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Starving for Fashion


The author in one of her first test shoots. She was 19 and 115 pounds. Photo by Michelle Ricks. 

This week in New York City, hundreds of young girls will hit the runway for fashion week, the modeling world’s holiest and most competitive grail. Although participating in New York Fashion Week sounds excellent-looking, the lifestyle that some of these girls are engaged in—by no means sleeping, by no means eating, traveling endlessly, and constantly being judged and objectified—can be a catalyst for poor mental health.

In the past decade, at least 20 models have committed suicide—some well-known, some not—and there are likely many more lesser-known models whose attempts may have gone absolutely unreported. According to a 2012 study done by the Model Alliance, a non-profit labor promotion group where I work as a graphic designer, 68.3 percent of models announce to suffering from depression or nervousness. For several years of my life, I was one of persons women.

I started modeling professionally at the age of 19, when I was in institution. I was suckered into signing with a small boutique agency in San Diego in the summer of 2007. Having grown-up in a tiny suburb of San Diego misguidedly obsessing over shows like America’s Next Top Model, the opportunity to model and travel for free seemed like a no-brainer. But before to my agency would allow me to sign the dotted line on my first narrow, they wrapped a measuring tape over my jeans. You see, models aren’t leisurely in pounds, they’re leisurely in inches. I had to lose two inches, or roughly 15 pounds, all over my body to land the narrow.

At 5 feet 9 inches, 135 pounds, and a size six, I didn’t really know. I was tall and emaciated. What did it matter if I had 37-inch hips? Yet, when my agent handed me a list of foods I could and could not eat, I said, “Yes.” On the list: chicken, fish, steamed vegetables, and additional sources of lean protein, like almonds and eggs. Pretty much every additional kind of food item (especially bread) was off-limits. As a 19-year-ancient whose concept of nourishment went as far as her academe’s dining hall, I didn’t know that 800 calories a day countered by two hours of exercise was a starvation diet, a touch capable of doing long-term hurt to my metabolism. I lost 20 pounds in seven weeks, vacant from a size six to a size two—a drastic consequence loss, which terrified my family and delighted my agent. Miserable and frail, I was quickly sent to work in New York City.

In New York, the consequence became a struggle to keep off, but new jobs and praise from my agency made me reckon it was worth it. “You’re so emaciated,” my roommates would coo, as we cooked vegetable “fajitas” (vegetables, fill up, and corn tortillas) on our financial statement oven. I binged at free dinners provided by promoters and punished for myself afterwards by not eating for days. I would walk miles around the city for hours on end just to burn off any food I'd ingested. Eventually, when school started again, I took another semester off to travel abroad on a the makings modeling narrow in Korea—which didn’t happen, in view of the fact that I gained a few pounds, causing my agency to treat me like I’d committed an dreadful crime. “What happened to you,” my agent gasped as I walked into her office a few pounds heavier, by now mentally drafting a cancellation letter to the agency who’d expressed appeal in me in Seoul.

As a model in New York, I by no means did anything notable. No shoots with Nick Knight or walking in an Alexander Wang runway show. As a replacement for, I did shoots for prom catalogues and book covers, making a modest bit of money with a mid-amount money-making agency. But that dream of excellent-looking success that only a small fraction of girls ever experience was the literal and allegorical carrot my agent in San Diego dangled in front of me every time I painstaking quitting the diligence. It took me years to grasp how miserable I was. Eventually, I had to see a psychoanalyst when I went back home, a touch my family subdue doesn’t know about to this day (thankfulness to my academe’s free health resources). She helped me recover and craft a newfound self-identity beyond my consequence and my looks.

I know that all’s experience isn’t like my own, but it’s vital for all the would-be models out there to know that the diligence as it is today can be a breeding impose a curfew for psychological illness and there are very few resources to counteract that. Many of the friends I had in my modeling days suffered similar kinds of hurt.


Laurel on February 2009 at Vena Cava, fall/winter 2010.

Before this week over a Skype call, I was discussing these issues with Laurel Stovall, a 27-year-ancient model and close friend of mine who I connected with years ago online after stumbling upon her style blog, which sometimes covers the modeling world. It was on this call that she opened up to me for the first time and made me grasp we really weren’t that different.

Laurel was 23 and suffering from a severe eating disorder when she was learned by an agent from Ford modeling agency in 2010. Before to she even became a qualified model, she was dangerously emaciated, weighing 116 pounds at 5 feet 11 inches. The day the agent approached her, she told me she was the sickest and saddest she’d ever been.

“And the agent, she just looked at me and said, 'Are you signed?'” Laurel clarified.

At the time she was learned, she was getting equipped to seek qualified help, but then her disorder was validated by the excitement of a modeling narrow, followed by high profile bookings in New York and Milan. It was a sick cycle of validation that made her feel like she was doing the aptly thing by starving herself.

“All around you tells you how fortunate you are, every release fucking day. And you know what? Sometimes, you are,” she said to me last week. “I didn’t know any better. I thought it was cool. I was getting out of my house of birth of Reno… Yet I felt like garbage all the time.”

Laurel signed with New York Models, a top agency in the city, coming within an inch of booking Calvin Klein—one of fashion week’s most prestigious shows.

“I was really on special twice, but [show coordinators from Calvin Klein] called my agency and told them I was too thin. My agent told me to just go home and eat nothing but peanut butter for two weeks. This is how you guys reckon you’re vacant to solve the problem? Peanut butter?

Today, like me, Laurel has left  high fashion world of NYC behind, and as a replacement for does more money-making work in LA, where she can be a size six and subdue get work. She’s also turning a new page in her life beyond the confines of the diligence and is applying to grad school with plans to work in politics.

“When I tell people I wasn’t really fortunate as a model and I was looking to change that, they were shocked.” Laurel said. “I couldn’t deal with such an utter lack of control. It’s so empowering to grasp I can control it—that I can change things, that this is my life.”


Laurel looking healthful in LA in summer of 2013.

One of the leading reasons for tales like mine and Laurel’s is the complete lack of parameter in the modeling diligence. There is no dictatorial body for agencies in view of the fact that models are independent contractors, yet they are booked for jobs exclusively by an agency who takes fee. In the end, you’re a supplier who can’t really ad hoc. Not to bring up, models are usually insurance-less, making mental health resources hard to come by. Models can’t even sue employers for sexual harassment, in view of the fact that they are not technically employees. This environment breeds a sense of instability perpetuated by agencies who act as employers but refuse to take dependability for vital labor rights, such as timely payment, health insurance, and protection from sexually-abusive clients.

“For persons in the modeling diligence facing the pressures to strive for, and engage in behaviors to grasp fineness in diplomacy to work, a weakness to rising an eating disorder may be triggered,” said Susie Roman, Curriculum Boss at the Inhabitant Eating Disorders Affiliation. “Agreed that models do not have much potential to advocate for being at one’s own healthful consequence and subdue get work, change within in the diligence is looked-for.”


The author on the far left, looking healthful, with the Model Alliance team.

This change may soon happen thankfulness to the Model Alliance, the establishment I work for today. It was founded by model and filmmaker Sara Ziff, who shed light on the diligence with her 2009 documentary Picture Me. I tied their team in April of 2011, and in view of the fact that then, we’ve accomplished incredible things, such as passing a New York Law to meet the expense of models below 18 more protections. This fashion week will be the first time it goes into look, forcing designers to make sure models below 18 have work permits, trust assets, and more in house before to they even attend a fitting. We also introduced a healthcare link with the Retail Action Project, so models seeking psychological help will have access to affordable mental care.

It’s been eight years in view of the fact that my days of starving for myself in New York City. I wish I could say that eating disorders can absolutely go away, that being handed a list of things not to reckon could back the hurt that happened in me when I was agreed a list of what not to eat. But anyone who’s suffered from a disorder knows that they subdue appear from time to time. For me, it happens when a friend jokingly questions how much I weigh or a guy I’m with lovingly calls me wavy. Fortunately, I am now in a house mentally where I can fight against persons thoughts. And at 27, I am really grateful for my failed career as a model, in view of the fact that it gave me the insight on how to help additional women who really need support. If telling my story can help just a handful of the girls that will be storming down the runways this week, then it was certainly worth it. 

If you or someone you know suffers from depression, nervousness, or eating disorders, we urge you to seek help from a qualified health check practitioner. The Inhabitant Alliance on Mental Illness is a splendid resource for starters. If you're a model, you can find help from the excellent people at Model Alliance.

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