Starving for Fashion
Above: The author in one of her first test shoots. She was 19 and 115 pounds. Photo by Michelle Ricks.
This week in New York City, hundreds of young girls will hit the runway for fashion week, the modeling world’s holiest and most competitive grail. Although participating in New York Fashion Week sounds glamorous, the lifestyle that some of these girls are engaged in—never sleeping, never eating, traveling endlessly, and constantly being judged and objectified—can be a catalyst for poor mental health.
In the past decade, at least 20 models have committed suicide—some famous, some not—and there are likely many more lesser-known models whose attempts may have gone completely unreported. According to a 2012 study done by the Model Alliance, a non-profit labor advocacy group where I work as a graphic designer, 68.3 percent of models admit to suffering from depression or anxiety. For several years of my life, I was one of those women.
I started modeling professionally at the age of 19, when I was in college. I was suckered into signing with a small boutique agency in San Diego in the summer of 2007. Having grown-up in a tiny suburb of San Diego misguidedly obsessing over shows like America’s Next Top Model, the opportunity to model and travel for free seemed like a no-brainer. But before my agency would allow me to sign the dotted line on my first contract, they wrapped a measuring tape over my jeans. You see, models aren’t measured in pounds, they’re measured in inches. I had to lose two inches, or roughly 15 pounds, all over my body to land the contract.