Doutzen Kroes, Sara Ziff, Coco Rocha, and Jenna Sauers at the launch party for The Model Alliance.
As someone who not-so-secretly watches America’s Next Top Model, I was interested to listen to Sara Ziff speak on BBC Radio 4's Four Thought show about her work as a model and activist. Sara was scouted at the age of 14 by a photographer in the street. After years of witnessing her friends and peers be subject to systematic abuse, she decided she could no longer remain silent. To that end she spent five years carrying small video cameras on location with her in order to film behind the scenes and document what was happening, eventually giving cameras to other friends and models. Ziff feels that the resulting documentary, Picture Me, was a turning point: "for the first time models were on the other side of the lens sharing our perspectives of an industry that sometimes left us feeling mute."
The stories told by Sara and her peers reveal a darker side to the glossy and glamorous world of fashion that is shown in the Next Top Model shows. Sara's friend and fellow model, Amy Lemons, reveals that at the age of 17, her agent advised her to only eat one rice cake a day. If that didn't work, she should only eat half a rice cake.
What kind of an industry tells a 17 year old girl to be anorexic? Because, let's face it, that’s exactly what this agent's advice was.
Fashion is obsessed with youth and skinniness, but what Ziff's work really shows is that it is obsessed with extreme youth. Most full-grown women do not have the same body shape as a young girl because they have developed hips and breasts. Why is it that we are fascinated with young girls' bodies, to the point where 14 year-olds are used to sell adult clothing or when girl models, on the cusp of becoming women, are told to eat less in order to preserve their childish physique?
Something is very very wrong in both fashion and society at large if that is what we are supposed to aspire to. I hope that individuals like Sara Ziff and organisations such as her Model Alliance will bring about the change that is sorely needed.
Girl Museum Inc.