This Eating Disorder Awareness Week, one of our writers shares her experience with anorexia in the world of modelling. More information on anorexia and other eating disorders, as well as expert help, can be found here https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/.
This year, February 26th to March 4th is Eating Disorder Awareness Week and as such it seems an appropriate time to write about my own experiences as a model with an eating disorder. At the age of seventeen, weary of people saying I should be a model and eager for a new challenge, I signed with a modelling agency as a New Face model. I was one of the lucky ones, my agency did not once ask my weight, nor have they ever pressured me to be a certain size or look a certain way. Even on the relatively small fashion circle I move in, many of the models with other agencies have been forced to step on the scales, have had measuring tapes pulled around their waists and have been put on calorie restrictive diets.
In her book, Size Zero: My Life as a Disappearing Model, Victoire Dauxerre tells the story of her year on the fashion week circuit. She developed severe anorexia, eating only fruit and using laxatives constantly in order to maintain her perfect ‘size zero’ figure. I read her book in one sitting, unable to tear myself away from the pages describing the struggle my life could have been. When I first started modelling my lunch was generally an apple and yet I never felt as thin or perfectly toned as the other models. However, these other models were generally full time models, struggling through to make ends meet on the few photo shoots they could get in the highly competitive world.
My problem did not stem from modelling; I had anorexia before I signed my contract. However, it did make it worse. No one ever wanted to be seen eating on a shoot so we would drink the tea provided and occasionally snack on salted popcorn or apple slices. At one show during Edinburgh Fashion Week 2015, a group of us were presented with fatty ham in white rolls as ‘lunch provided’. WE joked about it and nibbled on the rolls as it was a twelve-hour working day but it was obvious that none of us felt comfortable in the situation.
I have long acknowledged my rocky relationship with food and we have come to the conclusion that we will never be the best of friends but that we can co-exist. After trying on my dream red-carpet-worthy dress at Harrods last summer in the sample size, I came to the realisation that small steps had to be taken. If I could maintain my weight for a while, it would be easier to put on later. Another light bulb moment came when I could not fit into any of my ball gowns for an event. Most people have the problem that their clothes become too big, not that the fabric is hanging off in folds. I bit the bullet, bought a new dress and my goal is now to fit into the beautiful gowns I love.
And yet I was one of the lucky ones. I never had a stylist tell me I was too fat. A photographer never told me I could do better or that they preferred working with other people. I was privileged enough to be requested on photo shoots, to be put forward for advertising campaigns and to be able to travel as much or as little as I wanted. I had my brain, and my education to fall back on which is not something a lot of models have. To be a professional model is to let it consume one’s life. Instead of preparing spread sheets and presentations for work, they have to prepare their bodies and only hope that someone notices them and casts them. Life is endlessly waiting in lines for castings or running on treadmills in order to fulfil the fantasies of the casting directors. Until it is possible for people to treat models as human beings who have human needs, hopes and desires, the problem of eating disorders in the modelling industry cannot be solved. These models have to know that being slightly muscular or carrying a little weight on their stomach is not going to lose them a job. Their livelihoods depend on their bodies and though some progress is being made especially with new regulations in France, it will not be enough until every casting director can see the human in front of them rather than the object.