Girl Model

Dan Grant, Publisher

Happy, lovely industry where everything is always good!

Modelresource has very visibly and very vocally been a supporter of this nation's modelling industry since adopting a strictly Canadian focus in 2004. Positive stories abound in a country that produces Darias, Stams and Cocos, and for years it was easy to stick to writing about all the pretty stuff. Since I heard Tim Blanks say he wasn't responsible for exposing the dirty side of the industry because Fashion File was "soft journalism," I figured I was afforded the same rights.

Among the first good news stories I wrote back in '04, told of a 16-year-old from Alberta and a 19-year-old from Montreal, both of whom were starting to get some major international attention. Look how nice everything was in 2004. I was even thanking agencies just for doing their jobs. Happy!

One model's career never really progressed after that, so I never wrote about her again. Stick to the positive. The other, Rachel Blais, is now 26 and has enjoyed a lengthy international career by modelling standards. Her story is happy too! Right?

Last week, Blais and I participated in a panel discussion following a screening of the documentary Girl Model, in which the Montréal native has a small appearance working with the same Tokyo agency as the one of the film's main subjects, then a more pivotal behind-the-scenes role as an industry consultant to the producers.

Since the documentary's world debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, Blais has also travelled with the film and spoken on its content in places like Talinn, Estonia, and London, England. She's been interviewed by CNN and appeared on Radio-Canada's Tout le monde en parle. She's clearly passionate about the the industry, outspoken in her belief that models under the age of 18 shouldn't be permitted to travel. She also believes her public stance is the reason four of her agencies have dropped her since that first TIFF screening.

I've stuck to writing mostly about the good because, honestly, that's mostly what I encounter. I could easily kick over bins and show you some of the shit this industry does generate, but sewage has a tendency to pollute the environment that surrounds it. As Publisher of the top modelling website in Canada I feel a responsibility not to let the occasional bad story overshadow the rest. Sensationalism, though it would generate better numbers, has never been my thing.

And therein lies my objection to Girl Model: it tells a shockingly sad tale, but makes no attempt to tell the whole story.

To get the crux of what the film is about, check out Nathalie Atkinson's summary for the National Post:

I'm not suggesting the filmmakers went into this with a bent to torment the modelling industry. I'm not suggesting they edited it intending to make it look worse than it is. What I am suggesting is they may have gotten to know their subjects' situations quite well, but they never make it clear whether they (the documentarians) understand this is not the typical model experience.

It's difficult to watch Girl Model and not feel very protective of 13-year-old Nadya. It's equally challenging to find a trace of decency in the American scout or the owners of the two agencies shown.

I'm not an industry apologist, but after seeing the premiere screening at Toronto's Hot Docs festival, I asked to be part of the panel because the audience was told in a mocking tone that "all the agencies" were invited to send a representative and none did. That wasn't true. When I challenged that declaration I was told that actually three agencies were called: two didn't return the message and another said they considered sending somebody, but never followed up.

Fact is, I get defensive when people suggest all agents are devoid of souls, just as I do when all models are branded as airheads.

The longer I've been around (nearly 20 years that I've been involved in some capacity) the less happy I've become with much of what I see, but as I stated earlier, the majority of what I see is still positive and most models that travel to Tokyo enjoy it.

Our industry is far from perfect, and if it's going to get better it's going to need people like Rachel Blais, who will speak publicly about what they've seen. I don't agree with everything she says, but her opinions are based on her own experiences so who am I to say they're wrong?

For my part, I've been called an idiot by some other agents for suggesting, among other things, that models deserve the right to leave a contract when things are going badly. I'll continue to use this space to advocate for change, but please understand if the tone is less happy than it used to be.


Blogs We Follow

Cailin Hill (The Model Burnbook)

Natalia Zurowski & Jasmine Chorley Foster (The Business Model)

Madison Schill & Addison Gill's (Mind Over Model)

Ania Boniecka (A n i a . B)