I recently watched the documentary, Girl Model, which follows the scouting process for incredibly young models in Eastern Europe and Russia as they try to make it out of relative poverty in markets such as Japan where the demand for youth is high. A heart-wrenching insight into the darker side of modelling, this particular film follows young hopeful Nadya as she is scouted and promised a minimum of $8,000 to leave her family and go to castings in Japan.
These poor young girls who line up scantily-clad in their hundreds are eager to be chosen for the promise of a new life for their families, but the reality is that they are given little help and support as they are taken from everything they know and thrown into the fashion world in a country where they cannot speak the language.
The most telling sign the girls are being horrendously taken advantage of is that their contracts are given to them in English when their mother-tongue is Russian. They often return to their homes in thousands of dollars of debt to the modelling agencies while the scouts seem to enjoy a very lavish lifestyle begging the question; where is all the girls' money going? In essence this seems like the most horrible kind of scam, far removed from the glamourous side of fashion we are familiar with. One of the filmmakers, Ashley Sabin, was appropriately quoted as saying "The whole modelling industry and the young girls involved in it are such a recipe for disaster. I feel in many ways we document a disaster."
The clearly damaged and disturbed American scout featured in the film, Ashley Arbaugh, who herself is an ex-model scouted by the very same agency she now sources girls for, almost distracts from the whole narrative of Nadya's tragic tale as you get a glimpse of what may lie ahead for young, impressionable girls who fall into this dark world. Arbaugh, who appears child-like and emotionally stunted at times, alludes to her miserable time as a model and having been taken advantage of by the head of the agency who she says "likes young girls". The film is interspersed by her disturbing video diaries from her time as a model and show the real emotional damage that can be done to girls by the industry.
This eye-opening and sad documentary does well to starkly highlight many questions regarding the modelling industry and it's proclivity for youth such as; do pre-pubescent girls of 12 and 13 have the emotional stability to face the notoriously harsh world of modelling? And also, does the Western industry know or care where these girls are being sourced from and how they are being treated? I hope that in the wake of this documentary things will begin to change for the better but unfortunately I doubt it. I definitely recommend seeing this film and passing it along, a very educational experience about the real dark depths of a world that is usually so glossed over.