A Not-So-Pretty Look At Child Modeling
Behind a camera in a small, mirrored room stand two adults. As if rehearsed, 20 girls ages 12 through 15 enter in a row, and saunter around the room wearing only their underwear and high heels. One by one each girl steps forward for individual photographs and close inspection.
Child pornography? Prostitution?
Ashley Arbaugh, an ex-model and current modeling scout who appears in the film, tells the filmmakers that the Japanese like their models young and fresh. She delivers, via Russia.
The film introduces us to Nadya Vall, a 13-year old with large blue eyes, blonde silky hair, and an underdeveloped body. It is not long before Ms. Vall, who lived with her family in a small, one-roomed shack in a village near Novosibirsk, is off to Tokyo for what she thinks will be a lucrative adventure. She is represented by a Russian agent who approaches recruiting young innocents as if it is a religious calling. “I’m trying to save all these young girls,” he says.
The agent explains how he hauls off the often pubescent girls to the city morgue to show them just how badly things can end for a recruit who doesn’t do what she is told. And as the rest of the documentary portrays in dreadful detail, the recruits are dumped into barely furnished apartments, and left to fend for themselves as they run from casting calls to photo shoots without earning a Yen. In fact, as Ms. Arbaugh tells us, fewer than a handful of her recruits will ever actually make it as a model. The rest are sent home severely in debt to their parents and without the $8,000 promised at the outset of their contract.
In the U.S., most models begin their career when they’re 16 or younger. And since labor laws governing child models are not as widely known as they should be, they are often violated. Under the laws of New York, it is unlawful “to employ, use, or exhibit a minor as a model unless the commissioner of education has issued a child model work permit.” Additionally, minors need parental consent and may not work beyond the time and hour limitations set out in the Commissioner’s Regulation 190.2.
In September, Anderson Cooper investigated the world of modeling on his television show “Anderson Live”. His guest Kelly Cutrone, a judge from the show “Top Model,” spoke about the red flags that should go off in parents’ heads when modeling agents make them pay for headshots, and other popular scams. Several young women and their parents recounted how they’d naively succumbed to a con artist-cum modeling agent, and paid large sums of money to share a tiny New York City apartment with the promise of making it big. They didn’t get any modeling work at all.
Fortunately our country has taken steps to protect our children who seek modeling careers and grassroots organizations like the The Model Alliance are gaining strength.
But poor Nadya Vall had to deal with the trauma of the modeling industry all by herself. She had no schooling, no work permit, no money, and was living far away from home, in a country whose language she didn’t even understand.
This is a recipe for heartbreak, even danger.
To make matters worse, the entire documentary tiptoes around the obvious: prostitution and pedophilia in the fashion industry. A lot of questions go unanswered at the end of the film as Ms. Arbaugh describes the slide of many would-be models into prostitution – it “may be easier than being a model,” she says.
It is heart wrenching, terrifying, and alarming.
“Girl Model” is a film that few will enjoy. And that’s the point of it.
I hope that the international community comes together to protect these vulnerable young girls.