The reality behind becoming the “flawless” model.

There is overwhelming pressure to be flawless in the fashion world, accompanied by a culture of scrutiny and judgment about weight, shape, and eating. External perception is that models live a glamorous lifestyle of jet setting and freebies. They’re beautiful people who never get pimples or worry about weight, and wake-up looking like they’ve walked out of a photo shoot. But reality is so far removed from the perfectly airbrushed magazine shots and manufactured Instagram and Facebook posts, that some models put themselves through emotional and physical torture to fit this self-perpetuating fashion ideal.

Pressure to be a thinner and more “improved” version of yourself is not new, it’s just more readily spoken about. Every period of history has had an ideal of beauty; from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s women would cinch their waists in corsets until they passed out. Not dissimilarly, my already underweight friends fell prey to a diet of black coffee, cigarettes, and swallowing cotton wool balls dipped in orange juice in preparation for the Milan shows. They travelled in pairs so that in case one passed out, the other could help.

I haven’t been exempt from this pressure either; after having my work visa approved for America, my New York agent ordered me to fix my teeth or they would not send me to castings. To me, they all looked like they had been to the same cosmetic dentist. I refused to buy the fake “plastic fantastic” smile and as a result, didn’t work a day in the USA. Since then, I have heard numerous stories from other models whose agencies have even suggested they undergo breast implants and nose jobs.

The judgement of “not good enough” is not only inflicted upon models, but permeates greater society, with women of all ages and ethnicities feeling the pressure to “fix” themselves into an unrealistic, media-propagated standard. This is slowly but surely changing, as public disapproval has forced advertising to shift focus from perfection to one of acceptance by advocating real women. The Dove ‘Real Women’ campaign in 2004 broke ground with a line up of women of all shapes, sizes and colours, and saw a dramatic increase in sales. This sent a clear message to the advertising world that women are tired of non-inclusive beauty ideals. Target’s “Target Loves Everybody” swimwear campaign followed suit, with many other overseas brands advertising a more inclusive beauty ideal, such as Diesel using a wheelchair-bound model with muscular dystrophy and Sports Illustrated featuring curvaceous size 16 Ashley Graham on its cover.

I feel the persistence of these campaigns is creating much needed change, within the industry, and without. It can be hard not to get caught up in the message that you’re not good enough, thin enough, and smart enough. We all try to “fix” our apparent flaws by plucking, waxing, tanning, dieting, exercising, and, at worst, plumping, injecting, cutting, and augmenting. But consider this: most of society—model or otherwise—is so caught up thinking about their own perceived “flaws” that they don’t have time to notice yours. Ask yourself: in five years, will whatever I’m insecure about now really be a problem? And is it really a problem now?

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Rachael Scobie