Calvin Klein S/S 2013 Photo: Models.com
During my time modeling most of the models I came up with were obsessed with food and losing weight. At first we all eyed each other and tried to figure out if they were having as hard a time keeping the weight down as we were. When we finally made friends and started seeing each other season after season, it’s what we talked about, shared tips about and tried to come up with ideas to change the near impossible standards we were held to. Most of the us were so young and so isolated within our problem that we didn’t realize our behavior and thinking were unhealthy. Our relationship with food and ourselves was isolated and shamefully confusing. We were supposed to love food but also we were supposed to find a way to conquer it and not have it affect our prepubescent bodies.
Michael Kors S/S 2013 Photo: Models.com
That relationship with food is just the tip of the problem. Weight issues in modeling are merely the externalization of a much larger and more complicated problem. I won’t share any horror stories here. I simply want to say that there was a problem when I was modeling and there is still a problem today. It was a part of our job to fit the sample size and we were paid well to do it so we simply did our job. It’s important to continue that discussion. I’d like personalize the conversation a little deeper and shed an emotional light on what it takes to become a successful model. Not only are models affected but everyone in the industry and everyone who are exposed to the images that come from it. The level of perfection required is debilitating. No one in fashion is advocating for people to be hurt so why is it so dangerous for a model to voice a need to change?
Garren backstage at Anna Sui S/S 2013 Photo: Models.com
We set the standard for beauty. We ask the models to represent our ideals. We must be responsible. But it’s all so confusing. At what point did someone like Anna Sui, Garren or Pat McGrath become responsible for the size of a model? How come the same people who love and do everything in their power to protect and nurture models’ well being are becoming the same ones responsible for their pain? That seems unfair and it is. We all know it’s easy to change the sample size. We know because it’s changed over time to smaller and smaller. So if changing the sample size would fix the problem of today’s models, how come we’re not simply changing it?
I believe it’s because the problem isn’t the sample size. The problem isn’t because magazines, agents, designers and photographers are being irresponsible. There’s a devious dichotomy between the external creation of models and the internal experience of modeling in play and we need to root it out. Otherwise, trust me. We can change the sample size. We can use older girls. We can cut back on travel and pay models more money. It’ll quickly turn into a game of whack-a-mole.
Anna Sui S/S 2013 Photo: Models.com
So, what’s the problem? Simply put: The current model for creating a Supermodel is broken. There is a solution and we will get there as an industry. First we need to collectively admit that the current approach to creating beauty is unrealistic and unhealthy. Only then can we be empowered to create new approaches and new conversations. And we can! It’s not a far jump from the unhealthy standards today to the healthy ones of tomorrow.
I’d like to list a few comments heard when I was modeling.
“why can’t they just photo shop my arms slimmer?”
“I can’t shave a half an inch off my hip bones”
“I wish I was traveling more. The stress of traveling always takes off a few pounds”
“Don’t worry, once she starts traveling, she’ll lose that extra softness”
“who wants to get colonics after the shoot. I need to get all this food out of my gut.” -overhead at a Gap campaign
“I’m fasting to clean out my system”
“I’m doing a new cleanse to clean out my system and relieve stress.”
“I’m not eating at the moment. I’m doing a juice fast for 10 days”
“This is my special tea I drink to help cleanse me from toxins while I’m on my fast.”
“I need a laxative. I’m all stopped up from traveling.”
“How many pills does your nutritionist make you take? I have to take 40 a day just to make sure I get all the nutrients I need. Annoying.”
“Why can’t they just book the girls they like and start ripping the clothes to fit them?”
“We should all join together and demand they make the clothing bigger.”
“They all talk about what it’s like for us as if they have any idea.”
“I would never let me daughter do this”
“But, how do I turn down that kind of money. It’s irresponsible. My family needs financial help and I’ll get healthy once it’s finished.”
“Oh my god, you were told to lose weight too?”
“This [sample size] is a fucking joke. They can’t be serious.”
Calvin Klein S/S 3012 Photo: Models.com
The statements above come from 16-21 year olds trying to figure out what’s wrong with them and what’s wrong with the fashion industry. It’s difficult to grasp the whole picture when you’re in the middle of it. So focusing on size is where most start because it’s the most obvious control factor. Children trying to change an adult industry is near impossible. Why? An adult brain is not fully formed until the age of 25. At that age, most models are finished with their careers. During the last formative years of a model’s brain development, they have taken on and integrated messages about themselves and about the world based on the industry they live/work in. The messages they have taken on are not perhaps overtly abusive or destructive. The industry is not a monster. It is filled with creative, loving, beautiful and well intentioned and highly intelligent people. It’s not necessarily the people who abuse the models, it’s the current system of creation that’s the problem.
Let’s take a look at what happens:
1. A model is discovered, signed and tested
2. A photographer, stylist or designer loves her look and begins to use her for everything. They don’t care what size she is. They love her.
3. In order for the current supporters of this model’s career to continue supporting her, they need her to fit the clothing. Otherwise, it creates a constant hurdle and no one wants to risk their career for one girl.
4. Everyone who has been working in the business understand this at an intuitive level and the conversations begin.
5. The model is brought into her agents office for a private meeting. A lot of apologizing for the business and explanations for how the sample size works ensue. Also, the model is typically told that she is not alone and a few big names are thrown into the mix of models who have had weight issues and overcome them.
6. The model is sent out the door with direction from her agents to lost an inch off her hips or whatever it is they need. Typically she is given 30 days or “as long as she needs”
7. The model leaves the agency and has to make a choice. Either do everything in her power to meet the standard or pack her bags and go home. But she’s come so far. She’s already beat the odds. Not only is she signed, she is wanted by a couple of influential people in her industry. The shame of being too big is squashed by the realization and empowerment that comes from a sense of control. This model can express her gratitude to the people supporting AND prove they weren’t wrong in choosing to support her by losing weight.
At this point in a models career, from all outward appearances, not much has been asked of her. Everyone around her has supported her freely up to this point. Her agents, her family, her friends and now this influential force in the industry wants to see her rise. They have all cast their votes for her to succeed and now she must deliver. And if Angela, Amber, Linda, Giselle, Missy etc. were able to deliver, why shouldn’t she? The feelings of shame for having almost ruined her chances have since been replaced by a moment of terror when she realizes that it’s her job to lose the weight otherwise her agent, her family, her friends, and this influential person(s), will be let down. And typically a model will choose to become the hero. Lose the weight. Make the money. Get the cover. Make her family, agents, and supporters proud of her and validate their decision to support her rise to success.
8. The model goes home and typically spends the rest of the day figuring out how to lose the weight. It isn’t much. If she’s got this far in the game, it’s typically only 5 or so pounds. She’s young and has a high metabolism. It shouldn’t be a problem.
9. A few weeks later the model has been to the gym. She’s cut back on her food. She’s done her research online or in bookstores. And she’s dropped a few pounds.
10. She goes back to the agency to be polaroided. Fear replaces the pride she had at doing her job and losing the weight. What it is isn’t enough? Did she wear the right outfit? Is it enough?
11. She is polaroided and congratulated. She’s done a good job and can now continue to work.
And this completes the first cycle of one aspect of the dangers of modeling. A model moving up the ladder quickly learns to identify and align herself with the people who support her and the control she’s able to exert over her physical self. She must sacrifice herself to remain the hero to those who have already risked to see her succeed. Never mind the risk for developing an eating disorder, the seeds for dangerous pathological connections in her psyche are taking root. She is stepping into the world and her first experience of building successful adult and business relationships comes from her sacrificing and negating herself. The problem goes much much deeper than the development of poor eating habits or an eating disorder.
As a model’s career progresses, this cycle continues. This is me at the beginning of one of my final cycles. My agents asked me to send them polaroids because they’d heard I’d gained weight. I was living in Los Angeles at this point and they were in New York. That’s the photo I sent them. I know, I don’t look very happy. I felt exposed and defensive because I knew from experience what was coming my way. And indeed, it was decided that the level of my fatness was too high at this point for my agents to propose me for work. I was asked to lose 10 pounds and an inch and a half off my hips. Only then could they propose me for work. At this point I’d been in the industry for a few years. I knew the game. I didn’t want to internalize the shame anymore. I didn’t want to lose any more weight so instead of losing the weight I wrote a letter to Steven Meisel, Karl Templer, Nian Fish, and Peter Lindbergh. I explained to them that I’d like to continue working and asked for their support.
They all pitched in. Two months later I booked The Gap campaign with Peter Lindbergh and Karl Templer. I booked an editorial on Italian Vogue with Steven Meisel and the following month I booked the cover of Italian Vogue. Nian Fish wrote me back and proposed me to every designer she was working with that season.
The jeans I’m wearing in that photo were a sample size (2/4) from 2 seasons previous. At this point, the sample size has become smaller and the ability to meet it was beyond my physical capabilities. I ended up have to take a step back. It was sad for me at that time because I felt I still had so much potential. But I also knew that it was a losing game and I was not genetically blessed enough to win this one. Even with some of the heaviest influencers in the business supporting me, I knew that I would never be able to compete with the size requirements without hurting myself.
Thakoon S/S/2013 Photo: Models.com
Back to the newcomer model… It is left up to the model to fulfill the size requirements of the industry. And it is a near impossible task especially when you’re young and have no support structure in place to help facilitate these goals. Her weight may go up and down as she continues to develop. Eventually she begins to notice tricks of the trade. Smoking, fasting, supplements, laxatives, odd diets, hours spent at the gym, alcohol, pills and other forms of distraction from the powerless/powerful conflict shame based relationship with their bodies a model must constantly navigate. Most of her energy goes into fighting a battle with weight and physical appearance while the real psychological issues haven’t even been made aware to her. So, as she continues to exert herself along the lines of outward appearances she can control and begins to become the chameleon, mirroring and aligning herself with everyone around her in an effort to stay safe, the seeds of self destruction continue to root and that game of whack-a-mole begins to appear. She’ll play it until she’s exhausted and then a new girl will step in and take over. All the while, everyone senses a problem but no one really understands it.
This model will change. She’ll become moody, passive agressive, overtly happy but dark, and depressed, overly energized and exhausted at the the same time. Her weight will go up and down. She’ll change her hair, her tan, her personality. And this is why you hear time and again. Model’s are crazy. They’re not crazy. They’re isolated. The pressures they are under are misunderstood by most. The messages they receive are confusing and conflicting. The shame they are asked to internalize and process is immense. The women who have any success in modeling are to be commended because it is no easy task emotionally what is asked of them.
Thakoon S/S/2013 Photo: Models.com
They need support. They need information. They need to know that they are not alone.
Thakoon S/S/2013 Photo: Models.com
It looks glamorous because it is. The dangers are not necessarily the fault of anyone. No fingers need to be pointed. We simply need to start being aware of what it is we’re asking of these young women and girls.
Currently I’m working on a new system of information exchange. The problems will not be solved overnight. Here’s what I’m working on creating:
1. A working system of communication for models
2. An anonymous gathering place for professionals to discuss current practices and standards
3. A protected, anonymous, safe environment for models to communicate with professionals about what it is they’re experiencing.
4. A public, modifiable system for the creation of the Supermodel
It’s important to create these safe places of communication for a few reasons.
1. No one is at fault but we need everyone working together to create something new
2. Everyone on different sides of the business has a different and valid perspective that needs to be heard
3. We are just beginning to figure out a language for communicating about these problems. We will stumble and we will be misunderstood. This is why it is imperative that a safe and anonymous place be created for these conversations to happen at any time.
4. We need to begin experimenting with new systems for the creation of Supermodels. I don’t need to expand on why we need them. I think everyone in the industry will agree, Supermodel’s rock and we’d like to see them back! I have a few suggestions for what a new system of creation would look like in todays world. It’s not ready to be laid out in a blog post.
So… what can you do to help at this point to help?
1. Subscribe to SupermodelBlogger so I can email you when the change is ready to launch!
2. Share this post on Twitter, Facebook, email and where ever else you hang out online.
3. Contact me and let me know your thoughts
4. Comment and let us know your experiences
Most of the models in the following video will not be seen in a few years. Their modeling careers will be over. I’d say today is a good day to start the change.
Theyskens Theory: Behind the Scenes