Fashion / Health & Beauty

Girl Model


Year: 2011

Type: Documentary Film (78 minutes)

Directors: David Redmon and Ashley Sabin

Production Company: Carnivalesque Films

Availability: purchase DVD (from Dogwoof £9.99), download film (from iTunes £4.99), watch online (via Dogwoof, £2.99) and view clips (from Dogwoof on YouTube)

Page Reference: Hambly, A., King, E., Keogh, A ,Renny-Smith, C., Callow, E., Thorogood, J. & Alloy, V. (2013) Girl Model. ( last accessed <insert date here>)



There’s a downside to ... photos in the fashion magazines … young girls forced into virtual child labour in the modelling industry. (Source: Yeo 2012, p.2 link)

Blanketed in snow for six to eight months of the year and dotted with pockets of poverty, one of Siberia’s exports in addition to gas, oil and metals is beautiful young girls. (Source: Edelson, 2012, np link)

Despite a lack of obvious similarities between Siberia and Tokyo, a thriving model industry connects these distant regions (Source: Anon 2012a, np link).

The tale told by Girl Model is not a new one: pretty girl from the boondocks dreams of trading her beauty for fame and fortune in the big city. This particular variant of it, however, is definitively 21st century, tracing the supply chain of models from Siberia to Tokyo. (Source: Mueller, 2012, np link)

Girl Model [is] a behind-the-scenes exploration of an unregulated industry, told from the perspective of scouts, agencies and models. (Source: Teotonio 2012, np link)

Documentarians David Redmon and Ashley Sabin have pieced together an eye-opening account of a form of human trafficking: an industry that sends pubescent European girls to Asia as wannabe models, offering meaningless contracts and no accountability. (Source: Linden 2012, p.8 link)

The film creates the impression that you are observing the lives of these young women more or less as they happen. (Source: Boslaugh 2013, np link).

Girl Model is, quite possibly, the most depressing piece of television that you will see this year. (Source: Bloom 2012, p.14 link)

The documentary paints a grim, Dickensian portrait of the unpleasant, exploitative working conditions endured by some of the world's most attractive people (Source: Grant 2013, p.6)

The specific milieu here is the unlikely channel between Siberia and Tokyo, with scouts and agencies scouring the Russian countryside to find fresh faces for the hungry Japanese market. While trends vary from year to year, the prevailing appetite is for tall, young, cute, skinny and borderline pre-pubescent. The intriguing opening sets the scene for this less-than-wholesome unregulated meat market. A sea of blank-faced girls in swimsuits parades before a dehumanizing panel that mandates dieting even for the most sylph-like candidates. (Source: Rooney, 2011, np link)

In Girl Model, Ashley [Arbaugh] is a link in the supply chain that provides Siberian models to the Japanese fashion market - where a pre-adolescent, doe-eyed 'Russian look' is all the rage. On behalf of Noah, Russia's largest scouting agency, she attends makeshift rural beauty pageants, where girls, usually accompanied by anxious parents hoping for better futures for their families, compete in droves for modeling contracts. (Source: Anon 2013a, np link).

Young girls – barely teens and all legs, curtains of hair and jutting clavicles – slouch against the drab Pepto Bismol pink wall in their rural Siberia community centre. They are then weighed, prodded and measured like livestock at auction; numbers droop from their scant string bikinis to help scout Ashley Arbaugh (herself a former model) identify her favourites. (Source: Atkinson 2012, np link)

This is a roomful of anxious, nearly-naked children. (Fridkis, 2012, np link)

Girl Model shows scouts and agents in Siberia seizing triumphantly on the most promising girls, relieved to have snagged them before anyone else. In one scene, they admire photos of a 12-year-old in panties and thigh-highs, pronouncing her 'extraordinary.' (Source: Copeland, 2012, np link)

Nadya … catches Arbaugh’s eye. (Source: Sauers, 2012, np link)

'Girl Model,' … tells the story of  …  Nadya Vall, a shy, lanky blonde who is not entirely convinced of her own beauty. 'I’m such a gray mouse,' she whispers self-consciously to the camera. (Source: Edelson, 2012, np link)

[Arbaugh's] newest discovery, Nadya, a self-described 'ordinary country girl,' who until recently shared a bed with her grandmother in the family’s small, modest house. (Source: Teotonio 2012, np link)

[The] scout praises a skeletal 13-year-old named Nadya, whose youthful look she predicts will be perfect for the Japanese market. 'She looks young, almost like a prepubescent girl,' the scout says.' (Source: Copeland, 2012, np link)

The prepubescent and lanky girl is beautiful with wide blue eyes and blonde hair that agents tug at as they ask her to lean further into their cameras. She struts across the room in a bikini, her lithe frame teetering over high heels. (Source: Beck 2012a, np link)

The reason Nadya was chosen is explained by, Ashley Arbaugh, the model scout in her statement: 'My business in Japan you can’t be young enough and youth is beautiful there is a luminosity there is something in the skin there something innocent and that’s what my eye has been trained to see from Japan so I look at beauty and I think of young girls beautiful.' (Source: Borras 2013, np link)

Nadya … dreams of liberating her family from poverty with a lucrative modeling career. (Source: Beck 2012a, np link)

Nadja … wins a prize: a trip to Tokyo, where she will earn a guaranteed minimum of $8,000 for two months work. Or so she is told. (Source: Sauers, 2012, np link)

Nadya is as incredulous as she is excited at being chosen an 'Elite Star' by Ashley. (Source: Anon 2013a, np link).

After her discovery, Nadya and her family look forward to the money they assume she will make in Tokyo. (Source: Fuller 2012, np link)

So she's shipped by plane to Tokyo, not much different than a product in plastic packaging. (Source: Fulton 2013, np link)

As the models arrive in Tokyo, they must make their way on their own way to their apartments with no resources other than a slip of paper. (Source: Friede 2012, np)

Nadya leaves school, and her hometown of Novosibirsk, setting off, unsupervised, for Tokyo, where she will share a tiny, one-room apartment with another Russian teen model. She’s left to fend for herself and although she keeps an English-Russian dictionary close at hand, she’s unable to communicate. Like other girls, she’s told to lie about her age, saying she’s 15, and is put through a grueling schedule of casting calls and rejections. One day, Nadya’s contract is terminated without explanation. She returns home $2,000 in debt to the Japanese modelling agency to cover expenses such as her work visa, flight and apartment. Meanwhile, Arbaugh continued her search for the next fresh face - this, despite having hated her own experience as a model and conflicted feelings about the industry. Arbaugh seems critical, hinting at the unscrupulous behaviour of some in the industry and noting some young recruits wind up as prostitutes. Yet she continues in a business she describes as vacuous and 'based on nothing.' (Source: Teotonio 2012, np link)

Nadya arrives at the Tokyo airport, but no one is there to greet her. She is eventually delivered to the care of the Switch Agency, and her dreams of a glamorous modeling career begin to unravel. The travails of Nadya and her roommate, Madlen, with whom she shares a tiny apartment and a series of photo shoots and auditions, form the heart-wrenching core of Girl Model. The auditions yield some work, but the girls never receive any pay or copies of the ads that use their photos - despite being told all the while that building their portfolios is the most important thing they can do in Japan. Worst of all, beyond ferrying Nadya and others to their appointments, Switch's care turns out to be no care at all. Left to fend for themselves, the girls, who speak neither Japanese nor English, feel increasingly lost, homesick, tired and even hungry. Because the agency charges the girls for photos and they have to pay their own way in expensive Tokyo, they also find themselves in debt. In one of Girl Model's more chilling scenes, a Switch agent, while caught in traffic, is asked how it is that Noah, Switch and recruiters like Ashley can profit from girls who apparently don't make money and even end up in debt. 'From new faces I think we can't make money,' he says. 'They can get their, like, experiences; that is all.' Nadya's roommate, Madlen, purposely binges in order to invoke the clause in her contract that dictates that if she gains one centimeter in her waist, hips or bust, she'll be sent home. She leaves having racked up two centimeters in her waist and $2,200 in debt to Switch. When Nadya finishes her contract, she owes Switch $2,700 - a far cry from the 'minimum' $8,000 in earnings she was promised. Before leaving Tokyo, she finally finds a magazine with a picture of herself (her lovely face half-hidden by an oversized black wig) and purchases copies with her own meager funds. (Source: Anon 2013a, np link).

Documentary-makers Ashley Sabin and David Redmon clearly felt the ethical conflict of being exposed to Nadya's exploitation. At one point she is finally able to call home by using one of the filmmaker's phones (Source: Braithwaite 2013, np link).

Nadya Vall is on the balcony of a Tokyo building, pressing a cellphone to her ear, straining through the crackly connection to hear the voice of her mother, who is back home in Siberia. The 13-year-old … breaks down in tears. Despite numerous casting calls, there has been no work and she’s broke. 'Home,' she says through sniffles. 'I want to go home.' (Source: Teotonio 2012, np link)

Her unhappy experience in Tokyo no doubt echoes that of many unworldly girls packed off to Alienation Central, without language skills, social smarts or even the most rudimentary business savvy. (Source: Rooney 2011, np link)

After Ashley’s [Arbaugh's] initial discovery of Nadya, they rarely meet again (Source: Anon 2012c, np link)

[Nadya and Ashley's] stories are inextricably bound. As Nadya’s optimism about rescuing her family from financial hardship grows, her dreams contrast against Ashley’s more jaded outlook about the industry’s corrosive influence. (Source: Anon 2012c, np link)

Ashley walks around her spacious Connecticut home reminiscing - not so fondly - about her modeling days. (Source: S, 2012, np link)

When Arbaugh makes a brief, cheery visit to [Nadya's]  hovel … the purse swinging on her shoulder was by designer Bottega Veneta; that one bag costs almost as much as the earnings promised to Nadya by Arbaugh’s client. (Source: Atkinson, 2012 np link)

While Nadya makes the casting rounds, landing none of the 'guaranteed' work and racking up debt, Ashley points out the drawbacks of owning a glass house, discusses the crossover between modeling and prostitution and, most frightening, confesses her desire to have a baby. (Source: Linden 2012, p.8 link)

Ashley's inner conflicts about her future - sharpened by unexpected surgery for removal of a growth that is making her own waist expand -  are stark testimony to the fashion industry's economic and psychological hold on millions of people. 'I would be happy to be four months pregnant with a healthy thing, but this is just something that's growing for no reason,' she says. 'I want a baby because that's what I am born to do. ...' (Source: Anon 2013a, np link).

The earnings are a fiction and Nadya is obviously hopeless, broke and hungry and here, Arbaugh seems delusional about her role in their situation, and frustratingly mercurial. Something like knowing shame flickers across her face in one moment and she can’t look the camera in the eye. (Source: Atkinson 2012, np link)

[Arbaugh] seems almost vacant at times, and ignorant about the real situation into which she’s bringing these girls. (Source: S, 2012, np link)

We see [Ashley's] jaded searching for the next model from Siberia, while she knows the pain and suffering that she will cause this girl. This is shown through a series of old videos of Ashley lamenting her time in Tokyo. It's sadistic but the pathos is amazing. Culminating is the scene with the cyst, I will not tell you more but the symbolism is amazing. (Source: Zippy 2013, np link)

Intercut with excerpts from her own video diaries as a miserable teen model in Tokyo … [Ashley] spouts an off-putting mix of self-justification and self-loathing. (Source: Rooney 2011, np link)

Arbaugh is conflicted, alternately reticent and abashed to talk about her role in the cycle. Still, she admits she was damaged by her time as a model in the industry. 'I was the person who hated this business more than anybody, but now I’m 15 years in it,' she explains. … [She is] the most Dickensian of the characters [in the film]. If there is a Fagin, it’s the scout with the all-American smile. Arbaugh just might be the most dangerous of them all – just as complicit, but disguised as a friendly, trustworthy female face. (Source: Atkinson 2012, np link)

The heads of the modeling agencies are no more flatteringly represented. Tigran, an ex-military man who controls the Russian supply chain, appears to have convinced himself that he is providing a valuable service to economically disadvantaged girls. (Source: Rooney 2011, np link)

[He] sees his role as parallel to that of the biblical Noah ('for me in some way this is a religious matter'), saving the girls from drowning (in poverty, presumably). He also claims the moral high ground for steering the girls away from the temptations of drug use and prostitution (his strategy includes taking young models to the morgue as a cautionary tale). (Source: Atkinson 2012, p.7 link)

[These] educational methods … are questionable to say the least. And his Japanese counterpart, the ironically named Messiah, responds to ethical issues with obstinate evasion. (Source: Rooney 2011, np link)

[The] film doesn’t get into specifics, but there are hints that organized crime, and possibly prostitution, could be involved in these situations (Source: Johnson 2012, p.20 link)

Another model named Rachel tries to assign the blame for what happens to the girls who get lost in it. Is it the girls and their ambitions, or the agencies, or the magazines, or us? 'There is no one to blame,' she says, 'but the whole thing is so wrong.' (Source: Stone 2013, p.C2 link)

Girl Model is a sad story with frightening undercurrents. Filmed without commentary ... it comprises a bare-bones portrait of the bare-bones children who are found, used, and often discarded in ... a tough business. There's more than that, though lurking, just under surface. The head of the Japanese agency, for instance, is a man who 'loves models,' a characterization that is allowed to lie there, an unexploded time bomb. Girl Model makes no accusations, but its drive-by portrait of exploitation is haunting. (Source: Stone 2013, p.C2 link)

Girl Model is a lyrical exploration of a world defined by glass surfaces and camera lenses, reflecting back differing versions of reality to the young women caught in their scope. As we enter further into this world, it more and more resembles a hall of mirrors, where appearances can’t be trusted, perception become distorted and there is no clear way out. (Source: Anon 2012b, np, link)

... 'Girl Model' doesn’t aim for a redemptive finale. Ashley deems her practice 'an addiction' and the cyclical nature of the movie confirms that diagnosis. It ends where it began, with the introduction of another new teen recruit. The conclusion implies that the commodification of the female body is a disease with no obvious cure. (Source: Kohn 2012, np link)

Girl Model is a horror film about the worship and eventual mutilation of innocence. They only had to turn on the camera. (Source: Gold 2012, np link)

Girl Model puts the lie to the glamorous portrayal of modeling provided by reality television programs and the glitzy images on the covers of high-fashion magazines. Instead, this poetic film lays bare for viewers a modeling industry rife with Ashleys and Nadyas, mirror images of exploitation and uncertainty. (Source: Anon 2013a, np link)

It deserves to be shown to teenagers, not necessarily as a warning, but at least as an eye-opener: This is how it works, kids. And it ain’t pretty. (Source: Schobert, 2012 np link)

'Girl Model' is essential viewing for adolescent girls who flip through fashion magazines or obsess over 'Top Model' without thinking about why. It’s a movie that says those who want to be like Ashley may end up like Ashley. (Source: Burr 2012, np link)

Extras on the DVD include text biographies of the filmmakers and six bonus video clips. There's some interesting material in theg the resulting videotapes. Gross, perhaps, but not out of line with a culture that treats barely pubescent girls as sex objects. (Source: Boslaugh 2013, np link).

Inspiration / Process / Technique / Methodology

Ashley Sabin and David Redmon are driven by an interest in unexpected or surprising global linkages. The global connections they examine in Girl Model are, just like the international modelling circuit itself, characterised by important imbalances of power. (Source: Literat, 2012, p.3 link)

The most amazing thing about Girl Model ... is the level of access the filmmakers achieved to people on the inside of the Siberia-to-Tokyo modeling pipeline. … The cinematography in Girl Model is workmanlike - mostly handheld shots with straightforward framing - but it gets the job done. In fact, the modesty of the film’s technical means is one of its strengths, as it creates the impression that you are observing the lives of these young women more or less as they happen. Although outrageous things happen in Girl Model, the film itself maintains an even keel, and Redmond and Sabin pay their viewers the compliment of assuming they don’t need to be told how to feel about each incident, but can observe and judge for themselves. (Source: Boslaugh 2013, np link)

Spending four years exploring Ashley and Nadya’s world left us with a feeling of forlornness that we wanted to translate into the structure of our verité story. After we finished shooting, we set out to craft scenes that were engaging but at the same time, built toward a looming sense of dread, imitating the situation in which the subjects in Girl Model find themselves. We edited while shooting, and then hired two editors (Alan Canant and Darius Marder) to help shape the story out of 200 hours of footage. We started and ended Girl Model with the intention of documenting a story, not developing a thesis statement or exposing the practices of specific individuals or companies. To us, above all, our film is a verité narrative. That said, we do recognize that Girl Model stirs up audience emotions and begs questions of conscience, perhaps even more so than it would have if we had tried to argue a point using facts and stats. (Source: Sabin & Redmond 2012, np link)

'It's really about an audience feeling deeply conflicted, walking away from the film with questions,' [says Sabin]. 'It's not to slam the fashion industry. It's more about inviting a participatory space to have a conversation.' (Source: Plelan 2012a, np link)

The documentary is structured in a fascinating way. Although we follow Nadya’s journey in being a new face, her story is coupled with Ashley’s self-awareness of the business. Ashely being a former model, she is able to provide real insight as to how plenty of modeling agencies manage to sustain themselves. Also, she tells us how she feels about being a part of a parasitic cycle. It is most interesting that she does not feel passionate about her job, labeling it as having little to no importance, but decides not to walk away from it because she values the freedom of not having a nine-to-five job. The videos of her as an eighteen-year-old model in 1999 are both sad and haunting. But Ashley is no mentor. What makes watching her more compelling is the undercurrent of her narcissism. She says she cares about the girls but finds it difficult to put into words as to what extent. Upon looking closely, if she really cares as much as she says she is, she would have focused more on the issue like having a conversation with the audience - some probably interested in modeling - on how to play the game of being a new model in an agency. Instead, we get a tour of her spacious home. Watching Nadya alone and trying to make her mark in a foreign country is scary. The tension is amplified when there is just silence in between new developments, the lack of soundtrack and score underlining the emptiness of the so-called modeling career. Nadya is like a seed that is planted in a desert. She waits and waits while nothing much happens other than the fact that her debt to the modeling agency is on the rise. Despite her situation becoming increasingly hopeless, we root for her anyway because she just wants to provide a better life for her family. 'Girl Model' strips away the glitter, the make-up, and the photoshop (Source: Patrick 2013, np link)

How did the idea of exploring the murky world of modelling come about? [Director Ashley Sabin:] We started this project around four years ago through an American model scout, Ashley [Arbaugh]. She introduced us to the concept of finding young girls from Siberia and sending them to Japan for modelling assignments. But what we saw in Siberia was interesting with hundreds of young girls in their early teens lining up for evaluation. That was the starting point. After Ashley finalised a few young girls, we went back to Siberia to find their families and understand why these girls chose to leave their small towns. And that led us to Japan, their difficulties and their reality of living alone for the first time when they are just 13. How did you manage to penetrate the fashion industry, which is notoriously secretive? [Sabin:] We experienced that during Paris Fashion Week when they said: ‘You are not Italian Vogue, we don't care about you.' Our access point was the model scout Ashley and the modelling agency in Russia called Nova Models. During the making of the documentary, we realised that Ashley was an interesting character. She is conflicted yet in denial. On one hand, she feels a certain degree of guilt about what she is doing to these girls. At the same, she also profits from it. That duality was complex and we tried to capture that in the documentary. (Source: Radhakrishan 2011, np link)

How did the story come to you, or how did you first find out about Siberian girls modelling in Japan? Ashley [Sabin]:This is the first time we’ve made a film where the idea came to us from the main subject. I attended Pratt Institute with Ashley Arbaugh where we both studied Art History. I remembered her because she was frequently gone on casting trips and afterwards would ask me for the notes to our ‘Chemistry of Art’ class. Years later, Ashley saw a couple of our films when they screened at MoMA and got in touch to suggest that a film about her work scouting young girls to be sent overseas to model would make an interesting documentary. We were wary at first, but after hours of long conversations, we decided that there really was something to the story and so decided to try and make it work. Was the main theme, subject that motivated you towards the story, conveyed by the end of the film or is the outcome a different one from what you intended to? David [Redmon]: The process of making Girl Model was like jumping down a rabbit hole. We knew that we would be brought to some very dark places, but we didn’t know who would bring us there, or where they would be. This tension of not knowing is how we setup the framework of the story. The audience experiences this labyrinth the same way we did – and the same way the young girls do in the film. Did you predict the girls would not find success in their dream during the course of the film, and at what point? Ashley: We had doubts, but Ashley kept stressing that in Japan the girls make money. Our first point of concern occurred when we read the contract. It was in English and Japanese, yet we were told the local agency translated it to Nadya. Nadya’s mother insisted that she would bring home $8,000US. However, in the fine print of the contract it read, '…after costs were deducted …' and '… this contract can be altered any time by Switch.' These examples were two red flags. When we arrived at the airport in Japan, no-one from the agency picked up Nadya (and the same thing happened to Madlen). We realised that the girls’ dreams were about to be met with a harsh reality of the modelling business: a desire to earn profit from female youth. Did you research previous character’s stories (other models from previous years) before getting into production? If so what were your findings? David: Making Girl Model was like entering a house of mirrors and looking at the different distortions of reality. We had moments of clarity, such as when we met Rachel who introduced us to other models. (Source: Anon 2012a, np link)

The idea for the film actually came from Arbaugh, who had attended college with co-director Sabin. Given that she emerges here as a whiny mess, screaming for therapy, it’s hard to imagine she doesn’t now regret making that call to suggest that her work might be juicy documentary fodder. (Source: Rooney 2011, np link)

Is she [Ashley Arbaugh] happy with the documentary? [Sabin:] No. It's always tricky when you are filming someone as their life is happening. When a camera documents your day, it throws up different points of view and realities. Ashely didn't really understand the film and said that it doesn't make any sense. Regarding her being involved in the editing process, she only asked us to make a few changes in the name of agencies. We obliged because it did not alter the impact of the story. Our relationship has become very tricky. (Source: Radhakrishan 2011, np link)

'David [Redmon], can you help me?' Nadya says, a break in the objective, observational role of the filmmakers. (Source: Friede 2012, np)

'We were dealing with minors going into situations where we as adults have no idea what is going to happen,' Sabin says. 'At what point do you turn off the camera? At what point do you try to help her?' (Source: Edelson 2012, p.10 link)

You could have challenged Ashley... [Arbaugh's] attitude towards the girls, and her career. Were you ever tempted to? Ashley [Sabin]: We set up the story to leave ourselves out as much as possible. At one point, we had a version with how Ashley brought the project to us (which included the making of the film). This version of the film seemed irrelevant and uninteresting; it became a smaller film about deception. Yes, we challenged Ashley numerous times, but we decided to let each character be who they are. An audience may experience frustration with this choice, but we believe it makes for a stronger responsive experience. Do you think the unfolding events with the girls, after an unsuccessful modelling prospect, would have been any different whist in Japan if the camera hadn’t been there? David: I would think that cameras would have had the opposite effect: it helped protect Nadya. I would imagine the cameras put pressure on the situation for everything to appear like it is a well-oiled machine. … I think Nadya’s age made the entire situation very difficult. We were the adults and she looked to us for support when people in the modelling industry wouldn’t assist. From time to time, when the situation demanded it, we stepped in to provide guidance, although none of these experiences are in the film. Frankly, though, I don’t know what she would have done or how she would have navigated her complications without at least a little bit of our help. … Ashley: Additionally, the language barrier made the situation more complicated for everyone. For instance, when Nadya first arrived at the airport in Tokyo, she was expected to find her way to the agency on her own, with just an address on a slip of paper. She didn’t speak the language, didn’t know how to get there, and didn’t know her rights. She didn’t know who to ask or where to turn, and hadn’t ever travelled abroad. Had we not intervened to help her find the way, she would have become exasperated, completely lost in Tokyo and probably would have lost all trust in us. It was one of the rare times we decided to intervene. (Anon 2012a, np link).

The directors of Girl Model have said in an interview they are surprised by the media’s characterization of their documentary as an exposé, having intended it as a study of two characters whose parallel lives intersect only in the moment of scouting. (Source: Taylor 2012, np link)

'We hope people walk away and question what’s behind the images we see every day, whether it’s on a billboard or in a magazine,' says Sabin. (Source: Teotonio 2012, np link)

Discussion / Responses

I am fairly certain that this film is still quite unknown - I think this is because most people like to watch documentaries about global warming, and America? failing education system, you know things that aren? as 'shallow' or 'stupid' as fashion. Also, a lot of people probably do NOT care about the person behind the pictures as they walk past them, so why search for a documentary about it? (Source: Bartlett-Roylance 2013, np link)

You’ve been reading a book, and your favourite chracter died about halfway through, but you’re convinced that he / she / it is not actually dead and will come back at the end of the book. Then they don’t. You sit there, having finished the book, staring at the last page and thinking What just happened to me? Why did I deceive myself for so long? Why is the world so awful? That’s the effect that Girl Model had on me. (Source: Nesbitt 2013, np link)

Nadya Vall … is the single most mature voice in all of 'Girl Model.' By comparison, most of the adults in this disturbing rap against the global modeling pipeline behave like deluded apologists for a system that feeds on the young. (Source: Biancolli 2012, np link)

You know this doc about skinny girls recruited as models from Siberia isn’t going to be a happy experience when images of teens queueing up at auditions, shivering and half-naked, remind you of nothing less than footage from concentration camps. (Source: Calhoun 2012, p.67 link)

I had to turn it off after camera peered around the room. It reminded me of a lineup of women on their way to the gas chamber in a concentration camp. That’s the thought I got; I don’t know about you. Sad, Gaunt, Afraid of their Future. (Source: craig 2012, np link)

One of the most difficult tasks for a critic is to review content that is morally repugnant. Watching Girl Model, a shocking American documentary that follows a New York model scout and the 13-year-old Siberian girl she sends unchaperoned to Tokyo, it is hard to know whether to applaud directors David Redmon and Ashley Sabin for exposing the underside of the fashion business – or demand they abandon their documentarian stance and rescue young Nadya on the spot. (Source: Taylor 2012, np link)

I watched this movie about a week ago and I cannot for the life of me get it out of my head ...  After watching this film the only thing I could post to Facebook and Twitter was a simple adjective: Harrowing. (Source: Zippy 2013, np link)

Predatory. Disturbing. (Source: Wheelock 2012, np link)

No matter how anyone tries, you can not justify someone so young in such a cutthroat, cruel business that routinely disposes of its models like used cat litter. (Source: tony 2012, np)

They are commodities. They are easily replaceable. They are a renewable resource, you might say. (Source: Dowling 2012, np link)

It’s nothing more than a glorified meat contest. It’s sad, and it should be illegal. (Source: frank12 2012, np link)

There are many people in the movie who rationalize what they?e doing. One woman says that nobody can be blamed for this systematic exploitation. A man says that it? good to get the girls as young as possible, because the younger they are, the less likely they will be to fall prey to a rich guy who wants them for sex. But it all comes back to Ashley, who seems completely incapable of self-awareness and yet has these little moments of clarity where she can (sort of) admit that she is perpetuating the cycle of abuse and exploitation that made her a tragic case in the first place (Source: ericbollman 2013, link).

On many levels, this is a movie about delusions. Nadya and [her flatmate in Tokyo] Madlen are deluded into thinking they will make it big in Japan, just as their family believe their daughters will be able to lift them out of poverty. The man who runs the scouting agency that discovers Nadya fancies himself to be something of a savior. 'I am trying to save all these young girls,' he says with a perfectly straight face, right after telling Ashley that he sometimes takes the models to a St. Petersburg morgue in order to impress upon them the dangers of drug abuse. And Ashley herself seems to fight an ongoing battle to become more delusional, to not see or to ignore the truths of the industry she supports and feeds. And as for all of us, we are forced to examine our own fantasies of beauty and perfection. Those faces we see in magazines, those bird-like bodies we watch coming down runways - those are real people, real women, real girls. The gloss of the camera and bright lights often obscures tear-stained faces and ugly realities (Source: Fulton 2013, np link)

[Ashley] knows what Nadya does not, which is that most of the models will never get any significant amount of paying work, and will return home owing thousands of dollars borrowed from Switch. Even worse, some of them will become involved in prostitution - one profession in which where there’s always a market for leggy young blondes - as a means to pay back their debt. The whole business puts me in mind of the scene in The Godfather (the book; it was cut from the movie) in which the moral decay of Hollywood is symbolized by the producer Jack Woltz and his taste for sex with underage girls, a proclivity satisfied by a succession of stage mothers offering up their daughters in the hopes of getting a break in the business. (Source: Boslaugh 2013, np link).

Watching Ms. Arbaugh position two baby dolls on her couch ('I had three, but I dissected one') and display her special box filled with snapshots of models’ appendages, the film tilts toward surreal horror. (Source: Catsoulis 2012, p.9 link)

Since the idea of this documentary came from batsh*t crazy Ashley Arbaugh, the directors seem to tiptoe around any wrong doing on her part, although they let her own words and videos do some fairly loud talking on her behalf. I feel like they were on the cusp of delving into more of the darker side of the business but never pushed far enough. (Source: harmonov 2013, np link)

I was watching Blow Up last night and thinking of this film. For me these films raised the question of truth and beauty. In Blow Up the camera tells the truth however in Girl Model it is a lie, this makes both films terrifyingly real. … I truly felt the dreamy nightmares of this film. It is more passive than an active criticism (many will see this as a fault but I see it as more interesting). This could have been a bold social criticism like last year’s Bully (that I hated for a lack of scope) but it remained its voice thought the feature and it really paid off for me. (Source: Zippy 2013, np link).

'I feel like there isn’t a solution to this … . At least for some issues in the modeling world (eating disorders, exploiting young girls) there are solutions. But this is just how the industry IS. There doesn’t seem to be another, viable business model.' (Source: Dairy Cat 2012, np link)

Yes, actually, there is another viable business model. It involves paying people fair wages and not exploiting under age girls. It happens in every other industry, why not modeling? If you want young girls, fine. Pay them fair wages, treat them with respect and dignity and don’t exploit their naivete and youth. (Source: ElTejon 2012, np link)

Models working conditions and rights are finally being addressed by people in positions to actually enforce changes. And after watching this film, it's clear that this new found awareness is coming not a moment too soon. (Source: Crotty 2012, np link)

To be fair, many industries have practices that, if they were showcased on a big screen, would draw ire or concern - just think about the food industry -  but the frankness with which Arbaugh and the agencies she works with assess and commoditize these children is frankly a little disturbing. (Source: Sauers 2012, np link)

GIRL MODEL: exactly the sort of film that should be shown in schools. If kids still want to model after that, at least their eyes are open. (Source: Billson 2012, np link)

Modelling agent dude so troubling. Talks about being surrogate father to very young girls (&tells em they r fat) @girlmodelmovie #supercreepy (Source: Ponzer [@jennpozner] 2012, np link)

@jennpozner wonders if model scout Ashley in @GirlModelMovie has Stockholm syndrome? A #teen raised by #fashion (Source: Schwartzman 2012, np link)

The audience can conclude that the industry has taken its toll on Ashley’s psyche, and she scouts strictly for money with no moral conscious about what happens to the clients. (Source: Threatt 2012 np link)

Will Nadya, and the other girls like her, be able to find anyone to help them navigate this maze, or will they follow a path like Ashley’s, having learned the tricks of the labyrinth but unable to escape its lure? Indeed, it’s difficult to know who these young girls can trust and where the industry will take them.' (Source: Anon 2012c np, link)

Arbaugh’s ambivalence was typical of insiders, says Sabin. 'A lot of times, (people) will turn a blind eye,' says the filmmaker. 'They’ll see something that bothers them but because there’s no way to report it or talk about it, and because it’s a business and there’s a bottom line, they end up closing their eyes.' (Source: Teotonio 2012, np link)

Because models are essentially selling their bodies for money, it is easy for them to accept the mindset of prostitution. A lot of times models choose to do both to earn money. It is a dark area of the business. The problem is some of these dark areas of modeling are alluded to by Ashley but never actually explored further by anyone else. It would have been nice to get answers by investigating whether prostitution or sex trafficking actually happens by confronting modeling agencies or even better, other ex-models who may have gone down that path. Without digging around for any validity, we must simply take Ashley’s word for it. Girl Model shows that there is not as much beauty in the modeling world as one might think. The opening scene will hook you in but by the end you will be left wanting more. Because many of the dark aspects of modeling were mentioned but rarely shown, the documentary suffered from telling-not-showing syndrome. Unfortunately, the majority of the runtime is spent on the surface rather than deeply exploring the topics that are brought up. (Source: Jansick 2012, np link)

It seems adults are hell bent on exploiting young girls and the younger the better. It's like a check list. Let's get them parading around in next to nothing to titillate the dumb male masses - tick. Let's give men more to look at and to **** off too - tick. Lets get the girls young enough so that they are easy to manipulate - tick. Let's objectify these young girls and have them pose as sexual objects - tick. Let's really get the creepy old pervs out there thinking they're entitled to have any girl they like - tick. Let's push the number of sexual assaults on young girls up by 80% - tick. I bet the seedy males running the p*rn industry are hanging around this event hoping to get some fresh young blood for their mainly male viewers. Funny how EVERYTHING is aimed at objectifying young girls yet young boys their age are more or less left alone. The whole thing is sick and the people running these modelling agencies should be hanging from the nearest tree for gross exploitation. (Source: MAFS 2012 np, link)

Well DM [Daily Mail] eat your heart out. This is just what the fashion editiors for the DM would absolutely love. Not too old and never too young. Hmmm.... worrying and very media worthy news I see! DM is all about youth and they have got it here. This article [reviewing Girl Model and criticising the modeling industry] is hypocritical because the DM is full of the same stuff! (Source: what's up? 2012 np, link)

Dailymail includes three such photographs of the young girls. Along with endless skimpy photos of the young teenagers Kendall and Kylie Jenner, and Courtney Stodden. And who can forget the child beauty pageant photos that dailymail claims is inappropriate but never fails to take the opportunity to publish them. Dailymail never stops with one photograph to make their point, they publish photo after photo. Why? Because much like YouTube videos, Dailymail also has the capability gather statistics on who clicks on these articles. And while the comments are filled with people who denounce these sorts of things, chances are Dailymail gets more clicks on these articles than anything else and most of the readers aren't the type to denounce such photos. For example, Courtney Stodden's videos on YouTube shows the statistics that most of her videos are searched for and viewed by 'males, aged 30-50.' I bet these Dailymail articles gets the same stats. In conclusion, shame on you, DM. (Source: Cain L 2012, np link)

If anything, the documentary is more about former communist countries with large income inequalities, whose family were left behind in terms of social mobility. NOT about American models. I suggest anyone who’s interested in this topic to also watch Lilya 4-ever, a film about a young Estonian girl caught in the sex trafficking trade. (Source: Ab Normal 2012, np link)

'Because the modelling industry is crossing so many different borders, and all the laws are different, there’s not a unified force that’s regulating (the industry),'  [said director] Sabin ... (Source: Teotonio 2012, np link)

It’s really difficult for a number of reasons to regulate the industry. These girls are going across many many borders and there is no organization that is monitoring and regulating those laws. There are just now organizations coming in like Model Alliance. But there is not an overarching organization. I think until there is, there is no punishment, and you can get away with this type of treatment. Getting away with it probably means less questions being asked, the ability to make money in ways that are easier. It’s a bottom line. It’s a business. That’s why our film is not meant to point fingers at any one individual but invites people to see the complexities of the industry. Until there is some form of regulation, the cycle will continue. (Source: Sabin in Beck, 2012b, np link)

How can they get a work permit to allow them to work in these foreign places? Source: Kiernan 2012 np, link)

The young … and the poor being exploited. Nothing new here. Rather a damming indictment of Putins lack-lustre, and inept ruling of his country that has left many millions of poor people far worse off now than they were when under strict Communist rule. At least then, they had jobs, homes, and some sort of social structure in place, now Russia is littered with run down slum apartments, drugs, soaring crime rates, mass unemployment and very often damn all future for the young, particularly in remote areas, and if they are poor as well. No wonder then these kids parents want them to get into a new life with money and a future … whatever it takes .... So sad. (Source: Dyer 2012 np, link)

Disgusting countries. Where are their parents? When we hear about child brides in some parts of the world, no one makes any reservation of admitting that the country / its culture are disgusting - but no one makes similar comments about these situations. Why not? The blame for this rests entirely upon that country, its laws, parents, and culture. (Source: Anon 2012g, np link)

It is a great pity they need to look in Siberia to find attractive models. Unfortunately, the vast majority of females in the UK and USA have let themselves turn into blubbery whales with the personality of an angry rhino. So, the agencies have to search elsewhere for attractive looks and personalities. (Source Anthony in Curie 2012, np link)

Scientific research shows that the human brain creates neural passageways every time it experiences something new. Neural passageways retain their strength every time you repeat the 'new experience'. The market created a demand for prepubescent looking models. Now every time your son or daughter stands at the grocery store and flips through a magazine, they are retaining the neural passageway that tells them 'this is beauty'. Over and over again it’s a mass brain washing and our society in general has come to accept that this is beauty. This is not unique just to the US. For example, the Japanese market likes their models looking very young and child-like. This can also be seen in all of the Japanese anime that characters look prepubescent as well. A concerning thought is who else besides kids and teens are enjoying looking at these child models? The possible answer is sickening, as every day the headlines scream out about another child who was victimized by adult (in some cases even a teacher or cop) often with the relationship being started online. (Source: Borras 2013, np link).

Rachel Blais, 26, a Montreal model who is featured in the film and is critical of the industry, will be at the opening night screening for a panel discussion. Blais was working in Tokyo when she met the filmmakers, David Redmon and Ashley Sabin, as they followed Nadya on her journey. Since the film’s premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, Blais has begun to advocate for models’ rights. Blais, who has travelled the world as a model since age 17 and has appeared in Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar, says working conditions for some young models is akin to child labour. 'In the West, we say (child labour) is not right, yet we’re doing the same thing by putting these girls in the magazines,' says Blais. The models work long hours without breaks, are occasionally unpaid or paid only in kind, miss or quit school and often go without parental supervision. 'It’s a part of modelling that’s not talked about at all,' says Blais. 'The young girls, who are travelling the world to represent the image of the perfect woman when they’re still children.' (Source: Teotonio 2012, np link)

Another problem with employing 13-and14-year-old models is that agents cannot be sure how the girl’s body will develop. If her body doesn’t develop the way it is expected to, it can lead to drastic measures on the part of the agency and the model. 'A lot of girls have boob jobs, nose job when they’re not even 18 years old…Agencies will actually advance [money for the surgeries], but then the models are even more in debt and there’s even more pressure for them to keep up a certain physical appearance,' Blais told us, adding that she was asked to get liposuction when she was just 18. (Source: Plelan 2012a, np link).

Why, Blais wonders, is it against the law in Canada to possess photos of scantily clad minors in provocative poses, yet it’s acceptable for similar images to appear in magazines, under the guise of fashion? (Source: Teotonio 2012, np link)

Girls should not be made up to represent women in magazines, Blais 26, said ... Even the UN has conventions regarding child labour, she adds, which seem to be ignored in the case of models. (Source: Friede 2012, np)

Firstly, to become a model is by CHOICE, so i'm not quite sure how someone on this [discussion] board can compare it to slavery. Also, I have worked in the industry and met many models, all of which are a healthy size and seem happy to be doing what they're doing … paid to travel the world, appear in magazines and adverts … a job most people could only dream of doing! Not to mention there are few girls doing it properly at 13. The youngest one i've met was 16, and plenty of times we've been told they aren't available because they are at school / in a lecture. Honestly, you can be sure this film set out to show the industry in a negative light. (Source: Anna 2012, np link)

In my entire time working in the industry, I have never met a prospect who didn’t want to be a model. I’ve seen girls and guys practically beg and cry to be models, whether it’s at a modeling convention or a scouting trip. I’ve had plenty of models ask me why they aren’t working more or why they aren’t making more money. I’ve seen models who are 35 and still desperate to work as models even though their prime has passed. Why wouldn’t they just secure a regular 9-5 job with a steady paycheck? Because they want to be models. They cannot live with the thought of not being models. The younger ones get wine and dined for free, getting into clubs without waiting in line so the club owners can seem trendy. Girls whose parents don’t have two dimes to rub together are able to buy houses and cars for their parents. How many industries do you get paid $2,000 to the sky’s the limit for a day of work without being required to have any skills, expertise, or talent? No one is holding a gun to their heads forcing them to wear couture and get the red carpet rolled for them. If a girl would rather stay in her native town and live in poverty, she certainly has the prerogative to do that. (Source: Khona 2012, np link)

These deceased models have three commonalities; death at an early age, cause of death being self-destruction and they were all models. The deaths of famous models don’t go unannounced. For others, their families decided to speak out to the press. But how many of these tragic deaths have gone unnoticed? … Natasha Duncan, United States, 2001, 21, Suicide - Elisa Bridges, United States, 2002, 28, Drug overdose - Nafisa Joseph, India, 2004, 25, Suicide - Brian Bianchini, United States, 2004, 25, Suicide - Luisel Ramos, Uruguay, 2006, 22, Anorexia nervosa - Kuljeet Randhawa, India, 2006, 30, Suicide - Ana Carolina Reston, Brazil, 2006, 21, Anorexia nervosa - Katy French, Ireland, 2007, 24, Drug overdose - Hila Elmalich, Israel, 2007, 33, Anorexia nervosa - Eliana Ramos, Uruguay, 2007, 18, Anorexia nervosa - Randy Johnston, United States, 2008, 20, Drug overdose - Hayley Marie Kohle, Canada, 2008, 26, Suicide - Ruslana Korshunova, Kazakhstan, 2008, 20, Suicide - Erin Spanevello, Canada, 2008, 21, Drug overdose - Lucy Gordon, United Kingdom, 2009, 28, Suicide - Daul Kim, South Korea, 2009, 20, Suicide - Woo Seung-yeon, South Korea, 2009, 25, Suicide - Tiffany Simelane, Swaziland, 2009, 21, Suicide - Viveka Babajee, Mauritius, 2010, 37, Suicide - Isabelle Caro, France, 2010, 28, Anorexia related - Filip Kapisoda, Montenegro, 2010, 22, Suicide - Lina Marulanda, Colombia, 2010, 29, Suicide - Tom Nicon, France, 2010, 22, Suicide - Ambrose Olsen, United States, 2010, 24, Suicide - Cibele Dorsa, Brazil, 2011, 36, Suicide - Gabby Joseph, United Kingdom, 2011, 16, Suicide - Yu-ri Kim, South Korea, 2011, 22, Suicide - Miyu Uehara, Japan, 2011, 24, Suicide - Jeniffer Viturino, Brazil, 2011, 17, Suicide - Claudia Boerner, Germany, 2012, 32, Suicide - Brittany Wallace, United Kingdom, 2012, 19, Anorexia related (Source: Blais 2012, np link)

This (and many other articles and shorts I’ve seen lately) focus solely upon the 'supply – those who facilitate the modelling industry. No mention is ever made about the demand. A program I listened to recently was about the psychological damage fashion magazines do to the readers (almost exclusively women), how viewing idealized images of women depresses these readers. Who’s holding a gun to their heads and making them buy and consume this stupidity? (Source: Mike 2012, np link)

The agent looks like a bear in a bee hive. I would be appalled if a man like him glanced towards my daughter being her age. A girl sent to Tokyo on her own, a nice man treating her really nicely only if she does this and that, then oh she needs to relax so take this and that and here she goes down the spiral. Awful industry and just hope my daughter will be sensible and find something normal. (Source: janka 2012, np link)

As a parent decides what to do about this, there are some solutions that have come to mind: - Remember to tell your children they are beautiful in a world were true beauty is taken for granted. You really can’t give them too many reminders from a loved one. - If you see your child looking online at magazine ads remind her (or him) that those people have been photoshopped to look as if they are 'perfect'. Real people don’t look like that. Look online for stars without makeup to help show reality. - Watch Girl Model Movie Documentary with your preteen /teen. This is the documentary that spurred this article. - Families can talk about Girl Model‘s message about the modeling industry. Ask them questions like, 'What don’t you see when you look at a beautiful girl’s photo in a magazine?' - Discuss body image issues with your kids. What does it say about modeling when some of the bikini-clad girls are called 'too fat' or the scout says certain countries want to see only super skinny, super young girls? Could they be skinny because they live in poverty without access to proper nutrition? -  Monitor your child’s activity on the computer, who they are talking to, what they are looking at and how much time they are spending on the internet. Remember that too much online exposure can cause a false sense of reality and depression because the perfection of the people on display can seem so unattainable. - And this one is just for you to practice. Your kids are exactly that… kids. Don’t treat them like adults. Remember that they haven’t emotionally arrived yet and that they need your love and protection. Loving them means making sure that they are not being exposed to things that they are not ready for yet. This is why monitoring your kid’s online and mobile experiences is important. (Source: Borras 2013, np link).

I downloaded this documentary off of iTunes. Glad I saw it - very shocking and sad, but well worth the watch. Nadya is a very shy but sweet girl, I really do wish her the very best. (Source: Louise 2012, np link)

Impact / Outcomes

Even before Girl Model was released, it caused quite a stir for touching upon such heated subjects as models ages, rights and working conditions, which the fashion industry has, in the past, tended to ignore or overlook. (Source: Crotty 2012, np link)

Girl Model had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and has since made the rounds on the festival circuit, including a screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival last month. When asked how audiences have been responding to the film, Sabin replied that 'shock' has been the most typical reaction. 'I think people are pretty disturbed. We certainly were. It doesn’t surprise me that people are responding to the material that way.' (Source: Clift 2012, np link)

Girl Model: Storyville, exposing the sexual exploitation of underage models in Japan, was withdrawn from the BBC2 schedule amid heightened sensitivities over the Jimmy Savile affair. A Panorama investigation into the Savile scandal is due to be aired on Monday. (Source: Sherwin 2012, np link)

BBC chiefs axed a probe into the 'dehumanising culture' of young fashion models amid the panic around the Jimmy Savile scandal gripping the Corporation. (Source: Robertson 2012, p.9)

Since its premiere at TIFF last September, Girl Model has generated much discussion in the modelling world about child exploitation. (Source: Anderson 2012, p.5 link)

Girl Model has garnered strong audiences and overwhelming critical acclaim for both its provocative subject matter and its realistic portrayal of what many think is a glamorous profession. (Source: Fuller 2012, np)

David [Redmon]: … we have been speaking with two models (Dunja Knezevic and Victoria Keon-Cohen) who have formed a union in the UK called Equity Models Union. The union is exciting because, hopefully, it’s an internal shift in protecting models rights. (Source: Anon 2012a np link)

Audiences members are often outraged to witness some of the more disturbing aspects of the underbelly of the modeling and fashion industries - the illegal working conditions, the manipulation and exploitation of young, malleable girls. Some want a space to participate in discussions, events or actions around these problems, and to learn how they can hold the responsible parties accountable. This inspired us to create an outlet for these reactions as we strategized the film’s distribution. We conducted a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to raise an outreach budget, and began fueling conversations about Girl Model’s themes in social media and beyond. Raising awareness and media literacy among young boys and girls has become a major focus of our efforts. We’re working with Rachel Blais, who is featured in the film, and Outreach Coordinator Nancy Schwartzman to get young people talking, and to help book the film in high schools. Recognizing that youth access their media online, Nancy (@fancynancynyc) and Rachel (@RachelBlais1) have developed a social media campaign to provide a platform to hear from models who have been silenced by the industry, using the Twitter hashtag #askagirlmodel. We have also built partnerships with The Model Alliance, Equity. Inspired by the activism of Spark Summit and Girls Leadership Institute, we hope to partner with them as well We didn’t set out to create a tool for advocacy, but it’s been highly rewarding to see Girl Model spark complex and productive dialogues as it enters the media landscape. (Source: Sabin & Redmon 2012, np link)

After screening Girl Model all over the world we have found the most prominent question has been, 'What kind of action can I take?' It's not always an easy question given the lyrical films we make, but it's not an impossible question given how the documentary is hitting an emotional chord with audiences. During production we began working with model Rachel Blais. She took on the important role of our fashion industry adviser.  She is also featured in the documentary. So far Rachel has booked the film at theaters, garnered important national press, and passed out surveys after screenings for audience reactions. The first law Rachel is recommending is no more minors (under 18 years old) represented in adult fashion, and additionally to stop granting work visas to underage models. Her passion to change industry-wide standards is exciting!  We want Rachel’s passion to become a reality.  Our goal is to work with Rachel and an experienced outreach coordinator to organize an audience engagement campaign alongside the September US theatrical release.  We want to target educational (University/High Schools) and non-profit audiences with the hopes of raising awareness. … Our goal is to raise $12,000. The funds will be used for the following: - Organize and book a National educational screening series (Colleges, Universities, High Schools, and Non-profits organizations) - Travel to screenings - Promotional materials (poster, postcards) - Develop DVD extra Educational & Online guides - Manage content on social media/grassroots marketing (Source: Sabin 2012, np link)

Rachel Blais started her international modelling career in 2002. After a trip to India where she did volunteer work, Rachel met Girl Model co-directors David Redmon and Ashley Sabin in Tokyo in 2009. Since then she has acted as the fashion consultant for the film and has been assisting on it’s development. Since Girl Model premiere at Tiff in September 2011 Rachel has been actively attending film festivals with Girl Model. She's also helped organize the premiere screenings of Girl Model in London, Uk and Montreal, Canada. By speaking out at screenings and to the media, Rachel has become a spokes-person for the film and for the fight against child labor practices in the fashion industry. Rachel has been on the model committee for the Trade-Union Equity in the Uk since 2011 as she feels strongly about the importance of creating regulations to protect models in the fashion industry, but even more to stop using children, under 18 years old, to models as adults. With her experiences and observations of the industry she believes laws banning children to model in the adult fashion world is the only way for certain very negative practices within the industry to change and for regulations to be respected in the industry for adult models. (Source: Sabin 2012, np link)

Some problems in the modelling world made headlines in February, when models in the U.S. launched Model Alliance. The non-profit group seeks workplace standards to address some issues raised in the film, including child labour laws. (Source: Teotonio 2012, np link)

At the [Girl Model] screening were representatives from Models Alliance, an advocacy group that aims to create better working conditions for models. Ms. Sabin said she hopes that organizations can use the film as a tool to create regulation, 'or at least have a conversation about why there is such a lack of transparency in a marketplace that is predominantly young women.'  (Source: Nikas 2012, np link)

… we jumped at the chance to watch the full film at a special fashion industry screening last week, hosted by the Model Alliance at the Sunshine Theater in New York. So did industry insiders like Natalie Joos, Scott Lipps, Milla Jovovich, along with a slew of models. (Source: Crotty 2012, np link)

On a rainy Wednesday evening last June, Sunshine Cinemas in Manhattan was bright with flashing bulbs as photographers snapped pictures of a gaggle of impossibly tall, impossibly beautiful women. The angelic onslaught was not a coincidence. They were all there to see a special screening of Girl Model ... the situation depicted is not at all uncommon, and the audience, made up of dozens of models, was rapt. After the credits, Canadian model Rachel Blais addressed the room. Her struggles were featured in the film, and she has become a spokeswoman for better treatment for fashion models, travelling to screenings and other speaking engagements. Because of her outspokenness, she noted, she is now treated like a pariah. 'I was dropped by my French agency, by my American agency everyone dropped me after the movie came out,' Blais told the crowd. 'The only reason my Canadian agency kept me on was because I appeared on TV so much they couldn't drop me without drawing attention. But I haven't worked in six months. This is the less than glamorous side of the modelling world, and its increasingly coming to mainstream attention. Behind the Photoshopped editorials and heavily made up surfaces, the industry still relies on unsafe, exploitative labour practices and a desperate workforce of scared young women. That, anyway, is the allegation put forth by a new advocacy group, the Model Alliance, which hosted the Girl Model screening. Facing down an industry mired in secrecy and reluctant to change, the Model Alliance has nonetheless won a series of small victories. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income for a model in America in 2010 was $US32,920, and though that might seem like a reasonable rate for standing around all day, consider that that is the average salary of all 1400 registered models. The bottom 10 per cent earn about $9.53 an hour, while the few supermodels those who are left, anyway skew the numbers. In 2012, the combined total of the top 10 highest paid global supermodels, according to Forbes, was just under $100 million. Almost half of that was earned by No.1 on the list, Gisele Bundchen. Of course, that figure only accounts for models who report their income not those, such as Girl Model Nadya, who have been told to lie about their age or have conditional work visas and aren't going to be paying tax anytime soon. Not only is the pay meagre and often late, very few employers offer models overtime. Since they are essentially freelance contractors, they arent provided with health insurance. Subtract out of their pay the standard 20 to 25 per cent fee per gig that goes to a models agency, plus another 20 per cent finders fee the agency collects from the models employer, as well as repayment of any advances the agency fronted, for instance, to put up young models in one of those infamously cramped ghetto colonies known as model incubators: three bunk beds in a room, six girls in an apartment, $1600 each for rent. Often, models end up in debt to the very people who are supposed to be making them money. This assumes they get paid at all. Last March, 17 year old Hailey Hasbrook complained on Tumblr that she had worked 30 unpaid hours, some of them very late at night, in preparation for a Marc Jacobs show at New York Fashion Week. Her post was picked up by women's blog Jezebel, sparking outrage. Even more galling was the Jacobs brands matter of fact response, via Twitter: 'Models are paid in trade [meaning free designer clothing]. If they don't want to work w/us, they don't have to.' … According to its mission statement, the Model Alliance aims to encourage a safe and healthy work environment that protects models mental and physical wellbeing. They provide services to members who have been sexually or otherwise abused, and offer a 'free and discreet reporting service to put models in touch with industrial lawyers and union leaders who can advise them on workplace related issues. Its long term goals include an overhaul of the fashion industry's labour practices: provisions for health insurance, proper immigration status, negotiable commissions, harassment free workplaces, age limit enforcements and clearer financial contracts for working models. But founder Sara Ziff, a tousled blonde Columbia University political science graduate who has walked the runway for Prada, is quick to point out the Alliance is an advocacy group, not a trade union. Ziff has partnered with Fordham University's Fashion Law Institute and filled the non profits advisory board with prominent mannequins such as Coco Rocha, Milla Jovovich and Shalom Harlow. 'Its important to get the right message out there,' Ziff insists. 'Its not about finger pointing, or saying that this agency is bad, or this client is bad. You need to give people the chance to do the right thing.' (Source: Grant 2013, p.6)

'I just think what Sara Ziff is doing is very quixotic,' says Michael Gross, author of Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women. 'She's tilting at windmills. Because when you have a 14 year old modelling, the problem isn't the agencies. The problem isn't the fashion magazines. Its not Marc Jacobs. The problem is the parents. What kind of idiot parent lets their 14 year old go off to a big city to model without being on top of them?' Perhaps, but if the industry wasn't ready to take advantage of poor parenting, its consequences wouldn't be so destructive. It seems impossible to imagine that until recently there was so little oversight governing the role these young swans play in the multi billion dollar apparel trade. (Source: Grant 2013, p.6)

The story the film tells is a specific one. Do you think such practices are widespread throughout the industry? [Sabin:] I think it even exists in New York. I think it exists in Paris. I think it exists in Italy. The reason I think that is because we did a bunch of screenings with the Model Alliance, and afterward the comments that we would get - from models, agents, fashion designers, fashion photographers - were not only the same story, they were worse. That surprised me - that there are all these people in this industry who are maybe forced to turn a blind eye. Maybe they don’t participate in this act, but they know about it. (Source: Dixon 2013, np link)

Nadya Vall, now 17, at the center of it all, who has never even seen the film. She’s still working as a model and her agency is furious with the way she’s been portrayed in the film. Vall told us over email that she is confused and frustrated to learn, via letters and the internet, that she’s been depicted as a victim. … Nadya … told [us]: ‘I have not seen the movie, but I read the comments and a description for this film, recordings, and was unpleasantly shocked! … My agency Noah Models always sends me to good agencies abroad! do not deceive us and always care about us! [sic] in general I can say that I do not agree with the way modeling life is presented in the movie.' (Source: Phelan 2012a, np link)

A teenage model who was followed by a film crew for a documentary about underage girls in the business has expressed her anger about the way she was portrayed. Nadya Vall …  is 'humiliated' by the film and does not agree with the way the modelling industry has been portrayed in the film. … She continued: 'I kept on getting letters from unknown people from different countries. They were offering me help considering me a victim. 'These horrible people... did such a junk out of a real story.'  Her Russian agency, NOAH, added: 'Nadya and her parents are humiliated with this as well as our whole NOAH team.' The team behind the documentary, however, deny this claim, adamant there was no trickery involved when filming. Girl Model filmmaker, David Redmon said: 'The problem is when 12-15 year old girls are placed inside a marketplace of adults that sexualizes them and treats them as disposable goods, there’s an infinite potential for the situation to go awry.' (Source: Fleming 2012, np link)

In an unexpected turn, Nadya ... accused [the film's] male co-director of being 'a sexual predator.' Sabin and Redmon said this was false. (Source: Pierce 2012, np link)

The maker of the documentary Girl Model has denied making sexual advances towards his film’s then 13-year-old subject, the gravest of a series of accusations levelled against him and his co-director in the wake of the movie’s completion. 'I’ve done nothing wrong,' David Redmon tells [us] on the line from New York. … But in a disturbing twist on an already troubling tale, [Nadya] Vall has spoken out against the film, most recently in the form of a YouTube video ... in which the now 17-year-old model, still under contract with NOAH, asserts that the film 'does not reflect the truth or the reality in any manner', and accuses its male co-director of being 'a knifing manipulator and a sexual predator.' 'During his visit to Japan he made sexual advances at me,' reads the English language translation that accompanies Vall’s statement in Russian. 'He flew to Japan alone several times to meet with me. Until today, David keeps calling me as he is obsessed by me.' Vall’s video, posted on June 26, 2012 by a user named 'Dmitriy NoahModels', also claims that Redmon and Sabin 'cut and pasted segments of that film so that the result purely suites [sic] their needs … they wanted to cast a dark shadow on the modeling industry so then they could create a negative sensation that usually interests the Western public more and excites the media.' But Sabin and Redmon maintain that the accusations are part of an ongoing attempt by NOAH Models to discredit the film, with both of them likening Vall’s statement to 'a hostage video.' 'It’s so clear that Nadya didn’t write that,' says Redmon. 'It’s really disturbing,' agrees Sabin. 'That’s why we haven’t taken it down, because I think it says more about how the agency is than the film could.' NOAH Models is owned by Tigran Khachatrian, himself briefly interviewed at the beginning of Girl Model. In an email correspondence with [us], Khachatrian said that 'the movie called 'Girl Story' is a fraudulent movie that was made by cutting and pasting sentences that were not said or expressed in reality,' adding that 'we are currently filing a law suite [sic] against these two filmmakers who have disgraced true journalism.' (In both Vall’s video and Khachatrian’s statement to [us], the film is referred to as 'Girl Story'. Similarly, Redmon is referred to as 'Raymon.') When asked if he ever witnessed Redmon acting inappropriately towards Vall, Khachatrian responded that he 'had only met those two producers in Paris where I gave them a brief interview' and thus 'never had the opportunity to observe any of the events that happened in-between Nadia Val and David Raymon [sic].' However, Khachatrian does claim that 'now we are discovering that other models were also molested by him both in Russia and in Japan and they are willing to come forward.' Sabin contends that NOAH are simply targeting her husband because of his gender, stating that they 'were both there' when the film was being shot. (Source: Clift 2012, np link)

Are you still in touch with Nadya and the other girls? What are they doing now? Are they still in debt? Ashley [Sabin]: We recently receive a message from Nadya that she has decided to continue working as a model. Having gone through the emotional experience of her first trip to Japan, it’s a bit incredible to us that she’d want to continue that line of work. But we also understand that, because of her background and the economic situation of her family, she views the prospect of being a model as an opportunity to escape and work overseas. (Source: Anon 2012a, np link).

'Our relationship with Nadya has changed over the years,' Sabin said. 'When she got back from Japan a second time, we sent someone to her village to convey our concerns about these situations and these contracts, and to ask if she had made any money and what her debt situation was, and the fixer came back to us and said, ‘You have to stop asking questions. The family is going to get into trouble.’ We say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ on Facebook. That’s about it.' (Source: Johnson 2012, p.20 link)

… what is even more weird and creepy is that you can follow the girl model [Nadya] on twitter and see how her life is now. (Source: Bartlett-Roylance 2013, np link).

What was Ashley’s reaction to the finished documentary? [Sabin:] Her main criticism was that her experiences in Japan were positive and we portrayed them negatively, which is really interesting when you look at her personal diary footage. It’s totally contrary to what she said. We’re not in touch anymore. She really started pushing back on the film, so we just parted ways. Her reaction seemed really appropriate to her position, which was that she didn’t want to look at the situation very hard. What do you hope is the impact of the film? [Sabin:] The film doesn’t say don’t model. What we’re advocating for is: If these parents and their daughters decide to get involved in the industry, that they know their rights and know there is protection. [We are trying to tell them]: These are the questions you should be asking about your contract. Don’t have the agency translate it; insist that it’s in your local language. That’s what we’re really hoping comes out of [the film], because we know the industry is going to continue. It has a really high turnover rate. There are going to be young girls who step up in the place of the Nadyas, so really, it’s just about informing people and empowering people so they can make the right decision and so they’re not taken advantage of. (Source: Dixon 2013, np link)

We’re glad you’re excited about the broadcast of Girl Model. Here you'll find everything you need to get involved with the film, from alerting your community to the PBS national broadcast, to hosting a free screening. It’s easy to do. Scroll down for a list of ways that you can share this film with your friends, family, and community. (Source: Anon 2013b, np link)

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Additional links

Girl Model movie blog (how you can help: tweeting, petition, etc.): link


Compiled by Adele Hambly, Elaine King, Andy Keogh, Camilla Renny-Smith, Ed Callow,  Joe Thorogood & Vicky Alloy, edited by Ian Cook (last updated March 2013). Page created for as part of the ‘Geographies of Material Culture’ module, University of Exeter. Trailer embedded with permission from @GirlModelMovie. Thanks to Sheila Hones for her help sourcing the product photo.