I had heard the stories before -- the teenage girls "discovered" in suburban malls and concert lines to become the new faces of some fancy cosmetics brand. I just never really believed them. Until, that is, last May -- when it happened to me.
Well, not exactly. I'm not a teenage girl, and I wasn't selected to appear in makeup ads. I'm a 31-year-old dude, a reporter for the New York Daily News who was picked off a Manhattan street to become one of the faces – and bodies -- of Dove's new line of skin care for men.
The experience was traumatic (especially for my nipples), wonderful (especially for my girlfriend) and totally surreal. I still can't really believe it happened, and I still can't get used to the sporadic emails I receive from men expressing a desire to rub lotion on my chest.
The aftermath hasn't been all bad, though. Since half-naked photos of me slathered in body wash started running in newspapers and being displayed prominently in stores, my girlfriend has received a handful of messages from old friends, saying they heard she was now "dating a model."
I will never allow her to live that down. She will never allow me to live this down.
Here's how it all came to be.
On a Monday early in the month, I was walking through a popular square in New York City when a woman rushed me with such conviction I was certain she was either a holy roller or a save-the-lemmings type.
Then she started talking at me, even though I was on the phone. I'm almost always infinitely polite to these people – as a journalist, I know exactly what it's like to approach strangers who want absolutely nothing to do with you. Only this time, for whatever reason, I was in no mood.
"I'm on the phone!" I barked.
Undeterred, she whispered: "I'm a casting director looking for guys to appear in a Dove ad in Paris that pays..."
Well, let's just say the sum she named was more money than I make in several months in my "real" job as a reporter. Excuse me? The look on my face must have been priceless.
"Hold on," I told her. "I'll call you back," I said to my pal, a little too dismissively, before abruptly ending the call.
The woman, who I later learned was a well-known casting agent named Barbara Pfister, said all I had to do was have my picture taken and wait for a phone call. She insisted that Dove was looking to cast "real men," meaning non-models.
Later that night, as I was recounting the story to my incredulous girlfriend, I could tell she was bursting to ask a question. But when she finally blurted it out, it wasn't anything like what I was expecting.
"Sooo...if you get picked, can I come!?"
The call came two days later. I was instructed to come to a loft in Manhattan's Flatiron district, where I would be meeting "the clients."
I had no idea what that meant, but less than 48 hours after the call, I found myself in a makeshift waiting area surrounded by a handful of dudes. All of them looked a lot like models to me, which was both perplexing and deflating. I had the impression the campaign was going to mirror the Dove ads a few years ago featuring women of varying sizes
. If it was going to be a straight test of handsomeness, I, the guy who wore braces into my freshman year of college, didn't particularly like my chances.
There were perfunctory greetings, but no one really talked to each other. And after about five minutes, I was called into a room where Pfister and two others -- a man and a woman who I figured worked for Dove -- were sitting behind a table.
"Please take off your shirt," one of them instructed.
I was more than a bit stunned. Didn't they at least want to hear how "real" of a guy I was before checking out my abs?
I posed for some pictures, answered a few questions and was out of there in less than 10 minutes. All in all, it was pretty painless.
When I got the call two weeks later that I was one of eight guys selected, I was certain the crew from "Punk'd" was lurking nearby.
Why me? I didn't have much time to ponder this, however. My flight was leaving in 48 hours. I booked my girlfriend's ticket the day before I left.
On my flight were two other guys I recognized from the "audition." They seemed to be as bemused by the whole thing as I was. We got along well from the start.
Paris was a whirl of fancy meals, boat trips along the Seine, and -- a departure for me from any vacation I'd taken previously -- a day at the Four Seasons spa, which made me feel like a new man and less of one at the same time. Just imagine eight dudes running around in shorts that looked more like diapers...after getting "express manicures."
We were led around in an entourage that included staffers from the advertising firm and the shoot's production workers. They made only one grooming request: Don't shave. And they constantly referred to us as the "Dove men."
No one got more of a kick out of that than my girlfriend, who spent the days wandering around the city on her own and the nights wandering around the city with her own personal Dove man. She became, among other things, a macaroon savant.
My shoot, in a stunning two-story home in a suburb of Paris, was the first. More than a dozen people were there: stylists, wardrobe people, production folks and even chefs. My girlfriend was not – something we both agreed was for the best.
Prior to meeting the photographer, a couple of the guys and I joked that she was going to be a tempestuous, heavily-accented French woman who would command the shoot like a malevolent dictator.
"Give me more bubbles! I want suds!"
The photographer turned out to be nothing of the sort. In fact, she was remarkably laid back and, even more important, complimentary. When I walked into the chateau's living room, she looked me over closely, turned to the stylist and said, "Don't touch him."
But things quickly went downhill from there.
When I took off my shirt, I was horrified at the sight of my nipples: They were scary dry, a consequence of the over-chlorinated hotel pool. Staring at them then, at a time when I needed them most, I wasn't sure if I should laugh or cry. Feeling somewhat ashamed, I brought my concerns to the photographer, who quickly summoned the makeup artist.
"No problem," she said as she whipped out some moisturizer.
I puffed out my damaged nips, and she dabbed it on. For the briefest of moments, I savored the absurdity of the scene: a Parisian makeup artist tending to my nipples.
Wearing a pair of board shirts, I then stepped into the shower and spent the next hour and a half applying ungodly amounts of Dove's new body wash for men to my body as the photographer snapped away.
"Beautiful! I love it," she sang every time I raised my arms, exposing my apparently photogenic armpits.
Her relaxed style made the experience surprisingly comfortable. But by the 90-minute mark, I was itching to get out of the shower. My body, which now looked decidedly prune-like, had had enough.
Then, finally, last month, the ads were unveiled. My grandparents have not yet stopped kvelling. My colleagues have not yet stopped teasing me. And the emails have not yet stopped coming.
In one of my favorites, a Daily News reader wrote that he "hasn't seen a pair of armpits like those since Magnum P.I."
In the end, I can't complain. The money was great; the experience was absurd but wonderful; and now, any time I really want to get under my girlfriend's skin, I have the perfect ammunition.
"So, how does it feel to date a model?"
Rich Schapiro is a reporter for the
New York Daily News. The closest he's come to taking his clothes off for the public before is playing Shirts vs Skins in a soccer game.
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