Posted at 1:15 PM Jun 10, 2009
By Andrea Grimes
When I was in junior high school, there was a girl in our class who was, supposedly, a model. She would bring her photos to the lunchroom and show them off: there she was, reclining in black and white, in a field and wearing a low-cut shirt, embodying whatever some suburban "fashion photographer" imagined as the Calvin Klein heroin chic look. Yes, we were plenty jealous of her, but we were also a little disturbed: we weren't having sex, but here she was, being sexy.
A new documentary about the teen modeling industry, Picture Me, is now appearing in film festivals. The film's director and former model Sara Ziff gave an eye-opening interview to The Guardian last weekend:
Sara Ziff was 14 when she first began modelling. Her third casting was in the East Village in New York. "We had to go in one by one. The photographer said he wanted to see me without my shirt on. Then he told me that it was still hard to imagine me for the story so could I take my trousers off. I was standing there in a pair of Mickey Mouse knickers and a sports bra. I didn't even have breasts yet. 'We might need to see you without your bra,' he told me. It was like he was a shark circling me, walking around and around, looking me up and down without saying anything. I did what he told me to. I was just eager to be liked and get the job. I didn't know any better." Teenage girls, she says, are being persuaded to pose in a sexual way when they don't even know what it means yet.
As a model, Ziff earned hundreds of thousands of dollars--more than her parents--and was taking women's studies courses at college while modeling. Intellectual disconnect, much? But still, the money didn't translate to power:
"The irony is that the women in Picture Me may be earning large amounts of money - Schell laughingly recalls piles of cash like you see in movie scenes - but they seem to have little power over their lives. "You become this living doll," says Ziff. Every decision is made by someone else. They remain somehow like the girls they were when they first entered the profession, encouraged not to think about their futures, anxious to remain the same body shape they were when they were teenagers.
Ziff is now 27 and a student at Cornell. Here's the trailer: