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April 30, 2007

"My 11-Grape Diet": A Model Confesses

With models literally dying to be skinny, former model and MC's style director Cleo Glyde recalls the days when six grapes equaled a binge.

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With eight days to go till the Bill Blass show, I was deep into a green-grape diet (three for breakfast, two for snacks, six for binges). How else was I going to fit into my assigned skintight showstopper? I was a model on a mission. But given that I was also a robust 6'2", wedging myself into munchkin minis was no picnic. Somewhat inevitably, I collapsed in New York's Chelsea Hotel and was carried past the jaded bohemians to the nearest hospital.

That was a lot of dress sizes ago. Today, 15 years later, the debate is heating up: Has the tyranny of the super-skinny silhouette gone too far? Last August, when 22-year-old Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos died of anorexia-related heart failure between costume changes, Spanish authorities decided that models under a certain weight might need medical help, not a gig: They declared that 5'9" catwalkers must weigh a minimum of 125 pounds.

Three months later, a Brazilian model met a similar fate. America's reaction? It doesn't look like we'll be banning the undernourished look anytime soon. With skeletal celebs like Portia de Rossi, Kate Bosworth, Nicole Richie, Teri Hatcher, and former plus-size model Sophie Dahl — now bug-eyed and tiny — treading the red carpet oh-so-lightly, extra pounds are still grossly off-trend. Plenty of trainers are flogging ketosis, a dubious state achieved when a carb-starved body burns fat to save itself. No surprise, then, that a new jeans size has just been invented: 00. Satirical news site The Onion couldn't resist chiming in via a fictional young actress who nails an audition for the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa campaign: "I'm pretty thin, but I didn't think I was eating-disorder thin," she gushes triumphantly.

I signed up for modeling by accident, not design, when I was discovered at 17 in Paris on a study tour in the late '80s. Soon enough, I was in the hands of a team of bookers whose job it was to turn me into a robotic goddess onto which fashion fantasies could be projected. Of course, every new girl had to have a gimmick — mine was flaming red hair and goofy, coltish height.

Show week is a ritualistic mini Olympics that defines the fashion calendar. We queued up at the casting calls, the funnel that sifts out everybody who doesn't have the look du jour: "Give me a storm-trooper blonde"; "Give me a jolie laide"; "Give me retro"; "Give me that slack-jawed junkie look." What constituted fabulous morphed from season to season, but one rule never changed — you must adhere to a body ideal that is way taller and thinner than average. An Italian greyhound spareness, topped by a wilting asparagus neck and lolling head that accentuates the clothing, not the woman. Fabric hangs beautifully till it pools on the floor; it's all about the dress. Bottom line, if you couldn't achieve the look, you weren't in the game. So we played — smoking to kill our appetites and wringing ourselves out in steam rooms. Of course, plenty of models ate what they liked and simply threw it all up later.

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