How One Model Is Fighting Back Against Unrealistic Beauty Standards
Fashion is a fantasy. It’s the fantasy that propelled me, at 13, to take my mother’s cell phone and snap my first head shots, sending them to all of the local modeling agencies. It’s the fantasy that drove me to defy my parents; instead of listening to their demands for me to stay away from modeling, I made Powerpoint presentations, edited my Teen Vogue issues with Sharpies, and told everyone I knew that I would work in fashion one day. In 2008, I ended up becoming a fully-fledged fashion model. At 15, I signed with the first agency I met: Ford Models.
I lived in Greece during my summer break, traveled to New York City when it didn’t interfere with school, and one week after my grade 12 prom moved to New York City where I stayed and lived out my dream for two and a half years. During this time I walked a 43-show fashion month, worked side by side with Alber Elbaz in Paris, and was featured in magazines like Vogue, Nylon, and Harper’s Bazaar. The people I’ve met are my best friends to this day, and I’ve never felt more in love with fashion than I do right now.
But I’m not modeling anymore, and there are deeper reasons as to why I stepped back when I did. Modeling made me so happy, but I also could not stomach the pain of seeing young, beautiful, intelligent girls lose every inch of self worth when agents or clients would point blank tell them they were disgusting, fat, and worthless. I could not cope with absorbing the pain these girls felt, while knowing that there was nothing to protect them—no legislation, no agency obligation, no friends from back home who understood.
Though so many beautiful and compassionate designers and agents exist, nothing can take away the pain of those hurtful words, and it trickles down to impact you when you see a single kind of beauty as you scan through Snapchat, Instagram, or go shopping with friends. I realized more and more that we, as models, were living on this “island of feels,” and though it was scary and isolating, speaking out became an immense opportunity, a huge source of power.
I stopped modeling professionally in 2013. I turned down the big shows, the big money, the possibility of big fame. I wanted to make my own rules, own my own body and articulate my own terms without feeling annoying or entitled. During this time I went back to school (I’m currently studying metaphysics, French, and astronomy at the University of Toronto), worked as a full-time fashion editor (I even got to travel for fashion week!), and became associate producer of Straight-Curve film, an incredible documentary on tangible change in our industry with respect to body image, self-esteem, and diversity.
I also connected with model, Harvard law grad, and compassionate cool girl Sara Ziff. She’s the founder of Model Alliance, the longest-standing organization solely dedicated to looking out for models like me. Alongside 35 other models, I wrote a letter to the American fashion industry, voicing our concerns and offering a hand of hope. To me, it states that girls like you, reading this, should not have to look at me and think I am the only kind of beautiful that exists. To me, it stresses that girls like me should not have to look at photos of themselves photoshopped, starved, or repressed in any way and feel like that is the standard in which they must live out the rest of their lives.
As of today, over 100 fashion industry professionals have committed to standing with us, and that’s pretty cool. It shows that art is brilliant because of the diverse backgrounds, and fashion is a fantasy because of the talent behind it—not because of the silence or size of the model who wears it first. Fashion, because of its brilliant and beautiful nature, will always be aspirational, but I think it’s about time we made it inspirational, too.
By Madison Schill, 23