One Year Later: A Model on why she Left the Industry

Exactly one year ago today, I felt the immense rush of letting my story go into the world, carried by a magazine I have immense, if not constantly-increasing, respect for. Glamour gave my voice a home, and helped nurture my identity as a writer with this story. This article was the most-read fashion piece on that day, which said a lot, as it was during fashion week, and Glamour publishes hundreds of articulate, poignant pieces, all of which I appreciate deeply. 

In honour of this day and the gratitude I feel from this experience, below is my unedited, long-form version of the Glamour story, for your own, trusted reading pleasure. 

All my love, M

On August 16th 2013, I left New York City, wrapped in blankets in the backseat of my parents’ car. This image is forever seared into the backs of my eyelids, along with my first trip to Disney World, the first time I broke a bone, and the crackling, bubbling moment I realized I was beginning to fall in love. As streetlights bore into my face like fireworks, I kept the blankets around me snug. I was a kid, I was hurting, and I was trying to save my life.
Nineteen months earlier, my modeling agent in Manhattan called me into her office and asked if I “drank butter for water” as my measurements were read aloud; first at the bust, waist, and more pressingly, my hips (For models, hips were always the most concerning measurement—too big, too bony, too round. Eventually, I would refuse to let anyone touch me near the areas a tape measure would go). In that moment, she told me I was a mess; the word effortlessly leaving her lips just as all air escaped mine. I’d been with my agency for just under a year, finding objective success and cultivating creative, matchless friendships. I ate Souen lunches at Phillip Lim’s studio, laughed with Marchesa’s ingenious team, and jetted across the country to shoot lucrative commercial projects for skincare superpowers, big box brands and indie magazines alike. 
I was an easy model to photograph, and loved getting the chance to create with people who saw the world the same way I did. Unfortunately, as a model, my role was conditional—my 18th birthday ushered in subtle curves that were incompatible for the industry I’d chosen. This wasn’t just a matter of taste, either; millions of dollars are structured around the expectation that editorial models meet certain sizing standards.

Millions of dollars are structured around the expectation that editorial models meet certain sizing standards.

Even now, declaring that I couldn’t maintain my size brings about a deep-rooted shame—a testament to the ferocity with which I wanted to belong. To be the couture-wearing, high-fashion girl I’d dreamt of, I’d have to make serious, perhaps life-threatening adjustments.
Looking back on that conversation with my agent, it’s clear that then, my life had changed. Peering into the mirror now took something from me; it came at a cost. I should have said no to altering my body, worked where I could, and given myself the chance to breathe I was screaming for.
The following show season was well received; in New York I walked for 13 designers, which would peak to 43 as I travelled for fashion month. I was taken to department stores and told to wear the same thing to castings each day; black jeans, a white tank top, and cheap zip-up ankle boots. I was also made to look edgier - A lot of us were. I think it masked the doll-like innocence of our newness that, when presented raw, might have been shocking to consumers.

Photo c/o Ron Louie

Photo c/o Ron Louie

Throughout these adjustments, I kept making one mistake. I wasn’t able to understand that such changes weren’t specifically happening to me; that I was being stripped down, rebuilt and assessed as a model—a part I was playing, a job I’d chosen to fill. In my mind, the assumption was this: What needed fixing, what wasn’t acceptable, was wholly, bluntly, me.
I grew determined, set on cultivating an image I thought others expected of me. I started making food journals and lost weight like wildfire, though how much was enough never seemed to be clear. I was constantly afraid of another sit-down with my agents, afraid of yet another declaration that I was, still, “a mess.” My aim appeared to be, hilariously, to get revenge by doing exactly what I’d been asked to do. 
I whittled my shape down and worked with visionaries like Lanvin, Stella McCartney, Christian LaCroix and Marchesa. I spent countless nights in French landmarks as the trends of tomorrow were sewn, draped and designed around my body (Picture me at the Hotel Crillon as dusk fell, Eiffel tower glimmering like an abstract Monet through chiseled glass windows. I’m wearing nothing but a dusty gray Wolford leotard as the warmth of searing hot lights and Alber Elbaz’s gaze enshrouds racks of freshly furred coats). I’d ask questions, forge bonds with teams at each atelier, and document everything in Moleskine journals—practice for my dream of one day becoming a fashion writer. I ate, sure – but foods too low in nutrients to keep me satiated long-term. I'd go to the gym in New York, walk for miles in Paris and dance in the solitude of my apartments, shining with dust and wilted orchids. During all of this, I wasn't proud of how I looked. My writing got better, but my body grew tired.

What needed fixing, what wasn’t acceptable, was wholly, bluntly, me.

I began, inevitably, to feel fraudulent. As I’d sit in buses, cabs or subway cars between castings, shoots, and shows, I’d question everything – waves of imposter syndrome swooping in, constantly suspect to analysis and scrutiny. Once my face became host to a blemish, or my hips to an extra few centimeters, I would lose these fashion-focused friendships, opportunities, and dreams I so cherished. My life was nothing more than a pesky if-then theory, I told myself. If I stayed slim, then I’d retain my utility.
During my final summer in Manhattan, I remained a relative recluse in my apartment, cocooned inside on days I didn’t have to work. My mom and Dad came to visit in August; as a surprise I’d arranged for brunch at Balthazar. From the moment they first saw me, however, eyes glassy with feigned strength, they could see I was seconds away from crumbling. Without saying a word, we hugged, packed up my Gramercy apartment and, 12 hours later, left for good.
When I made the choice to stop modeling, it was because I was exhausted. My cortisol, the hormone released when we experience stress, was through the roof. My doctor told me I’d completely fried my adrenal glands, and in most respects, resembled a robot more than the rosy-cheeked teenager biologically expected of me. As my parents and I drove away from the city, one fear-filled question endured: was my life, this confusing mass of choices, even salvageable?

In 2013, I began studying at the University of Toronto, where my initial pursuit of Commerce lead me to my present goal, studying Metaphysics, Computer Science, French and Italian.
In 2015, for the months in-between my second and third year of University, I became a real, fully-fledged fashion writer at Elle Canada. It was my first non-appearance-based job in fashion, and the experience was validating, nurturing, and inspiring in ways I’d have never imagined. Now, I had a voice; one I’m flattered to have honed, pushed and volleyed at Monday meetings, and, most recently, lent as an editor on the ground at New York Fashion Week.
As I sat on the plane, anticipating the Spring 2016 Collections, I expected to feel a familiar wave of anxiety hit me, along with past insecurities: Would my agency like me? Would I be sent home? Would I be pretty enough to stick around? Nothing, however, happened. I felt fine.

Two weeks and thirty shows later, I had done it. I’d run into former stylists; women who had seen my body naked, jutting and slipping into sample-sized gowns, and hugged them like nothing had changed. I congratulated designers whose shows I’d previously walked in, staring at me with a glint in their eyes, as if they knew this was the spot I would always land. Nobody looked at me as a failure, they looked at me as a fighter. And, as I sat front row, just beyond the reach of the spotlight, I couldn’t have felt more at home.

Many Thanks to Lauren Chan, Lisa Guimond, Noreen Flanagan and Florence Kane. 

madison schillComment