Considering Young Models
Natalia Zurowski, Associate Editor
Why you should have compassion for models whose circumstances are different from your own
Whether a model travels to a different market to earn tear sheets or to gain experience, money is always a factor.
In the summer months, when school is out, the competition in international markets like Tokyo, Hong Kong and London increases significantly. Models as young as 13, from places like Brazil, Russia, Uzbekistan and Eastern Europe go abroad for work, although their stories are typically different from ours. These girls are not just there to make money for themselves, but also for their families. As a result, many of them sacrifice the chance of having a normal life to try to give their families just that. Modelling provides them not only with an opportunity to see the world, but more importantly, to potentially earn their loved ones a better quality of life.
As someone who came from humble beginnings, I understand the pressures placed on these young girls. Unfortunately, some don't. Models from more privileged backgrounds choose to persecute these girls because of their age, accusing their parents of negligence or poor parenting.
I know it can be frustrating being an older model and having young teens as your competition, especially when many of them have yet to go through puberty. It's important to point out, however, that most of these girls don't even want to be away from home. I've had young girls treat me as a pseudo-mother figure, calling me "mommy" and hugging me when they were sad, lonely, or just wanting to talk. It's not like these young girls don't want to be in school or with their friends. The truth of the matter is they miss home.
At a casting in Kuala Lumpur (related: Modelling in Malaysia) I met a young model named Anna. We got the opportunity to talk and get to know one another a little bit. She was leaving a few days later to go back home to Russia and I asked her how she was enjoying her time in KL. Although working in the market had been a good experience, she was excited to go back home, see her friends, and go to school. She began to smile, braces poking out from underneath her lip, and became almost giddy with anticipation of her pending departure. She was 15 at the time and reminded me a bit of myself and how I was in high school.
As she talked about herself and her family, I admired her courage and strength. Here she was in a foreign country, completely on her own. It's an extremely scary and intimidating situation being a young girl with little life experience, not knowing a lot of English, and in a foreign country. And it's one I can imagine not many people would want to be in, but these brave young girls do it anyway because family comes first.
Other well known models have similar stories. Czech model Paulina Porizkova – one of the top models of the 1980s – used her success to help those closest to her. "I have worked every day since the age of fifteen, supporting not only myself, but also helping a sizable family when needed" (Huffington Post). The degree of success Paulina achieved may be rare, but her story is more common than you would probably think. My friend Rex Truter, a male model from South Africa, had an ex-girlfriend who was able to buy her mother a home in Brazil. The money she made from modelling over the years offered her family a new lease on life.
I'm not saying it's right for the fashion industry to allow models to travel on their own at such a tender age, but sometimes it's the best chance a young girl has. If they have the potential to provide their families with a better life, they will work abroad. And sometimes the rewards can be huge and help models and their families go on to lead the types of lives that otherwise would not be possible.
It's important to bear in mind that just because a model travels, doesn't mean she will make money. Addtionally, the physical demands, potential temptations (alcohol drugs, etc.), and stress that can come from this job can be really tough, especially when a young girl is just starting to find herself. It's a point of view that often gets overlooked or misunderstood: life isn't always easy, and everyone has their own story.
Practice your humanity by trying to develop a sense of compassion for these girls before you are quick to pass judgement. A little empathy never hurt anyone.
Natalia Zurowski is a model with OMG in Los Angeles, and holds a B.A. from Western University