Thursday, 8 March 2012

Ugly on the inside: Girl Model review

This review can be found at The Yorker, here.

I would say it's relatively common knowledge that the fashion advertising industry is toxic. In addition to all the body-shaming and the increasingly unrealistic and creepy 'standards' of beauty, you don't even need to go into gender studies theory to notice the exploitation and manipulation of everyone involved.

With that in mind, Girl Model, a documentary film about how model scouting works and the quality of life for the models, is very clear about the tone it's going to supply.

©wiki commons
Focusing on Nadya, a young Russian girl aiming to be a model, and Ashley, a scout tasked with finding models for the Japanese market, the film follows Nadya's story chronologically, switching to Ashley every now and again as something of a Greek Chorus - Ashley was a model herself when she was 18, and her experience has affected her; maybe even broken her.

The idea that the modelling industry is problematic is always present, but not always overt. In the very first scene the camera pans around a room full of Siberian girls for an initial try-out, almost all of them look scared and self-concious, standing around awkwardly in bikinis and bathing suits, only smiling (awkwardly) when they notice they're being filmed. Girls are turned down for being 2 centimetres too wide in the hips, and althoughGirl Model makes no direct reference to anorexia and eating disorders, looking at what models 'qualify' speaks for itself.

This is, of course, compounded by the constant discussion of youth and innocence as beauty. It's not a new concept - you could find countless examples in advertising that echo that axiom - but when you're told that alongside images of young girls (we're talking kids as young as 13 here), it's shudder-inducing. Ashley says multiple times that it's what the market in Japan demands, but you hope that's a sales pitch, and not the whole truth.

I personally find documentary films an odd breed - especially since I personally go to the cinema for a more pacey, tense experience; but Girl Model has its own tension. Watching naive teens get exploited should be harrowing for most, even when they (tastefully) decide not to fully discuss just how morally ambiguous fashion advertising can get. The scenes with Ashley steal the show as you slowly find out just how damaged she's become.

No comments:

Post a Comment