Picture Me: A Model’s Diary (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Sara Ziff and Ole Schell’s documentary focused on Ziff’s journey as a fashion model from when she was eighteen years old on her first flight to Paris until she was twenty-three with prospects of attending Columbia University. Sara didn’t plan on becoming a model. Her parents valued education and she thought she was eventually going to follow their footsteps. But when she was approached by a photographer on the street and asked if she was a model, her life changed. Before she knew it, she was traveling all over the globe and getting paid $80,000 per job. But was the money worth losing her health and sanity? “Picture Me: A Model’s Diary” is the kind of film I would recommend to anyone thinking of entering the fashion industry. While it did acknowledge that being a model did have its perks like having a healthy salary (assuming the model eventually becomes an “it” girl which is a rarity), it was more concerned about showing us the ugly side of modeling and what magazines and television channels dedicated to fashion purposefully hide from us. By interviewing actual models, allowing their faces to be shown, and sharing their painful experiences with sexual harassment, the film successfully highlighted the exploitation inherent to the business. It also tackled issues like eating disorder and body image, drugs as a tool for a model to have the energy to keep going from one show to another, and modeling agencies hiring girls as young as fourteen years old but ultimately failing to protect them from elements that no young person should be exposed to. The latter was of special interest because the fashion industry loves to use very skinny and tall girls with no breasts and no hips because the dress just hangs on the body. But is it morally right to put such young girls in fashion shows where they were expected to get naked backstage in which photographers were free to take pictures and watch them undress? How is that different from watching child pornography? I admired the film because it wasn’t afraid to ask difficult questions. Furthermore, the documentary surprised me when it acknowledged how Ziff’s salary affected her relationship with her boyfriend (Schell) and her family’s opinion of her earning more money than them. On one hand, Schell was proud of Sara and said things like, “I’ve never held so much money in my hand!” On the flipside, there certainly was jealousy there. On their trip to Las Vegas, Sara asked her boyfriend why he never paid for her. He claimed that he did. Sara was reluctant to discuss it further because the camera was on. It was real and it felt incredibly awkward to watch. I do have favorite fashion models. I follow them on Twitter and read their blogs. With all their traveling, photoshoots, and runway work, it’s easy to admire them. But then there are moments when a model would Tweet about being so exhausted and not having eaten for almost twenty-four hours other than some candy or a piece of bread and a cup of coffee. Then I’m reminded of the models, both male and female, who decided to take their own lives. Maybe “being pretty and on time” is not the only requirement in becoming a model.