A friend of mine sent me a link to fashion model Jenna Sauer’s (aka Tatiana Anymodel’s) interview on Jezebel.com with the note, “I wish you could do this questionnaire too—I’d like to see your answers vs “Tatiana’s!” Well friend, here they are. But first, a little background about me:
When I was 18, I moved to Paris to model full time. I worked there for six years before returning to the States to attend UCLA. I wrote about my adventures and misadventures in Paris, Tokyo, London, and Hamburg in my memoir, Paris On Less Than $10,000 A Day. And now I’m a writer. Who writes in neon yellow fleece pajama pants and a gray cashmere sweater full of holes. I’m that much of a fashionista.
Do models eat?
When I first started modeling at 18, I still had some baby fat. I was 125 pounds and my hips were a whopping 93 centimeters, which translates to about 36.5 inches. The ideal measurements for a model are 34-24-34. Although I was 5’11½ ” and had been mistaken for anorexic most of my life, I was told that I needed to lose weight. I started working out and running, and my weight dropped to 122 and stayed there during the course of my modeling years. But I was one of those models who could eat anything and never gain an ounce. My boyfriend was always telling me I was too skinny, and one client told me I was too thin to do his show, so I tried to gain weight (which was stupid in retrospect. I worked the most when I was 122 pounds), but couldn’t. Once I went on vacation to Italy, and my boyfriend fed me five course meals for lunch and dinner every day to fatten me up. On the third day, I vomited from overeating. At that point I decided to accept my weight for what it was and stop trying to please everyone.
There were other models like me, but there were also many models who dieted, and others who had eating disorders. Many of them had mild bulimia or anorexia, so unless you lived with them and watched what they ate, it wasn’t obvious. I had one roommate who only ate baby food and Wasa crackers. I had another who ate large meals and then threw them up. Every now and then you’d see a girl at a show or at a casting who had dropped below 100 pounds, and everyone would be whispering about what happened to cause her to go to that extreme. We’d all feel the need to talk to her and to encourage her to eat, but no one ever dared because we didn’t want her to feel worse about herself than she already did.
Are Eastern Bloc pre-teenagers the only ones who get work?
Well, I can’t speak for today (according to Jenna Sauers, the answer is yes, along with Brazilian girls), but I was working in Paris when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and when the USSR collapsed in 1991, and the market was suddenly flooded by girls named Natasha and Natalia. I liked them. They were shy and polite or bold like army generals and always serious. The Brazilian girls, by the way, were more prevalent in Japan, and they were loud and boisterous. I used to wonder if only rich Brazilians got into modeling because they all acted so entitled.
Is it as tiring as they say?
I remember going to castings late at night during show season. I remember flying to Tokyo and arriving at the Narita Airport after a sixteen-hour flight to find a manager waiting to drive me on show castings—straight off the airplane after having been up half the night. I remember arriving at one of those castings at 9 p.m. to find a roomful of Japanese men sitting in plastic chairs lined against the walls. A man in the middle of the room turned on some loud rock music and told me to dance. And I did. Tokyo was insane like that. I often did two—sometimes three—jobs in a day, getting up at 5 or 6 a.m. and rushing from a fashion show to a photo shoot and sometimes a second photo shoot after that. I would get home and collapse into bed and get up the following day and do it all over again. I had to request a day off when I became too run down. I remember eating acerola drops to fight off colds because they were full of vitamin C.
But there was a lot of down time, too. In Paris I could go a month without working. And even on jobs we spent a lot of time sitting around smoking cigarettes and reading books while the other models got their make-up and hair done, or while other models were shooting. It was one extreme or the other.
Okay, but the money’s pretty awesome, right?
It could be. It was when I worked in Japan, and it was when I worked for Jil Sander. But there were weeks—months—that I hardly made any money at all. Magazines paid $100/day gross. Vogue paid $75/day. You couldn’t live on that. You had to do catalog and shows or advertising and TV commercials to make a living. I think at one point I calculated that I was making $8 an hour once I factored in all the time I spent pounding the pavement on castings. Overall, I averaged $50-$100,000k per year. I think my best year I made $150,000k. It sounds like a lot, but we were spending a lot, too. We were expected to wear designer clothes and get $100 facials, and we paid our own travel expenses to places like Australia and Japan.
Are models vain?
Models are the most insecure people I know. They are acutely aware of every one of their physical flaws from the ear that sticks out to the crooked toe to the veins in their hands. And I think that insecurity often comes across as aloofness.
Does everyone do mountains of coke or what?
Most models I knew smoked pot now and then, but none of my friends did hard drugs. We couldn’t afford meat let alone cocaine (My first year in Paris I ate rice, pasta, and Burger King every night because it was all I could afford.) I heard stories, and I saw track marks on the bottom of a famous model’s feet one time at a show, but I was never into the party scene, so I didn’t witness coke at parties, let alone on jobs.
Are models dumb?
Yes. All of them. I’m kidding. No, they’re not dumb. Most of the models I met read constantly (this was before cell phones and laptop computers much less smart phones, so there wasn’t much else to do). They spoke multiple languages and were as familiar with Ginza, Bondi, the Reeperbahn, and the Marais as they were with their hometown in Ohio. Most hadn’t gone to college because they would have been too old to start modeling at 22, but that didn’t make them dumb. They were worldly and urbane. So what if they didn’t know the definition of “egregious” or “apocryphal”? They could order sushi in four different languages.
Do a lot of models have, uh, a Naomi Campbell attitude?
Fortunately, the only model I ever met with a Naomi Campbell attitude was Naomi Campbell. Models, on average, are very friendly. There is a hierarchy, however. At shows I did, the supermodels only talked to other supermodels. They didn’t talk to us not-so-supermodels. But I attributed that more to the fact that they knew each other from previous jobs than that they were consciously snubbing us. Movie stars at a party don’t generally walk up to people they don’t know and strike up conversations. They talk to people they know.
Okay, so what is the worst part of the job?
Where do I begin? The boredom. The uncertainty. Being thousands of miles away from your friends and family on your 21st birthday. Being told you need to lose weight when you’re 5’11” and weigh 125 pounds. The toll it takes on your self-esteem not to have begun college at the age of 25 when all your friends back home are finishing up their master’s degrees. Shooting bathing suits in December and fur coats in July. Making vacation plans and then having to cancel to do a shoot for Marie-Claire. Making weekend plans and then having to cancel in order to fly to Germany at 5 a.m. the following morning for a catalog job. Not having a TV, a plant, a pet, or long-distance telephone access in your models apartment. Having to buy phone cards to use the payphone down the street to call home. Losing a huge job because you cut your hair too short. Losing a huge job because you refused to cut your hair too short. Feeling like the only thing you’re contributing to the world is making women feel shitty about themselves. I could go on …