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June 25, 2007

Tsunami Survivor: Petra Nemcova

When tsunami survivor Petra Nemcova wanted to mentor young models, Hollywood had two words: reality show. Tyra, watch your back.

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Post-tsunami, in the hospital with a broken pelvis.

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Petra Nemcova is proof you can't get by on looks alone. Her pretty face didn't make her childhood in communist Czechoslovakia any easier, and it didn't matter a damn to the 2004 tsunami that swept her boyfriend to his death. The stories of how she survived by clinging to a tree branch have been told, along with those of her return to modeling and work for the children's charity Happy Hearts Fund. Less known are the 28-year-old's early career struggles, the catalyst for A Model Life with Petra Nemcova, a series that premieres July 13 on TLC.

For catfights and meltdowns, tune in to Tyra; Executive Producer David Broome says A Model Life's aim is to "pull back the curtain on the modeling industry" and tackle issues like distorted body image, living in a big city on one's own, and self-esteem. As six models vie for a contract, walk Fashion Week's runways, and compete for ad campaigns, Nemcova acts as sideline coach. But really-gorgeous, pampered models as victims? More than you'd know. "Girls are anorexic and dying," says Nemcova. "It's stupid, but it still happens in this business." Broome cast a nutritionist to offer a healthy defense against fashion's never-too-thin manifesto. "Models pick up life-threatening habits to stay in the game," he says, "and the industry still spits them out."

Nemcova, who started modeling at 16, suffered the sting of photographers belittling her for her natural curves. "Who has life skills at that age?" she says. "It's why, in each episode, I share what I've learned about surviving both success and rejection." Whether or not the show will catapult Nemcova higher into the celebosphere remains to be seen. But after what she's been through, she'll no doubt consider Hollywood heartbreaks (see James Blunt), romantic rumors (see Leonardo), and even flops a piece of cake. And, knowing her, she'll take a few bites.


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