Buy “Runway”



Why You Shouldn’t Give a $#!% about Fashion Models

As many of you know, I am in the final throes of revising a memoir about the modeling industry. So every now and then I sneak a post about fashion between all my posts about writing and publishing and social media. And this is one such post.

One thing I have to thank the modeling business for is that, having lived behind the scenes for nine years, I know what a bunch of b.s. it is, so I’m not intimidated when I see photos of hot models with perfect bodies in magazines. I look at them as someone might look at a painting or a cartoon character—as something pretend, not real. When you see Superman on TV, do you get depressed that you don’t have superpowers, too? Of course not, because nobody does. When you read a fairytale about a princess who kisses a frog that turns into a prince and lives happily ever after, do you, too, wish you were that princess? (Well, maybe you do. That’s a bad example.) My point is—the photos you see in magazines aren’t real. So stop looking at them. Just stop. OK? Good. And if you’re wondering what’s not real about them, read on …

The models in magazines who look like gorgeous 28-30-year-old women? They’re all 16. Or 14.

And some, like Kate Moss’s little sister, are 13. Yeah. You, at 30 or 40 are comparing yourself to a tween or a teen who hasn’t fully developed yet. They have no hips, no butts, no thighs. They’re still growing, and their metabolisms are lightning fast. Make-up makes them look a lot older than they are. I know. I used to live with 14-year-old models who were doing Chanel shows.

There’s this thing called PhotoShop.

Back in my day (late 80s/early 90s), it was called airbrushing. Today, it’s all done with computers. I once did a shoot with a semi-famous model who had a honking zit on her forehead. Like the size of Mount Tam. Her photo in the magazine? Perfect. And photographers don’t just touch up blemishes. They elongate legs, slice inches off thighs, butts, upper arms. There is no end to the improvements they can make to a photo with a computer. You’ve probably seen this YouTube video:

And that doesn’t include all the plastic surgery models have before the photos are even taken. I know. I’ve had that, too.

Those smiles you see on the models’ faces? They’re fake.

The gorgeous men and children hanging on their arms? All fake. The men and children are models, of course. The laughter and fun they are all having while rollicking on the beach? It’s called acting. When I was modeling, I could switch from my sullen, depressed, miserable self into a smiling, laughing, jumping, dancing model at the snap of a finger. That’s what I was paid to do. And I did it. Instantly. You would never know that the girl having the time of her life in the photos was crying two hours earlier because she is lonely and unhappy and unable to afford a steak let alone the designer clothes she is sporting in the photos. Or maybe she is successful—successful enough to support her playboy boyfriend who is twice her age and cheating on her left and right. Is that the life you wish you had? I don’t think so.

Unless you’re 14, it’s not natural to be that skinny.

And you don’t want, like this Victoria Secret model, to eat nothing but protein shakes every day. Or baby food, or Wasa crackers, like models I knew did in the 80s. Or to have an eating disorder. I was lucky. I could eat anything and not gain an ounce. But I was also 18. I can’t do that anymore. And the downside? I wasn’t ALLOWED to exercise. When I started running and building up muscles on my legs, I was told that I wasn’t going to get any more leg jobs because my calves were too muscular. I could never have rock climbed or done yoga to the extent that I later did because I wouldn’t have gotten any jobs with all those muscles. I had to be extremely cautious skiing or doing other sports because I couldn’t sprain an ankle, scratch or bruise my skin, or get tan lines. If I wanted to go to the beach, I had to go topless. Later, after I quit modeling, I went on a mountain biking trip and sliced the heck out of my legs. It was an incredible experience that I could never have had while modeling. I once lost two weeks of work because of a sunburn. I lost an $80,000 job over of a bad haircut. It’s incredibly stressful trying to be perfect all the time.

Most models are unhappy.

They’re hungry, they’re lonely, they’re broke, they’re depressed. Many of the supermodels have had drug problems. Karen Mulder was arrested for threatening her psychiatrist.

After I stopped working back in 1997, I interviewed two dozen other models about their careers. They all had stories about dating abusive men, about eating disorders, about blowing every penny they had earned on designer clothes, exotic vacations, and supporting their deadbeat boyfriends. They all said they’d strongly discourage their daughters from modeling. Most models never wanted to be models in the first place—they ended up in Paris or Milan because they were tall and thin and had pretty faces. They didn’t seek the job. They were scouted and couldn’t pass up the money or the opportunity to travel around the world. It’s enticing, all that glamour.

Okay, enough of my ranting for tonight. But stop reading those dumb magazines. Stop wishing you were like those models. Exercise so your heart will be strong and your muscles will carry you down the street ’til you’re 90. Eat what you need and have dessert now and then. Take care of your body and your health, so you’ll live a good long while, not so you’ll look like a 14-year-old girl who hasn’t fully developed yet. Or even a a 19-year-old who has.

48 comments to Why You Shouldn’t Give a $#!% about Fashion Models

  • mainecharacter

    Thanks for this. I remember a movie from '82 called "Paper Dolls" about those 14-year-old models and how crushing a life it can be.

    I almost got into stock photography before I realized that all those smiling families on beaches are hired by photographers to act out the perfect life, and I figured I didn't want to add to the illusion everyone feels they need to live up to.

    • meghancward

      Good for you! I just looked up Paper Dolls. Says it was a pilot for a TV series. Looks like the series started two years later with a different cast. It would be fun to watch the pilot with Darryl Hannah and Joan Collins. I've never seen it. Thanks for the comment.

  • This is such an important post. Nothing is going to completely counteract the effects of 1000's of images a day being beamed into kids' heads, but maybe this will reach a few young women who are striving for this kind of "perfection" and help them choose more reasonable goals. I hope so.

    I think I remember Paper Dolls. I didn't know there was a pilot with Darryl Hannah, though. I'll have to check it out.

    • meghancward

      It's true, Anne. The statistics are astounding of how many ads kids see by the time they're teens – millions. I guess the next goal is to keep them away from those ads as much as possible.

  • Kristan

    "When you see Superman on TV, do you get depressed that you don’t have superpowers, too?"

    Lol sometimes… Really it was more X-Men or Sailor Moon that got me down and made me want to have powers. Then Practical Magic when I was older.

    But to the real point: Meghan, THANK YOU for writing this. This is so powerful, so eye-opening! I mean, it's stuff that you *know* — and yet not stuff that you fully digest until the right person says it in the right way. I think you've done that. 🙂

    • meghancward

      Aww. Don't get depressed that you don't have superpowers. You do, they're just not as obvious as bionic vision or the ability to turn yourself into an iceberg (you can see how outdated my superhero knowledge is!) And thanks for posting the link on FB!

  • Aditi Raychoudhury

    Such a great post! While I don’t judge other women for the shape or size of their bodies ( anorexia or obesity raises concern) – but it’s REALLY hard for women ( me included) to not compare ourselves to those perfect, perfectly touched up teenagers! ( even though I am 41) – and what’s worse, is that we have magazines telling us how Heidi klum was catwalk ready within 8 weeks of giving birth to her 2nd? 3rd? 4th child? Or that Jessica alba is bikini ready within two weeks of giving birth – intellectually, I find fashion magazines immoral… For peddling impossible and unnatural images of beauty… Yet, everytime I am at the check out counter, I can’t help checking out all

    The lovely ladies reminding me how imperfect I am, and how much of a slob I have become since I gave birth! Even though at my annual check up just FEW weeks after having my daughter, I was well within a healthy BMI ( even if I hadnt been pregnant ever) – and yet, u feel flabby, slobby, ugh! We, need, to hear, see, and read more stuff like this!

    • meghancward

      Aditi – I'm glad it helps to know how fake it all is. And sure, there will always be young, gorgeous, skinny women staring us in the face in every supermarket. But do you really want to be them? No. You don't. Trust me. It's better to be you and have a little muffin top, believe me.

  • Advertising is so subtle and so pervasive that it's hard to ignore that it's fake when it's blasted in your face all the time, relentlessly, all your life, and in millions of ways. Every television show we watch has thin, perfect women, every commercial, every magazine. It all adds up to a general murmur that we should be looking like that. I love that you took the time to point out what's fake. It makes it easier for us to look at the material in our faces everywhere and know how to pick it apart. But of course, the more worrying point is that no matter what we do, the urge to look like that remains.

    • meghancward

      Sierra – well, we can always turn off the TV and stop reading magazines. I know it's easier said than done, but I do think we can reduce our (and our kids') exposure to advertising. But true – it will never go completely away. I think the key is awareness. Like sexual abuse, the more people who talk about the issue, the better for everyone.

  • freeisaverb

    Couldn't agree more, of course! Kudos, again, for encouraging healthy body image in a culture that most often doesn't. Sidenote about the "Evolution of Beauty" video; it won all the awards in advertising when it came out, which is a small redemptive note for a business that mostly helps feed the cycle that you rightly lambaste here. A few small notes: I think it should read "posts" at the end of your first paragraph. Also, I thought "It’s incredibly stressful trying to be perfect all the time." might be an even better header for that (great) paragraph on exercise.

    • meghancward

      Thanks for the edits, Nate! Will fix the last sentence of the first paragraph. And although I love your subtitle for the exercise graph, I was trying to stick to answering "what's not real" about those photos/models. Great news about the Dove video! And thanks so much for your comment!

  • aditi raychoudhury

    I think India is more beauty obsessed than the US – or may be its the same the world over!! –

  • andyrossagency

    Well….Meghan, the only person I know who was ever a model, is you. (Oh yes. I forgot that in 1950 I modelled a sailor suit for a kid's fashion show at Nieman Marcus, but that doesn't count). Anyway everything you say rings true. Thanks for this.

    • meghancward

      Ha! Andy, I want to see a picture of you in that sailor suit! I bet you didn't have to go on a liquid diet before that, hm?

  • aditi raychoudhury

    Ok- here's the test – anything this obsessive in the US?

    A fairness cream for your privates!!!

  • I worked for a call center that handled JCrew phone orders. I always thought the models were, at best, a c +. I know they are considered beautiful in the modeling industry, but I find their looks to be unpleasant and uninteresting.

    When did ugly become the new pretty?

    Great post.

    • meghancward

      And J. Crew catalog jobs are not easy to come by. You've "made it" to some degree if you're in J.Crew.

  • Brava! I cannot wait to read the book.

  • mainecharacter

    If you didn't hear about this, it looks like something is beginning to be done.

    • meghancward

      Oh, this is wonderful! And no, I hadn't heard. Thanks so much for sharing this!

        • meghancward

          You know, that's both good and bad. Not being able to digitally retouch photos will put more pressure than ever on models to be extremely thin and blemish free. Or I guess Seventeen willl just use those models for that one shoot and touch up the others. It won't change much, I don't think. but it's a step in the right direction.

          • mainecharacter

            Yeah, I was thinking more of how kids are learning how unreal the expectations of beauty they're given are, and taking a stand in getting the word out.

            As a photographer, I know how there isn't anyone who couldn't benefit from a little retouching, as opposed to altering proportions. I think in the end it's all a matter of intention, of what kind of mirror you're holding up to these kids.

  • I loved this post (being a 55-year-old ex-model), but I do want to add that Heidi Klum HAS TO give up her mini skirts already!

    • meghancward

      Andrea, Thanks so much for stopping by. I look forward to reading your blog. I have to admit, I don't watch Project Runway and am not familiar with Heidi Klum's short skirts. Has she outgrown them?

  • Candice Michelle

    I also love this post! very interesting to read! Thanks for sharing this one! ציוד למסעדות

  • I are in agreement fully in doing what you prepare! Just like some of my associates with whom I spoke also write about your opinions. It’s nice to discover a post whereby as it happens that you are not alone on your convictions!

  • Astonishing news for me. I never thought that the photos we see in magazines aren’t real and their age is not 26/28/30 and they are 13/14/15. Thanks for this news.

  • fashionatemodel

    Modeling is no doubt a very difficult profession it needs proper guideline and top modeling agency like New Look Fashion Agency. We give full support to new models who want to become No.1 in the industry. For more information please visit our website.

  • College students tend to be purported to adhere to your academics creating guidelines in the list above. The academics creating guidelines will assist individuals increase their particular functionality by simply producing quality function.

  • want to thank you for sharing this great info

  • Jamessmith

    mens formal shirts – Welcome to Joseph Turner Autumn Winter 2013. Beautifully made traditional clothing with uncompromising quality for both him & her, whether at work or play. Shop online or order our new catalogue today

  • James

    classical platinum wedding rings – Rennie & Co diamond jewellery Hatton Garden London crafts beautiful pieces of jewellery, contemporary jewellery, diamond earrings, engagement rings, eternity rings, wedding rings, pendants

  • The life of models are not so easy because glam world has a many dark sides and in the world of competition models has to make many types of compromises by that they are becoming a victim of harrasment,lonliness and depression.

  • Great Post! thanks for sharing this post..

  • Buyers that will offer you cash for your gtold

  • I’m so glad I found my solution online.

  • I are in understanding completely in doing what you plan! Much the same as some of my partners with whom I talked additionally expound on your assessments. It's decent to find a post whereby as it happens that you are not the only one on your feelings!

  • Unquestionably imagine that that you said. Your favourite reason appeared to
    be on the internet the easiest factor to take note of. I say to you,
    I certainly get annoyed at the same time as folks think about
    issues that they just don’t recognise about. You controlled to hit the nail upon the highest and
    defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , folks could take a signal.
    Will probably be again to get more. Thanks