Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Picture Me

From my friend Debbie:

Hey Elise, I saw this article in The Guardian:

Since you focus much of your blog on the ins and outs of the modeling industry, I wondered how accurate you found this article to be - who it most pertains to, or if this sort of behavior really is more prevalent than we imagine it to be.
In case you haven't seen it yet, this article has been making the rounds in the fashion-y blogs. Sara Ziff, a 27 year old model who has been the face for Gap, Dolce and Gabbana, Calvin Klein and others, has spent the last five years filming a documentary of the modeling world. With her ex-boyfriend in tow, she filmed the backstage of fashion shows and shoots, interviewing other models along the way. This material has now been turned into a documentary, Picture Me.

A beautiful woman sits in front of a video camera. Her name is Sena Cech and she is a fashion model. Her tone is matter-of-fact, as though what she's about to describe is commonplace in the industry in which she works. The scene: a casting with a photographer, one of the top names in his profession. Halfway through the meeting Cech is asked to strip. She does as instructed and takes off her clothes. Then the photographer starts undressing as well. "Baby - can you do something a little sexy," he tells her. The photographer's assistant, who is watching, eggs her on. What's supposed to be the casting for a high-end fashion shoot turns into something more like an audition for a top-shelf magazine. The famous photographer demands to be touched sexually. "Sena - can you grab his cock and twist it real hard," his assistant tells her. "He likes it when you squeeze it real hard and twist it... Read the rest of the article here.
The question asked by Debbie is if I've encountered this sort of thing in my own experience. I must start by saying that while I was first scouted at the age of 12, my parents were reluctant to let me start modeling until I was much older. I waited until I was 19, when I entered a modeling contest and won a contract with IMG in New York. At that time, I was in school studying fashion design, so I decided to delay my career further, and did not move to NYC to model full time until I was 23. I think starting at such a late age for this industry probably hampered my career growth (I was starting when many girls are wrapping up), but also helped me to avoid some of the situations that the young girls relate in the documentary.

Thankfully, I don't have any stories like that from the article above. I've certainly been in situations where I've done things I've later regretted, but somehow I'm gotten this far relatively unscathed. I remember one time meeting a photographer in his apartment where he asked me to strip down to my underwear so he could see my body. He took a couple of pictures of me in my underwear, and somehow the whole thing (mostly because I could see this guy was a creep) made me feel cheap. I told my agent I did not want to work for him, and he later booked a friend of mine who ended up posing topless for him in the bath. After the shoot (which was not for a paid job, but only for the photographer), she admitted that she regretted doing it and felt taken advantage of.

The stories I can relate are more of a different nature-- having to do with size and diet. There's the time when my agent happened to pass me on the street as I was eating a Snickers bar (the only thing I'd eaten all day). Without pausing, or missing a beat, he simply said, "I hope you're going home to throw that up," as he passed. I've heard girlfriends tell of how their agency gave them a bag of coke to snort before an important upcoming shoot, or how my one friend working in Germany found her roommates eating cotton so they wouldn't feel hungry.

As far as the sexuality end of it goes, I find that my body is not really considered my own. I've been told by a photographer at a shoot, "You do what I tell you. If I tell you to take your clothes off, you take your clothes off. You're a model now, you don't get a say." Last night, for instance, I was told that I have a casting for a underwear job. I don't do lingerie, so I asked my booker about the casting. She told me, "No, it's not for underwear, it's for pajamas. You need to go." So, I went, and what is it for, but sexy underwear. Of course I left the casting, but it took three hours of my time to get there and I did not get back home until 10pm.

My roommates here in Istanbul are all quite young (with Sigrid, at sixteen, being thirteen years younger than me). These girls left home at fourteen, traveling to China, Japan, Italy, England, and France to work. The photos in their portfolios show girls who look much older posing in provocative poses in their underwear. One sixteen year old girl has been repeatedly told she needs to diet, which just breaks my heart as dieting should be the furthest thing from one's mind at that age (especially for a skinny toothpick of a girl!). Daily as they leave for castings, they are exhorted to look sexy.

It's a frustrating business-- certainly not as innocent as it looks on the outside. My hope is that people will see this documentary and that it will open up a dialogue. Perhaps parents will think twice before allowing their young daughters to enter into this industry.

Now I must run... my agent just called and needs a poloroid of me in a bikini. Ugh!


1 comment:

Debbie said...

Thanks for the insight - I'm glad to hear that you haven't had to deal much with lascivious photographers. However, it's always disheartening to hear stories about girls starving themselves (or stuffing themselves with water or inedible objects) for the sake of weight loss.

I was just looking for your etsy page in your blog to show a friend of mine in Taiwan and just noticed that in your picture you're holding A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Excellent choice - I love that book!