The author modeling as a child
The author, age 4, on the job for Little Tikes. Photos: Courtesy of Lauren Williamson

Every model has her vice. Mine was M&M’s. Stuffed into plastic trains. Overflowing from miniature kitchen sinks. Bowls of them, everywhere I turned. But you have to keep kids incentivized at a shoot — and, in the ’80s at least, hiding candy-coated sugar bombs throughout the set was the way to do it.

Between the ages of 3 and 5, I ate a lot of M&M’s while posing for Little Tikes toy boxes, J.C. Penney catalogs, newspaper ads for Popples stuffed animals, and propaganda from the North American Blueberry Council. I was one of the top child models in Cleveland — which, yeah, I know the joke you want to make.

Several times a month, my parents would get the call to head downtown right now with a go bag full of pink foam hair rollers, always-polished saddle shoes, and dresses with starched Peter Pan collars. I’d demonstrate how precocious I was by reciting the ABCs backward and telling grown men that their names sounded like characters from Winnie-the-Pooh.

The author modeling as a child
Rinsing a bowl of M&Ms

I’d almost always get the job, because I was so well behaved. But I had my diva moments, like when I didn’t want to put on the glasses at a shoot for Sears Optical. Or the time I was supposed to act sick for an ad about a hospital’s strep care but insisted on dancing around like the happy, germ-free kids surrounding me. Eventually, I nailed the shot with an appropriately miserable expression. Turns out I actually had strep — the symptoms were only just kicking in. A Method actor to the core.

Kindergarten came along, and I had a choice to make: school or continued Rust Belt stardom. So I said goodbye to the modeling world. But with a going rate of $60 an hour, I still walked away with enough money to pay a chunk of the tuition for my first year of college. Which is why I don’t begrudge my mom and dad one bit for involving me in this peculiar industry. On the contrary, I think about all the toy cars, footie pajamas, and M&M’s that could have been mine, if only I’d had stage parents.