Let's Be Frank: Photographer Hannah Dusar on Body Image in the Fashion Industry

Hannah Frank Dusar is an Antwerp-based photographer who, in 2013, was selected by Vogue magazine as one of ten new image-makers to watch. Her work has been commissioned by the likes of Lancôme, Zadig & Voltaire and Conde Nast digital, and she, often collaborating with photographer Joel Benguigui, prefers to work in film. At home behind her Leica camera, we asked Hannah to turn her lens inward and consider the impact the industry's scrutiny has had on her. 

When Madison asked me to pen my own story, a micro electroshock shivered its way down my spine. I had always gracefully occupied the role of listener, observer; the one behind the camera, never in front of it. I have, over the years, seen the vast majority of my friends struggle with the same issues and had always been that friend that those in the modelling industry would turn to for words of comfort and understanding.

During this time, I never fully felt like the monsters in my own mind were as valid or worthy of vocal affirmation because I knew just how deep their hurt went. After all, I had never been forced into a size zero sample size in front of the gaze of a dozen people, nor had HD cameras brutally confronting me with every imperfection gracing my skin. I was the one expected to do this, in many cases, to the women I respected, looked up to and considered to be my friends. 
Who in the world was I to consider my struggles as equal to theirs?

I first became aware of how destructive the fashion industry ‘playbook’ was when I moved to Paris a couple of years ago. As a young photographer I was doing a lot of test shoots; it was a perfect way to train, evolve and develop a signature style that would become the foundation of my work. As a teenage girl, just like many of us, I obsessed over the pages of Italian Vogue and was in awe of the dreamscapes created by these ethereal women and the artists that projected their visions onto them. I wanted to be part of that world, I wanted to understand it, dissect it and inject myself into it. They say humans are drawn to the things they can’t have and I was drawn to this dream world that couldn’t be any further from my reality as an 18 year old. Being part of it was impossible and never meant for me and that is exactly why I wanted it. 

Being part of it was impossible and never meant for me and that is exactly why I wanted it. 
— Hannah Frank Dusar

Upon starting to work in Paris with most of the major modelling agencies, it started dawning on me that the reality of this world was harsher than I had prepared myself for. On a daily basis I was being confronted with 13, 14 and 15 year olds from all corners of the world, arriving in Paris without any parental supervision, often without speaking any French or English, that were completely dependent on the goodwill of whatever booker they had been assigned to. Little girls that went on to shooting Prada campaigns at 14 years old, made up to look like powerful glamazons that had the actual buying power to afford these luxury items. Agencies that called far too often to ask to ‘thinify’ a pair of legs or make a nose or birthmark less prominent. This was a grown up chess board, but the pawns were children and they were being utilized in whatever way they benefitted the budgets best.

I started struggling with these understandings, mostly because these girls had become my friends and with that, their insecurities and vulnerabilities became part of my reality too. In every one of them I found a piece of my sisters, my best friends, my younger cousins. I would have never wished the kind of daily scrutiny they were under upon my worst enemy, but I was forced to observe them undergo this constant stream of objectification and internalising the fact that their only worth originated from their exterior appearance. Needless to say I cried a lot in Paris. 

This was a grown up chess board, but the pawns were children.
— Hannah Frank Dusar

But then, aside from the heartache, after a while, I too started internalizing. 
I was just a girl, a young woman, a human being with no more means of psychological defence  than the average 20-something, when I asked myself a simple and destructive question; 

If these girls that I find to be absolutely breathtaking in every way possible are considered not good enough.. Where does that leave me in the equation? 

It didn’t take long to figure out that in this industry, (and I will dare to attribute this to the Western society at large) being skinny meant being beautiful. But it wasn’t just the idea of being attractive and pleasing physically, it also symbolized self-control, discipline and this desirable ‘cool factor’ that a size 6 or 8 (or god forbid a size 10 or above) simply couldn’t project. 

I started noticing that in this world, it wasn’t just the models that were wearing an (X)XS, but the editors, bookers, stylists and everyone in between as well. Considering they were all capable of looking like this, I began to feel that I was a failure and a disappointment, confirmed every time I looked in the mirror.

Even though I was well aware of just how much my modelling friends struggled to maintain their 13 year old physiques throughout puberty, hormonal changes and their bodies’ natural urges to grow up, I too started feeling the need to fight my curves and genetic destiny. Although never the type to cave in to group pressure and something I had always disdained as ‘sheople’ mentality, my 22 year old self wasn’t prepared to be the ‘unattractive, undisciplined, uncool one’ either. I was inexperienced and still unblissfully unaware to what extent us women throughout history had been drilled to be appealing, easily digestible and diluted to please. I didn’t realize at the time I wasn’t the first one and unfortunately wouldn’t be the last one to cave in. 

In a matter of months, I found myself hating every bit of my body. Clothes didn’t fall flat on my chest the way I "knew" they were supposed to, my thighs touched in places where I believed air was supposed to flow and my cheeks were simply too puffy to ever deserve to be adored. And, to boot, every single day I'd have a new load of kids in front of my camera that I could tell were insecure about their angles. Kids that were quite literally half of me and still knew that they could only have a piece of gum for lunch to survive their next day of fittings. 

For lack of a better expression, it was absolutely fucked up. 

Let's be Frank is a serialized chronicle of the fucked up shit artists endure to feel "deserving" of a fashion industry job. Through some serious #realtalk, we are working to reveal that no, you are not alone, and no, you don't have to look like anything but yourself. 

Stay Su, Stay tuned. 

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