weren’t getting any younger.

After sending screenshots to each other in a state of panic the evening before of potential outfits, we tried to get an early night.

We stood on the road and scanned the numbers. Oh god, it actually was a scam – there was a shoe shop next to a patisserie and no sign of the studio. I know my sister really well, and as soon as she told me about this, I asked her if it was a guy on the street with a shiny brochure who made her pay on the spot.

However, I needn’t have been so cynical. We’d got the address wrong, and we were standing on the odd side of the road. We quick marched it back and Carla sighed with relief when we spotted the brass plaque.

I instantly regretted not having a solid idea of what I wanted. The makeup artist glared at me as I took in my reflection, my disdain not hidden by the layers of paint she’d brushed on. Having not seen what she’d been doing to my face, I was in shock.

My smokey eyes were black holes with harsh bronze highlights. I told her I looked severe and mean, and although I’d said I wanted something different to normal, this wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind. It clashed with the rouge blusher and the dark red lips.

Meanwhile, Carla was sitting besides me having a lick of nail varnish, and recounted a story where she wore makeup for the first time and looked as if she’d raided our mother’s makeup. I strained round to give her some twin telepathy but it didn’t work. Besides, this was beyond a toddler mishap – I looked like a drag queen.

Not wanting to ruin the experience, I decided to have a breather and pop to the ladies. Asking for directions, the receptionist misheard me, and although I repeated myself in a faux posh accent, I eventually settled for ‘loo’. So much for acting like a model.

I skipped down the corridor and down the stairs, then walked straight into the cubicle where someone had neglected to lock the door. I think I scared her more.

While I had my hair done into vintage victory curls and my nails painted postbox red, I tried to sneak glances at Carla as she had her war paint applied. She had opted for a more natural look but with pink lipstick, sporting tousled locks and classy taupe nails.

At least we looked different – ever since we were little we’d always tried to be individual and move away from being identical.

The piano in the corner played itself a plink of a top C note, and we all looked towards it. One of the stylists was visibly shaken, thinking a resident ghost was making itself known. Our biscuits would later slide across the table away from Carla and towards me, which again was definitely the ghost.

To make me feel better, Carla consoled me by saying that actors often have exaggerated makeup for the stage to show their expressions. I pointed out that this was so people 50ft away could see them, and the photographer would be around 2ft away. We laughed and it looked like my face was cracking.

I bit the bullet and overcame my British meekness to ask the makeup artist to change my eyes, again. I apologised in an awkward sing-song voice for being a nightmare client, but as their website says, it’s important to feel confident. Carla slurped her water with a straw as not to upset her lipstick. Experimenting with dramatic looks wasn’t the best shout. Once fixed and more like myself, we were all set.

We met our photographer, a guy called Abi, who asked to see our outfits on hangers to get a sense of the overall shoot. We wanted to take a few together, but were keen to avoid tacky twin poses.

I joked that my many wasted hours watching America’s Next Top Model would serve me well, and for our first shoot together we opted for a leather chair and vintage phone.

Wanting to create a story for the frame, we perched on its arms and I grabbed the handset and stretched the twisted coil over us so that it looked as though we were sharing the line, listening in to a scandalous caller.

The ambitious photographer then asked us to lean against each other back to back, with our legs folded elegantly over the arms of the chair. I moved and dropped Carla, who fell backwards. We both took a while to compose ourselves after that.

To get over my nerves, I decided that I’d have a go at adopting the alter ego of a 1940’s vintage pin-up. It was easy enough to emulate, lots of cheeky smirks, jutted out hips, dainty ankles and strong arms. I even did a sailor salute and tried to wink.

We had fun throwing shapes with a white background, on steps, sitting on a leather sofa, by the shiny black piano and outside in a cement car park. We received lots of direction, telling us where to position our hands, where to look, how to angle our bodies, what to do with our faces.

There was a particular pose where we were instructed to hug ourselves, which I thought looked a bit ‘catalogue’, or simply ‘tragic’ according to Carla. I enjoyed watching Carla in action as she laughed at having to bring both hands to her cheeks, and her professionalism at holding her stance as a car reversed towards her.

We had time to relax over a coffee before the photos were ready to view. There was real camaraderie with the other women who were lining up for their shoots, and we swapped our novice tips before deciding the best thing was to smile and enjoy it.

Carla was so demure, and her flowing dresses with a backdrop of plants looked so elegant. We both giggled at each other as we sped through the pictures, shouting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ until we’d whittled down the list to 3 each. We traipsed down King’s Road like delirious clowns with smudged smiles.


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