Model Diary: Dare I Tackle the Weight Debate? Part I

As I begin this, it’s best to know that, in some ways, I’m as much a victim as a critic. I’ve never had any illnesses associated with eating habits, but I do subject my fountain-poured Diet Cokes to regular taste tests (friends and family are coerced participants), and peep over the café counter to ensure that the barista is using skim milk. The calories in Haribo candy don’t count on an airplane, but yogurt that isn’t sugar- and fat-free is untouchable, and I’d willingly choose dehydration over beverages that are more than 100 calories, unless they’re doubling as a snack (i.e., smoothie) or an alcoholic energy boost (R.I.P. Four Loko, I only got to enjoy you once since I moved here). These idiosyncratic eating habits are very much a function of my job. I’ve always been on the half-inch-bigger side of industry-standard measurements (no matter how much weight I lose, funnily enough). On my first trip to Paris a year and a half ago, I weighed slightly more than usual (I blame my romantic relationship at the time), and my booker suggested that I wear baggy clothes to castings until I shed the pounds. Once, in my hometown, I went to meet a show casting director at my agency and, taking my measurements, he held up the tape measure for everyone to see and publicly chastised me: “Girl, you’ve got to get your shit together! No wheat, no salt! A piece of fruit for breakfast, salad for lunch, salad for dinner!” I tried to laugh it off, but I felt very embarrassed (I still hate him to this day).

The weight debate is, of course, very convoluted and tricky. Yes, the industry’s standards for thinness (Coco Rocha’s agents telling her that the look of the season is “anorexic”) are abhorrent and physically and culturally destructive. I often feel, however, that the industry is ultimately not going to change (or rather, that I am not going to be able to change it); that rail-thin measurements are the job requirements, and if I, well-aware of said requirements, am consciously choosing to participate, then I have to comply. Even the beautiful “curvy” girls are subject to the same criteria. I’ve heard from several photographers, stylists, and former bookers that if I don’t want to be subjected to the distorted standards of the industry, I should quit. There are tons of girls who are eager to do it, and they’re the ones who will succeed.

My agency in New York is a great one, and my bookers don’t pressure me to lose weight. Sure, I’m not a “show girl,” but I’m a damn good model, and there’s plenty of great work for me. But being mentally and physically healthy, at least in my case, has meant sacrificing the opportunity to compete for major levels of success. I’ve had to define my own terms of success in the face of the objective, walking-13-shows-during-fashion-week definition. I might never be featured on New York Magazine’s The Cut, but I can still make a lot of money, and travel, while being able to enjoy life’s caloric pleasures.

To me, the biggest issue is this: I’ve been told several times (and have often bought into the idea) that if I were to lose an inch off my hips, then I would really “make it” as a model. THIS IS A DUMB AND DANGEROUS FALLACY because it doesn’t account for the fact that chance and taste, regardless of size, are everything. Selling this myth to young girls is potentially the most destructive extension of the size-zero standard because it deludes girls into thinking that there is an objective, causal relationship between losing weight and becoming a supermodel. And the higher their motivation, the more they’ll mutilate their bodies. Some of the fashion blogs have called models “naïve” for conforming to the standards of the industry. I don’t think it’s naïve to conform—as it’s the sad reality of the job—but I do think it’s naïve to believe that if you do, you will become a famous millionaire. Girls should be made aware, very early on, of the caveat that losing weight might get them more work, but with thousands of girls competing for the same job, there’s no guarantee that it will put them in the top 50.

I still struggle with believing in my own definitions of success. I’m not immune to the emotional effects of, say, a photographer openly fawning over the other model on set, who doesn’t eat anything all day, looks miserable, and has thin hair and the body of a prepubescent girl. But I’d rather be happy and comfortable with my body and self, than be miserable and malnourished and walking the shows. In my case, they really do seem mutually exclusive.

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