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April 30, 2007

My 11-Grape Diet: A Model Confesses

Are Models Too Skinny?

Modeling for French Marie Claire in the early '90s.

Photo Credit: Cleo Glyde

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My dilemma: those pesky Celtic warrior genes that kept me from looking "Park Avenue fragile." Some girls are meant to be slim-hipped and tiny; I'd watch them wolf down burgers and mud cake without gaining a gram. It's being unhealthily thin that's the bitch. At the beginning, I thought cutting out the crème caramels of life would be enough. Dream on.

At a certain point, my photo got past the gatekeepers of a god-like Italian designer. I was summoned into his presence and made to put on a pair of putty-colored shorts in exquisite, feather-light fabric. My heart sank when I saw how my grandmother's hips filled them to the brim, pushing the pleats apart instead of letting them hang limply. As I filed past, the maestro remarked to his staff, "molto," not unkindly. But you don't need to have read Dante to translate. I was mortified. A pear-shaped woman like me in a gamine's job — clearly I'd have to start smashing square pegs into round holes.

Why? I couldn't resist. The lottery aspect of the castings stirs the "pick me, pick me" dynamic, so potent for young girls who are barely out of childhood and still inventing themselves. You become emotionally invested in the constant appraisal. As for the designers, they withdrew validation with one hand while offering temporary superpowers with the other.

The attention, the flattery, the heart-surgeon money, the city-hopping, the all-access social pass — the job is a hoot, and a parallel universe that constantly reaffirms the normalcy of weighing as little as possible. There were always more Marlboro reds and rancid champagne backstage than food, and we were all dieting together — food deprivation was a badge of honor. My body became a battlefield where willpower and genetic destiny duked it out. Once I fixated on the goal weight, starving down was easy — especially when I discovered diuretics, which rid you of fluid, the lifeblood of the body.

The more I punished myself, the more fashion rewarded me. That white-hot attention of a show or a shoot provides a drug-like rush, everyone pivoting around to create an über-you. Of course you're on a pedestal, but you're a piece of meat up there, being pawed, looked at, discussed, and tweaked. Your requisite passivity blinds everyone — even yourself — to your humanity.

I once rented my cute little apartment that overlooked the chimney pots of Paris to an American farm girl right off the plane, ready to model. She was stunningly beautiful; everything about her was meant to be round — her cascading curls, her pommette cheeks, her booty, the figure-eight swoop of her body. When I caught up with her six months later, even I was shocked: The purplish circles under her dead eyes, the jutting bones, and the air of misery were as repellent as her milky, creamy lushness had been lovely.

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