The modelling industry is often glamorized as a non-stop party where the most beautiful among us are showered with endless attention and free gifts. The behind-the-scenes reality, however, is often closer to disturbing, with eating disorders, abuse and drugs more common than the fashion world cares to admit. When these facts do make the occasional headline, they are often glossed over or simply ignored.
While I do love fashion, I’d prefer that it not come at the expense of young people’s health and wellbeing. After hearing an ex-model’s account of what the experience was truly like for her, I knew that it needed to be shared. At only age twenty-four, this is her story...
When I was a sophomore in high school, I got really interested in fashion, looking at blogs and obsessively staring at models in magazines. After dropping 20 pounds, I had my mum take pictures of me in a bathing suit, which I then emailed to all of the modelling agencies in New York. A few of them asked me to come in and meet with them.
I was offered three contracts, but all of the really "good" agencies told me to lose weight. So I chose one of the other agencies, and I would skip school a couple days a week to come into the city from New Jersey for test shoots to build my book, along with doing some really awful jobs. I was held back from the good jobs because I needed to lose more weight—36-inch hips would just not do. It was all about having the "right" measurements: I was constantly being told to lose eight pounds, or an inch in my hips or waist. Over the course of a few months, I ended up losing 20 more pounds.
Eventually, I switched over to another agency that had initially asked me to drop an inch in my hips by “just eating salads.” I had dropped 2 inches when they finally signed me. At one point when I was with them, I was asked to leave a lookbook shoot because the samples were way too big for me and I looked ridiculous. The agency then called me in, and I was measured, weighed, and paraded in front of 10 bookers who all agreed that, yes, I needed to gain five pounds. I was sent home to New Jersey for three weeks to put on the weight. I was terrified by the prospect. Three weeks later, I came back into the agency having just chugged a ton of water. Five extra pounds on the scale (all water weight) convinced them I was fine.
I had had an eating disorder prior to modelling, but it worsened tenfold once I started working. I went from dabbling in restriction and laxatives, to full on starvation and purging even water. God forbid my bloated belly add even a centimeter to my waist circumference. By the time I was 18 I had lost 40 pounds and, at 5'9", my weight stayed below 100 pounds for years.
When I moved to New York right after high school, I was on my own and left to my own devices. I told my family I was fine, but I was eating nothing. And if I did eat, I purged. Sometimes I would get so hungry I'd binge and purge. I didn't really think much of it, because I was so happy to be able to say I was a model and to fit into the sample sizes.
The model apartments were truly a nightmare. No one eats normally, but everyone’s constantly talking about food. "Oh my god, you should have seen me last night—I pigged out on a spoonful of peanut butter" was a common line. I would eat Starbursts throughout the day because the sugar gave me energy. I was walking to a casting one day, eating sour patch kids, and my agent happened to walk by. She asked me what the hell I was eating, despite the fact that samples hung off of me. It was insane. Aside from being ridiculously overpriced and oftentimes filthy, the apartments were also a breeding ground for sex and drugs. Just thinking about it makes me shiver. One that I stayed in was co-ed, had five rooms and housed way too many models for the space. I moved into a room while two couples were having sex. So I moved to another room, but it had bed bugs.
I think the modelling industry is incredibly bizarre. People are so desensitised to the wildest things. It’s so crazy to me that it’s glamourized. Most test shoots, and even some jobs, are in someone's crappy Brooklyn apartment, rather than a big studio. There wasn’t one test shoot where I was not asked to take my top off, whether I was 16 or 20. And, of course, the hours are long, often 12-hour days with no breaks, especially not for lunch. I once shot an editorial at Coney Island in September of 2009. We got to the beach at 7 a.m. and I was freezing, but no one cared. By the middle of the day it was sweltering, and I was wearing sweaters and sitting on some vintage car that was burning hot. I was sure I was going to pass out, but thankfully I didn’t. I was paid $150 for a day’s work, which was common. The only models who truly make money are the supermodels— otherwise you’re in debt to your agency, who fronts the fees for test shoots, clothes for castings, model apartments, and daily spending money, and then deducts it from whatever laughable income you make.
My worst experience, I think, was a test shoot I had when I was 18. It was at a pretty nice studio, so I thought it would be awesome. The entire team was Japanese and spoke no English. I sat in hair and makeup for six hours. SIX HOURS of not knowing what was going on, as they kept putting makeup on, then taking it off, doing my hair curly, then straightening it, then putting it up. Just prodding me and pulling at me for hours, while I'm thinking to myself, “This torture is a test shoot, so I'm not even getting paid.” By the seventh hour, I finally called my agent and asked if I could leave. I let the photographer shoot for 30 minutes, then left and never saw the photos.
I quit modelling when I turned 20, but a small part of me misses it. Not the actual experience—but the pride of saying, “I’m a model.” Unfortunately, I’m still very sick. I still measure my hips and waist to make sure they're a perfect 23"-34" even though I haven't modelled in almost four years. The modelling industry has a serious impact on impressionable young girls. I realise this myself and have still fallen into the trap. It's addictive. I hear so many little girls saying they want to be a model and I immediately try to turn them off of it. I truly don’t believe the industry will change much, so I just want people to have a better idea of what they’re getting into before they start. At the end of the day, the industry makes tons of money, so the people in charge have no great incentive to make a difference.
Do you agree that the modelling industry will never change? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!