I recently watched a self-made documentary in my class called Picture Me that was created by Sara Ziff and her boyfriend, Ole Schell. He was the videographer and followed Sara around in her new found life of modeling. While all of her friends went off to college, Sara pursued modeling and was traveling around the US and to Europe.
I almost went down the same path as Sara. When I was in high school, I was told by many people that I should model. My best friend’s sister was a model at Elite Model Management and she was the driving force behind this idea. I went to a talent agency that I found online and met with them in person. They thought I would be great for runway modeling and wanted me on their team, BUT they let me know it would cost about $600 to get me started. As a high school student, I of course couldn’t come up with that so I put the idea on the back burner. I decided that if I didn’t get into the one college I applied to (Illinois State, go redbirds!), I would attend community college and try to give modeling another try. I’ll be graduating in May so I obviously didn’t get to see what modeling was about. I kind of wonder what could have become of that, but I like the road I’m currently on. I still am told every once in a while that I should consider modeling. I still do occasionally, but after seeing this documentary I’m kind of relieved I pursued a degree.
Sara and her model friends talked about some of the things that the world doesn’t know about modeling. Some were sexually assaulted by a photographer, some were watched while they were getting dressed for a show, and all were physically and mentally exhausted from doing about 14 fashion shows in a week. I don’t think most people really think about what models actually go through; they just see the end product either in a magazine or walking down the runway.
Some of the models that designers hire are 14-16 years old. Sara’s friend mentioned that one model who walked with her in a show was coloring backstage. These girls are so innocent and so young that they probably don’t realize the effect they are having on the fashion industry. They are put under the microscope and are judged based on their appearance. That can’t be good for a young girl’s self-esteem… To the left, you can see a fun comparison of me at 14 and 14-year old Dior model Sofia Mechetner (Photo from the Huffington Post). I was beyond awkward and couldn’t image being a model at that age. The girls aren’t fully developed, which means they are thin and flat chested. Older models (and by older I mean like 22-24) aren’t able to compete with this and are considered fat, which takes a toll on their self-esteem and self-image. This also puts an unrealistic expectation of how women should look: young, flawless, and thin. The average American woman is a size 16, according to TODAY, and this is considered to be “plus size.” Designers want thin models because clothes look good on thin models. They are marketing to the wrong consumer. More and more designers are now battling this “tradition” in using thin models, by including either average people in their campaigns/fashion shows, or by including plus size models. The beauty standard is still to be thin, but I think that is slowly changing.
Anyway, back to Sara Ziff and her adventures as a model. She was making tons of money, which was the main drive behind the start of her career. After seeing firsthand and experiencing what models go through, she decided to step out of the lifestyle and went back to college. Since then, she has created a not-for-profit organization called The Model Alliance. Sara’s goal is to work with modeling agencies to improve the working conditions for models and to allow their voices to be heard. I think this is a huge step in the right direction. Hopefully this will lessen the abuse and objectification of models.