Girl Model, a new film which debuted last week at SXSW, has been getting a lot of buzz recently for shedding light one particularly unsavory aspect of the modeling industry: the terrifyingly young age at which some models start working.
If the creation of the Model Alliance and/or the CFDA's new initiative that models be at least 16 years old hasn't yet convinced you that there's cause for alarm over models' ages, then Girl Model will certainly do the trick. The film, produced and directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin, follows 13-year-old, Siberian-born model Nadya Vall on her quest to be a model, accompanied most of the time by Ashley Arbaugh, the American modeling scout (and former model) who discovers her. Nadya is sent to Tokyo, a prospect initially exciting for the impoverished teenager with hopes of creating a better life for her and her family, but which turns quickly traumatic when the realities of the cutthroat industry set in. Arbaugh, for her part, already has deeply conflicted feelings about the industry's practice of plucking younger and younger girls and sending them off to far-away markets to try to "make it" as a model. Yet that doesn't stop her from sending Nadya to Tokyo unsupervised. Or from saying things like, "She has a fresh, young, face, she looks young, almost like a prepubescent girl,” according to ABC News. (And that was meant in a good way.) Despite Arbaugh's moral conscience we can't help but feel like she sort of sounds like a pimp when she says in the trailer, "When I work with Japan, they don't know what I do, where I go, as long as I bring them the girls."
But Arbaugh isn't really the bad guy here--clearly, clients keep asking for younger, thinner girls and it's the industry as a whole (and the lack of regulation) that is responsible for perpetuating the system. And while it's a problem that if you're familiar with the modeling industry, you're probably already aware of, Girl Model beautifully brings to the fore just how creepy and wrong the practice actually is, and how vulnerable these young models really are. In an interview included in the press notes, posted on the film's site, co-director Ashley Sabin says:
"When Nadya first arrived at the airport in Tokyo, she was expected to find her way to the agency on her own, with just an address on a slip of paper. She didn't speak the language, didn't know how to get there or even how to figure it out. She didn't know who to ask or where to turn and hand't ever travelled abroad before."
It's a small thing, but remembering what I was like at 13 in seventh grade--barely a teenager at all--I can only imagine how utterly terrifying the experience must have been. And that's clearly just the tip of the iceberg. Later at a shoot Nadya gets told to lie about her age and say she's 15, and the trailer ends with the young girl crying for her mom. Depressing.
And let's all just take a moment to think about how bizarro it really is that an impoverished 13-year-old girl might wind up modeling the latest thousand-dollar designer fashion in Vogue.
The saddest part? According to the interview in the press notes, Nadya "has decided to continue working as a model." You can see her portfolio at Noah Models.
Watch the trailer below. Girl Model is due for wide release in the US later this year.