Something smells fishy

Senior describes a site modeling opportunity gone wrong

photo+illustration

Photo by Lauren Maynard

photo illustration

Story by Bethany Dowd, staff writer

My seventh grade year marks the beginning of it all. The dreaded year in which everyone makes the transition from an awkward kid to an even more awkward teenager. At this point in my life, I decided I wanted to try something new, something different, and it turned out to be site modeling.

Site modeling is a type of modeling where up-and-coming clothing lines and companies send you items such as shirts or accessories, and you wear the items then take pictures for them. It is a win-win situation. The company gets necessary advertising while the model gets more coverage.

In order to make my new image, I submitted my profile to online site modeling companies that had been recommended for me. My first mistake: not checking out the modeling sites before applying.

At this time, site modeling was fairly new, so the lack of site models ensured I got accepted into most of the companies. Mainly, I modeled t-shirts and necklaces. Sometimes the companies preferred that you write their company name near the product. For example, once I was modeling a ring, so I drew the company logo on the top of my hand. It wasn’t uncommon for a company to ask models to do this.

And thus starts the story of Catfish. Out of all the companies that accepted me, there was one rather strange one. The only picture on the site was a studio shot of the company owner himself, none of any merchandise. According to his site bio, he was a music writer and producer, and he wanted to start a site model business for his music merchandise.

After several girls and I messaged him on Facebook, he began a group chat with all of us. He claimed that he was just starting out and had yet to make the shirts, but wanted assurance that there would be site models to model them. So, seven girls and I agreed that when he got the merchandise, we would advertise it for him. This was my second mistake.

Around two months later, he had yet to contact me, and I almost forgot about his site altogether. But then one day, out of the blue, I received a message from Bryan Lightningrod Productions. He told me that he had finished the merchandise and needed my address to send the shirt to. Prior to the site modeling, I set up a P.O. box for this. Even though I was naive, I knew better than to give online strangers my address. So after exchanging information, he told me he’d send the shirt and he “hoped to see pics soon” along with a creepy smiley emoticon. This was my third mistake.

Skip to three days later. I check the P.O. box to find a medium-sized package shipped from Arizona. I took it home and unwrapped it to find a skimpy tank top with “Bryan Lightningrod” emblazoned across the bust. Of course, my first reaction was, “Is this even big enough to be a shirt?” But after I got over the initial shock, I realized that this must be one of those fashion tanks you were supposed to layer over other tank tops. On the day I booked a photographer, I layered two more conservative tank tops underneath and felt much better. After the shoot, I promptly sent the photos to Bryan and considered my site modeling career over for this company. It was only after I finished the shoot that I realized how uncomfortable the whole ordeal was for me. With other companies it had been fun, it didn’t ever feel like a chore.

Almost instantly, I got a response from Bryan. I clicked the blinking message icon to see his reply, “Why are you wearing all that extra clothing? I thought site models were only supposed to wear the product I supply?”

By now I had realized that there was something wrong with this particular company, and I replied to his message. This was my fourth mistake.

I messaged him back, saying that I wasn’t comfortable with wearing just the tank top, so I layered it accordingly. While most companies would have understood and apologized for doing something that may have made their site model uncomfortable, Bryan lashed out. He said that “most models do whatever and wear whatever they’re told,” and followed it up with empty threats to “blackball” me which I dismissed, considering I had already site modeled for many companies and no one had complained yet. I blocked his account and continued on my merry way.

A month passed when a girl named Skye messaged me on Facebook. Her message was short and to the point. “You site modeled for Bryan Lightningrod right? Well, maybe you should check this out.” She sent a link, and I was curious, so I clicked it. This was my fifth mistake.

The link led to a crudely created website, where I saw tons of pictures of site models who must have modeled for him, starting with me. The pictures ranged from mine to other girls who didn’t site model for fun, the way I did. They had written obscene phrases on themselves and sent them in. According to his website, he fully encouraged this type of behaviour. None of the girls could have been older than fourteen.

According to his biography on this website, we weren’t site models, we were people who endorsed his ‘lifestyle’. I had no idea what this ‘lifestyle’ was, but I did know that I was not okay with my pictures being used for different purposes than what I intended them to.

Though I was completely furious, I was also a seventh grader and had no clue what to do about it. It’s not like he forced me to send the picture, that was voluntary. It’s not like he signed a contract saying he would only use them to advertise his band merchandise, so I had absolutely no idea what I could do. So I messaged the Skye girl back, and found out that she had been a site model of his like me, under the same impressions I was. We began searching everywhere on the Internet to find something to charge him with so we could make a legitimate claim. The only possible thing we could do was file him for harassment, but even then, all the pictures were taken consensually, so there was no way to pin him with anything illegal.

So we did the only thing two teenage girls could do. We made a Facebook page consisting of girls who had their pictures used for his website and people who supported us in our attempt to get someone to notice that we were being wronged. After months of gathering proof of how perverse he was, a police force in Arizona looked into it. What they found was extremely shocking.

Bryan ‘Lightningrod’ was a 39-year-old man who had been claiming he was 19 and convincing girls to send him pictures so he could post them on his website. His whole music producer ploy wasn’t exactly a lie– he did release some songs that are available on iTunes. Problem is, they are the most disturbing songs I’ve ever heard. They consisted of disgusting lyrics, bad vocals and crappy attempts at a dubstep beat. He even went as far as to include our names in some of the songs, and dedicate them to us. The turnout of the investigation was that the police couldn’t arrest him, because the pictures that were taken were not considered anything illegal, but they did make him take down any pictures of girls who wanted theirs taken down. Sadly, most girls didn’t mind having their pictures splashed all over this website, but girls like Skye and I had ours taken down. Bryan is now under supervision, and as far as I know doesn’t receive any more site model pictures.

After the situation was done and over with, I was mortified. I still am. Some freak on the Internet managed to make me think he was trustworthy, and I believed him. He used my pictures, claiming they were taken for his ‘lifestyle’, and I would have never even known if Skye hadn’t informed me. It put my life in perspective, making me wonder what other decisions I had made that would turn around and bite me later. The whole situation made me paranoid and I’m still trying to decide if that’s a good thing or not. I second guess everyone I meet, and I’m constantly looking for reasons not to trust people. Maybe it’s a good thing, and maybe it’s not, but it’s what I do and it’s all because of catfishing. So just keep in mind the next time you log on to Facebook or Tumblr that there are all kinds of people out there with pretty faces but ugly intentions, and the internet gives them the ability to use everything you post and send against you.