September 29, 2021
I took my daughter, Carla, to a casting call for models when she was 8 years old, and she soon became a star. But I was too caught up living a celebrity life to notice what was going on with her.
“Mom, I don’t feel well. I can’t go on that show right now,” Carla said. I rolled my eyes. She said this before every single show.
“Carla, enough. I already explained that we have a contract in place, and you have to go on the show. We could be in trouble if you don’t go. Is that what you want?” I scolded her.
She didn’t answer and went on stage.
Years earlier, Carla and I were walking through town. I bought her a new pair of shoes for school, and she told me all about her day at school. Carla loved sports and wanted to join the volleyball team, but she was only 8 years old. She would have to wait a few years for that.
We lived in South Pasadena, California. Joining the volleyball team could give Carla a great shot at getting a scholarship for UCLA, and I thought it was a great idea too. But then, a man approached us.
“Excuse me, ma’am. Do you have the time?” he asked.
“Ugh, yes. It’s 3:35 p.m.,” I answered.
“Thank you,” he said, and I thought he would leave, but he had something else to say. “I’m sorry to butt in. But your daughter has a fashionable look. Have you taken her to a casting?”
“No, sir. We’re not interested in that stuff,” I replied. I heard that agents and photographers approached people on the streets a lot; we were in California, after all. But it was the first time it happened to us, and Carla was too young for that.
“I think you should reconsider. This is my card. I’m an assistant photographer, and my boss has worked for major fashion brands. We’re always looking for new talents. Give me a call if you’re interested,” the man encouraged and left.
Like any mother, I thought my daughter was beautiful. But I once tried my hand at modeling and fame, and it didn’t work out. I got a couple of catalog sessions in Los Angeles and then bombed. Then I returned to Pasadena and married Carla’s father, George.
Unfortunately, George passed away several years ago, and I became a single mother. It wasn’t easy. Money was always tight, and I worried about Carla’s future all the time. When we got home, Carla went to play in her room, but I sat down to think.
The photographer stayed on my mind. I called him the next day, thinking that whatever Carla earned could go to her college fund. A few days later, we went to the photographer’s studio. Mr. Berlinski had a weird mustache and acted like a diva.
“Your daughter has talent. I can tell. But her look is not ‘in’ right now. Do something about it and come again,” Mr. Berlinski demanded.
So I studied the trends and decided that Carla should go blonde. I also did her makeup. “Are you sure this is ok, Mom?” Carla asked me on our way back to the studio.
“Yes, darling. It’s exactly how girls in fashion magazines look right now,” I told her.
“But I’m just a kid,” she continued. I frowned and explained to her that this was an excellent opportunity to increase her college fund and secure her future. She agreed and posed for Mr. Berlinski perfectly.
“She’s perfect now. I’m going to make her look divine, and she’ll be a star,” he told us. I smiled, and Carla grinned tentatively. We signed a contract with Berlinski’s modeling agency, and her fame took off from there.
The next few years were a whirlwind. We had photoshoots every day, and Carla appeared in many magazine spreads. People started calling me about movie deals and TV show appearances, and we were also invited to the best parties in Los Angeles once Carla was older.
And the money was a huge perk too. After just a few years in the business, we were set for life. We walked the red carpet together every weekend, and people even noticed me.
“Victoria Fernandez, you have become one of the best mom-managers in the world. How do you do it?” one journalist asked me at one event. It was like I was living the dream I gave up on during my youth.
But I didn’t notice that Carla was not happy. Her contract with the modeling agency was strict. She was constantly on a diet and couldn’t go to school like a normal teenage girl. The agency hired a tutor for her, but her studies were not a priority.
I was busy looking at acting opportunities for her. I didn’t want her to be just a B-list celebrity. My daughter would be the greatest star in Hollywood if I had my way. At 13 years old, everyone knew her name, and this was only the start of a bright career. But then everything changed one fateful day.
Carla was about to walk the runway for Charme, a fashion brand from Paris launching its new clothing line in Los Angeles. Sher was the main model of the show, and we were waiting backstage for her cue.
But then she told me she was sick. “I don’t want to get in trouble, but I really can’t walk, Mom. I need to go to the hospital. I don’t want to embarrass myself on stage,” she explained.
“You’re going out there, and that’s my final word,” I hissed.
I would push her if I had to, but Carla suddenly fainted. The staff at the show called an ambulance before I could say a word, and we were rushed to the emergency room.
I was in the waiting room when a staff member messaged me that the show went great as they got another girl to replace Carla. It didn’t sound like good news to me. Then a doctor approached me.
“Mrs. Victoria Fernandez?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s me. Has Carla woken up? When can I take her home? I have some things to do,” I said absentmindedly. I had to find a way to fix this error. I could negotiate some photos with Charme for a magazine.
“I’m afraid that you won’t be able to take her away today. Did you know that your daughter is severely underweight for a 13-year-old?” the doctor asked.
“Oh, please don’t exaggerate, Dr. Norris. She’s naturally skinny for her age,” I scoffed and rolled my eyes.
“She is not naturally skinny. A girl her age should be around 80 pounds. In Carla’s case, it should be around 90 pounds because she’s tall for her age, but your daughter is only 60 pounds,” Dr. Norris explained.
“That’s not that bad. Dr. Norris, she’s a model. She needs to be like this,” I explained.
“Ma’am, you don’t understand the severity of this situation. Your daughter is still developing, and extreme diets can stunt her growth. We might have to call CPS in this case,” Dr. Norris threatened.
My eyes flared. “WHAT? You will do no such thing. I don’t abuse my daughter. I’m always by her side. She loves her work! I will get her more food!” I yelled hysterically.
The doctor asked me to calm down and took me to Carla’s room. I was not afraid of him or CPS. They would never be able to prove anything because I wasn’t doing anything wrong.
I motioned to sit by Carla's bedside when my purse accidentally fell from my lap and under Carla’s hospital bed. She was unconscious, and the nurse said they were giving her fluids through an I.V.
I knelt to pick up my things and saw a picture that suddenly jolted me to reality. It was taken almost two years ago during our trip to California Adventure. We had so much fun that day, just the two of us. Carla looked like an ordinary girl, but most of all, she was happy.
I looked at my daughter sleeping, and she was not the same girl in this picture. We hadn't laughed together for years, and it was my fault. That was the moment I realized that Dr. Norris was right. Carla hasn't been happy. She was always hungry, and she didn’t even look like the girl I had raised.
When she woke a few hours later, I asked her for forgiveness. “I’m so sorry, baby. I should have listened,” I told her and started crying.
“It’s ok, mom,” Carla comforted. “But I want to quit. I want to go back to school. I want to be with my friends and play volleyball.”
“We’ll do just that. I promise,” I vowed.
And we went back home. Carla gained weight immediately and was much happier. I learned a harsh lesson, but I’m glad I did it before it was too late.
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