Empowering Every Woman to be Beautiful

New York Dreams

I'm not a big fan of pop music or rap. Actually, I find most of it to be mindless rantings about sexing a stranger. But the other day when I was on a three hour drive to and from training for my new job, I found myself perusing the local radio stations.

As you know, dj's aren't much about playing meaningful artists like India Arie and Jill Scott. So, I'm flipping through the likes of Beyonce and Shakira, cringing as I drive. For some reason, Jay Z's song, Empire State of Mind, caught my attention.

I'm sure it's the whole New York theme. I love my adopted home. The best years of my life happened in that city. So, I'm listening, trying to catch the words. I heard some key things in there about Brooklyn and "long live the World Trade," but a lot of the lyrics whisked past me.

When I got home I researched the song to see what Jay Z was saying. I am NOT endorsing the song here, but I have to say one of the stanzas really brought a flood of memories to mind.

good girls gone bad, the city's filled with them,
Mommy took a bus trip and now she got her bust out,
everybody ride her, just like a bus route,

Wow. That says so much about lost dreams and wrong decisions. I've met girls (and guys) who wanted something from the city - a modeling career, their name in lights on Broadway, a chance to be the next Seinfeld - but they ended up on a whole different path.

I also met many who came with dreams of becoming a celebrity makeup artist or hair stylist. Most ended up working at counters in department stores, while a few took more sinister roads just to make the rent.

A good friend, a fellow makeup artist who'd been struggling for a while to break into the magazines and television scene, told me she posed for nude photos when times were tough. I don't mean the art school photos, either.

Others danced in topless clubs.

I'm not judging them. When your tummy rumbles and you're facing possible homelessnes, desperation sets in.

When I was trying to get my break, I was blessed to live in a tiny apartment that I rented from a pastor. Some times I didn't have money for much outside of salad or soup. I'd come home after a long day of trying to convince photographers to use me for fashion shoots, unlock my door and find a bag of groceries with a note: Wife and I went shopping. Thought maybe you'd need this.

When I moved out of that apartment into a place smack in the heart of the West Village, my best friend had just gotten a job around the corner at the coolest Burrito joint in the city. She'd always slip me half her lunch when I popped in (which was often!).

Only a year into pounding the pavement, I was signed with one of the top artists' agent in the city. I never went to bed hungry. Or had to compromise my values to eat, pay my rent or cover my bills. It was a miracle, really.

Fast forward three years and I'm standing on a corner near F.I.T. waiting for the light to change. A slimy looking man in an expensive suit slithers up next to me. "Hi," he says. "You're a pretty girl. Want to make some extra money?"

I assumed right away he wasn't talking about selling Mary Kay. I politely said, "I'm really not interested." He persisted, telling me about his "business" with Japanese businessmen who come to New York. They need a little "entertaining".

"We're not talking sex," he said. Just take your clothes off and, well...give them a show. "But no one touches you."

I said in a firmer voice as I crossed the street, "I'm NOT interested."

His fake kindness turned on a dime. His face twisted as he stared down at me with a condescending look. One that seemed to say, "Who do you think you are?"

"Do you make $1,000 a day?" he asked in a mocking tone.

I stopped in my tracks, stared him straight in the eyes and said, "As a matter of fact, I do!"

He frowned. "What do you do?" I could tell he wasn't sure if he should believe me or not.

"I'm a celebrity makeup artist," I answered as I sashayed away. "And I get to keep my clothes on!"

On a side note: I am now on Facebook. Please come and friend me so we can talk further. Search for me under Todra Payne.