We rarely look at the images of lithe, beautiful women in magazines and imagine what they are thinking. If we do try to imagine what they are thinking, my guess is we don’t exactly fill their heads with very deep commentary on the world or their own situations. But is this not like any other assumption about people, because a woman is beautiful does not make her empty headed, materialistic, or silly. I had the pleasure of meeting a very successful model last summer, and she is one of the most sensitive, emotionally intelligent and intellectually curious people I know. So when I came across this post on the gossip blog, Jezebel, I was very excited to see a model opening up about her experiences. The post is entitled “Whenever I Feel Like Starving Myself, I Just Look At ‘One Cup Of Oatmeal.doc.'” It is a short chronicle of her first runway season in Paris, and how she dieted and exercised in excess while there. But as she has come out of her bout with an eating disorder, her take on the criticism which led her to it, is pretty darn enlightening. Artists often face a similar barrage of criticism, as do many other professions. Finding a way to deal with that has always been my biggest struggle. When I modeled, I was eight to fourteen, and did not have the maturity yet to overcome the constant comments. Because yes, my nose was too pointy, I was too tall, too fat, too freckled, too all American, too exotic, too flat-chested, and on. I wish I had met an older model at that time, like this one who could have sat me down and told me the below. But I have found it know and I think this attitude can be helpful in everything you do.
Reducing the body to symbol is of course what the anorexic or the bulimia sufferer does. (Or the serious athlete, for that matter.) We remake our bodies as monuments: to hungers overcome, to perceived strengths, to a gendered, formal ideal we’ve sized up or down to. Bodies no longer communicate want or need: we subject them to our desires, and take pleasure in their submission.
I certainly enjoyed every inch I ever lost.
I also very much enjoy walking on the runway.
But there is one way in which this industry has taught me to take less of an obsessive interest in how I measure up, appearance-wise. The feedback you receive as a model is breathtaking in its contradictions, vehemence, and beside-the-point meanderings. My shoulders, too broad for one client, will be criticized for their narrowness by another. I have been told I have too many freckles, and also too few. I’ve been too pale, too tan, too old, too young, too brown, too red, too blonde. I’m too tall or too short. My feet are too big or not big enough. At first, this was unsettling, and kind of withering, but it soon became white noise — when a casting agent shares advice with me (“Tie your hair back for castings!” “Walk more smoothly!” “Work out so you have some arm muscle!”) I thank him or her politely and do precisely nothing — because I know the next will want to see unfettered hair, a cocky swagger of a walk, and arms that aren’t as “bulky” with muscle as mine. It all cancels out, and I’m left with the conclusion that the client will cast whomever they will cast and they’ll know it as soon as the right model walks in the door and nothing in my power will change that. The best I can do is show up.
It’s a strangely liberating conclusion to have drawn from fashion.