Life as a Fake Beauty Queen in Small-Town China

Back home in Brazil, Anna was a high-fashion model, represented by agencies in Milan and New York. I was a 24-year-old recent college grad who, having difficulty finding a full-time job, took a year off to travel by unconventional means (modeling, though of the questionable variety that lands a person in a hotel room on the outskirts of Inner Mongolia).

This wasn’t a reality show, nor was it one of the elite bookings Anna enjoyed back in New York or Milan. We were there for a fake beauty pageant, one our Beijing modeling agency had booked us for, telling us it was a “fashion show” and providing no further details. It was only after we boarded our early-morning flight to Ordos that the true nature of the event was revealed.