I was fifteen and at the mall with my mother when I was discovered by a scout from Elite Model Management. It was just like a fairy tale, except in my case the princess looked more like Edward Scissorhands than Cinderella. I liked to wear all black with boys' jeans, and my skin was as pale as a ghost's. No one had ever told me I was pretty. But somehow, a scout had found me in rural Pennsylvania, probably in front of Hot Topic, and liked my look. Soon, I was on my way to New York for my first photo shoots: a small half-page in Mademoiselle magazine and two test shoots set up for me by my management.
At my first shoot, the photographer sprayed me with Pam cooking oil and had me sit on a toilet. For my second, the photographer put me in a sheer top with no makeup on and had me sit under a table in the fetal position. It was bizarre. He barely spoke English, and the environment intimidated me, so I didn't ask any questions. I was new, I was an outsider, and I was no one, so I kept my mouth shut.
At sixteen, the summer after I was scouted, I went to Japan alone for a two-month modeling contract. It was my first time on an airplane. I bought a few language books and casual-conversation books and was ready, with open arms, for whatever was going to come to me. After living so much of my life in my small town, it felt amazing to be exposed to so many new opportunities that I'd never even imagined. I was in Tokyo experiencing a new culture and food, a big city, different kinds of people. It was a lot to take in. I got to experiment and experience life completely on my own in a foreign land.
I lived in an apartment with one other girl, a good egg who is still my friend. (She even stands in for me sometimes on The Defenders and Jessica Jones.) We were responsible for everything: getting by on our own, getting groceries, getting to work on time. There was no parental or authority figure guiding me, no one to tell me no. I was responsible for my own decisions and any consequences that would come, so I had to make sure my he was on straight. On the streets in Tokyo, there were vending machines selling cans of beer the size of your head. One night I got wasted and stayed out way too late, and then, of course, I regretted it the next day. I wouldn't make that mistake again. I was in Japan with a hard-copy map in my hands. I took the subway, and I tried to soak up the culture and sights around me like a sponge.
When my two-month stint was over, I went back home to the farm in Pennsylvania. But after being exposed to the world, life at home no longer fit me. I bumped heads with my parents. I think they were overwhelmed by my opportunities and my travels. They wanted me to have a curfew, but I was used to living life on my own terms. I knew I would never be the same. I had it figured out, after all. Well, not totally figured out. But I knew that what I was chasing wasn't at home anymore.
I somehow survived the next two years living at home, and when I turned eighteen, I left as soon as I could, with two small rolling suitcases and a whole lot of fearlessness. I headed to New York, to live in an apartment provided by the modeling agency, with anywhere from six to twelve girls in bunk beds at a time, to see if I could make it.