A Girl in the Box at the Standard Hotel Speaks
Lilibet Snellings, former Box Girl
Photo by Ramzi Dreessen
There's never a shortage of half-dressed ladies on the Sunset Strip, and that includes the lobby of the Standard, the boutique hotel just west of the Chateau Marmont and east of the Comedy Store. But there's always one girl at the Standard who stands out above the rest.
Except she doesn't stand - she lies down, or sometimes sits, in a large glass tank behind the concierge. She's the Standard's Box Girl.
For nearly four years, Lilibet Snellings was a Box Girl.
Los Angeles is crawling with aspiring whatevers working odd day jobs. Snellings' undoubtedly was one of the most confining: The box is 15 feet long, 4 feet wide and 5 feet tall. The Box Girl is part eye candy, part conversation piece and part art installation, a living sculpture that taps into the fantasy of staring at a woman trapped like a caged animal.
Her uniform was a white tank top, white shorts and light makeup. Also, she had to wear undergarments.
"I never thought I would be employed at a place where that needed to be put in writing," Snellings writes in her new book, Box Girl: My Part-Time Job as an Art Installation. (She's doing a reading at Skylight Books on March 11.)
The rules? While inside the box, there was to be no eye contact with hotel guests and no food or drinks. But Snellings, who essentially had been hired as a model, could read, use her computer, talk on the phone and even sleep inside the box, which included a mattress, sheets, pillows and monthly art installations. And, yes, she was allowed bathroom breaks - two per shift.
Just act as if you're alone in your living room, Snellings was told.
"This manufactured reality could only be hatched from the head of a man," Snellings writes of Standard owner Andre Balazs, the real estate - developer ex-boyfriend of both Uma Thurman and Chelsea Handler. Not surprisingly, of the hotel chain's five locations, only West Hollywood employs a Box Girl.
At 31, Snellings looks like a camera-ready California girl, with blond hair and impeccably white teeth. But she never aspired to be a model. After graduating the University of Colorado with a journalism degree, the Connecticut native tried to land writing gigs in New York, with no luck.
While vacationing in Los Angeles with her East Coast girlfriends, Snellings decided mostly on a whim to relocate, hoping to continue pursuing a writing career in an even less lucrative writing town.
She moved into a house in Santa Monica with those same friends, then into a string of tiny one-bedroom and studio apartments. "By the time I got out here and realized those [writing] jobs were few and far between," Snellings says, "I would've nannied or done anything to stay here."
Though Snellings calls her book a "love letter to L.A.," it was a slow-burning affair. The year-round sunshine, the traffic, the driving - she hated it all, just like every other new transplant.
Still, as she explains on the patio of Le Zinque in Venice, she was determined to make the city work for her.
Her first job was as an assistant and "model wrangler/babysitter" at a Beverly Hills modeling agency, which had a kitchen with a scale in it. She scheduled castings and accompanied the models to red-carpet events and parties, where she met celebs such as Orlando Bloom, Kate Bosworth and Olivia Wilde. Joaquin Phoenix even kissed her on the cheek at an Oscars party.
After leaving that job, Snellings became one of the agency's clients, going out on auditions for Old Navy, Nationwide Insurance, Capri Sun, Budweiser and Match.com; she booked a few, mostly fitness-related commercials and print ads. She was a dead girl in an Aesop Rock music video and an extra in Entourage. For $250, she cut off her hair for a hair modeling job. For five years, she also was a cocktail waitress at Chaya in Venice.
She'd become what she dreaded most - a "slash": a writer/actress/model/waitress.
But supplementing her income meant that Snellings could work as a freelance writer and intern at Flaunt magazine. It was there that a former co-worker turned her on to a modeling job at the Standard; they were looking for "a new blonde."
She got the job on the spot ("They just wanted to see what I looked like and that I wasn't a total weirdo"). Each girl was allowed to work only one night a week. So while Snellings was there once a week, usually from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., she never saw any of the 20 other Box Girls on the hotel's roster. She earned upwards of $150 a night, later cut down to $80 during the recession.
Snellings recalls that between 2007 and 2011, she was reprimanded only once by management for having an untidy box. Mostly, she was left alone to do whatever she wanted in her makeshift living room: read The New Yorker, listen to music and, yes, sleep. (In the book, Snellings lists a number of sleeping and sitting positions she developed, with amusing names like "The Slender Typist," "The Indian Princess" and "The Sleeping Booty.")
"One time I went in, I was incredibly hungover," Snellings says. "For some reason, that month the artist asked the box models to wear a sweatshirt. So I put my cozy sweatshirt on and slept almost the entire time."
A group of guests even placed bets on when she'd fall asleep.
There was another time a guy told her he loved her; a different guy, a foreigner, asked the concierge if she was for sale.
"He thought it was the red-light district in Amsterdam and he could rent me and take me up to his hotel room," Snellings says. "It was horrifying."
On the cusp of turning 30, Snellings quit the Box. She later got married and, in December, moved to Chicago, where her husband found a job. She's still a freelance writer and runs her own editing company. Naturally, she misses the warm weather.
Looking back on her years working at the Standard, Snellings contends that she used the box as much as it used her. Sure, she was on display, but she also felt protected, able to quietly observe and record the people around her, which included lots of couples staggering out of the hotel's bar at the end of the night and hooking up in its rooms.
"In the process of writing the book, I realized that the box was a pretty good vehicle for exploring more about myself and Los Angeles," Snellings says. "As far as coming to a conclusion of whether I was a piece of ass or a piece of art? I don't know. I think I was both."
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