“Girl Model” Pulls Back The Curtain On Underage Modeling

Nadya was just 13 when she was discovered by a model scout in her native Siberia. She signed a contract, was sent to work the runways in Japan, and ultimately returned to her poor hometown in debt–she spoke no English and no one told her that her living costs would be deducted from her salary. Her story, which is not unlike thousands of other young girls who are caught up in the global modeling machine, is at the center of a new documentary called “Girl Model,” which aims to expose the truth about underage modeling. It’s a truth that can be hard to handle: just watching the two-minute trailer made me feel sick to my stomach …

In one scene, a large group of very young girls line up in a room. They are dressed only in bras and underwear as they are measured and examined like livestock. In another, Nadya breaks down crying on the phone with her mother, saying, “I want to go home, Mom,” and her youth becomes painfully, painfully obvious. They may have long legs and high cheekbones, but many models–such as the pair of 14-year-olds that Marc Jacobs sent down the runway last season–are actually children.

Watching this video and learning more about underage modeling, it’s easy to see how the modeling industry functions as a form of human trafficking: young girls are recruited from poor families and bought and sold all over the world for one reason and one reason only: their bodies. They are not treated as human beings but as property and products, benefiting powerful people while having very little control over their own destinies and even their own bodies. They often come home with physical and emotional scars, and some of them don’t come home at all.

“Girl Model” poses a very important question: why are we, as a society, as fashion consumers, as human beings, OK with this? [On The Runway]