Mad about modeling | About-Face
A new documentary called Girl Model, which follows the path of 13-year-old Nadya, a self-proclaimed Siberian “gray mouse” and “ordinary girl” who gets plucked from a sea of other lithe hopefuls by an American mercenary model scout and sent to Japan to try to make it big, is making the rounds and winning accolades at prestigious festivals worldwide—and totally bumming me out.
Oh, I don’t take issue with the fact that the documentary film exists. Nope. My beef is that it verifies just how much our culture still promulgates the notion that for girls, being a model (or in many cases at least looking like one) is the be-all-and-end-all. The top. The best form of existence a woman could hope for. Of course, it’s an age-old myth, but ever since the heyday of the original supermodels of the ’80s and ’90s (Claudia! Christy! Cindy! Naomi! Linda!), it’s been increasingly intense.
At this point two generations of women (Gen Xers and Millennials) have been brought up in a world where models are among the most celebrated and most financially well-off women in the world. So is it any wonder that many of them (cue Russian cattle call of skinny, fair teens) want it for themselves?
The first time I came across this passionate desire to model was with, well, myself actually. Growing up in New York City, just blocks from the Ford Models headquarters (which was home to Christie Brinkley, Carol Alt, Kim Alexis, and Cheryl Tiegs, to name a few), I noticed early that if a girl was able to say she was a model—to advertise that she had earned that cultural stamp of approval that meant she was certifiably beautiful—that she seemed more valuable.
Other girls wanted to be like her (even though they might have hated her) and most guys, of course, wanted to date her. So I set out on that path, too (Luckily, I learned early on in my modeling career that I didn’t like “playing a part,” which is, er, pretty much what models do… so I cut bait).
But when I landed as an editor at YM magazine in the late 1990s, I was shocked to learn (via e-mail and letters sent in that included photos of teen readers in their bathing suits, or even school portraits shot in bad lighting) how many other girls nationwide were dreaming the same dream.
One example still sticks with me today: it came from a reader who wrote in that she was quitting volleyball (her passion!) because she was worried that a ball could hit her face and ruin her chances of being discovered at the mall. She knew, she wrote, that Kate Moss had first been scouted at an airport and was hoping for similar good fortune.