If You’re Having Girl Problems, I Feel Bad For You Son…
In Siberia, many families ignorantly push their daughters to become models in hopes of pulling themselves from poverty, not knowing that scouting agencies are willing and able to take advantage of their children’s inexperience, often sending them abroad for work only to bring them back confused and in debt. Looking into the disconcerting connection between the Serbian and Japanese modeling industries, directors David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s Girl Model explores the moral disconnect between those who work in it and the abuses that pervade it.
It’s no secret that underneath the make-up caked glamor of the fashion industry women worldwide are starving their skin and bone bodies for a buck in the name of ‘beauty’, but this is not the trade’s only closeted skeleton. The thoroughly disturbing show Toddlers & Tiaras is proof that the industry starts young, preening mere children for futures of vanity and possible sexual degradation, and what’s worse is the fact that in this case the parents not only promote it, but are the driving forces behind it. Redmon and Sabin are fortunate to have found Ashley Arbaugh, a former model and current scout for a modeling agency that surveys the Siberian countryside for teenage girls that have the potential to make money on the youth obsessed Japanese modeling market. In private, she confesses her disdain for her profession, spilling the beans about how it affected her as a teen and how she herself takes advantage of the poor kids she enlists for work. The goal is to find them young, so they can be signed to a contract before other agencies find them. She offers these girls a contract to work, but with big cash figures blinds them to the fact that these contracts can be changed on a day to day basis and that they can be fired for gaining an inch in their waist despite the fact that they are still growing children. In the film, we follow one such modeling hopeful named Nadya, a 15 year old, rail thin blonde with big brown eyes.
After being compared with hundreds of other young girls, Nadya was given a contract by Ashley’s agency. She was swiftly taken to Tokyo where wide eyed innocence and pubescent looks are in high demand. There Nadya was to stay for a few months, shuttling around to castings and photo sets in a language barriered blur, not knowing whether or not she is getting paid or what publications her photos are even being published in. Even when Ashley, someone who knows what Nadya is going through, checks in with the young model, she fails to verbally empathize with her. Instead, she’s all business. Such mistreatment understandably causes Nadya to want to quit, but she knows that her family’s need is too great, so she must endure the lonely journey to completion.
Despite some very shoddy camera work, Girl Model manages to engrossingly expose some disgusting truths about the youth modeling industry. By pairing Nadya and Ashley in juxtaposition on opposite ends of the business, we see not only why girls want to be in the business, but why seemingly every adult working in the business acknowledges what they are doing is wrong though they continue to take part. Ashley is a perfect example – through self documented confessions during her modeling years, we witness just how miserable she was, and even now she admits she doesn’t like her profession, taking advantage of teens for really no benefit to the world at large. But like Nadya, Ashley continues forward for the money, in fear that if she quits she’ll have no where else to turn. As one scout in the film puts it – nearly everyone is in on it, so it’s a blameless problem – but not everyone can pass the buck. Here’s the proof.