Ex-model declares standard for beauty harmful

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It used to be that fashion models strived to maintain a size six or size eight frame to conform to the standards of beauty perpetuated by the media. Now, the standards have shifted, to expectations that models be a size zero, or even double zero, as ideas of beauty change. This isn’t the only negative message the modelling industry is helping to spread, either.

Former Elite international fashion model Nicole Clark recalls her own experience as a model in an interview with The Cord. “Elite, my agent in Miami, sat me down one day and said, ‘Nicole, don’t talk on jobs. You’re too intelligent, it intimidates the clients.’”

For Clark, this conversation was a red flag, which caused her to realize the true nature of the effect the industry could have on the self-esteem of women and girls.

“I pieced together that there was an underlying message that was being sent. In addition to don’t talk or be intelligent, it was don’t talk – just be pretty and let the clients think that you’re simple and an easy target,” said Clark.

“I thought, ‘Why would I want to be in an industry that de-values who I am?’ It’s supposed to be an industry that values what you look like, but now they’re actually trying to change who I am,” Clark continued. “I saw the whirlwind of self-esteem destruction that happened in the wake of the fashion industry.”

Because of her own firsthand experience with the darker sides of the modelling industry, Clark embarked on the project of directing Cover Girl Culture, a full length documentary film which discusses body image, celebrity culture and the sexualization of girls in the media. The reality is, models aren’t the only ones being affected by the standards maintained by celebrity culture and the modelling industry. The film was screened at uptown Waterloo’s Princess Twin Cinema on Nov. 23.

A pinnacle problem addressed in the documentary is the sexualization of girls in the media. “This sexualization adds another dangerous dimension for girls, because they see pictures of sexy young celebrities that are also teenagers, or in their twenties, and in addition to being pretty and beautiful and thin, they’re also sexy and they’re sex objects for girls,” explained Clark. “If girls don’t have high self-esteem or good parenting, they start to believe that being sexy is the most important thing they can offer. A girl will no longer focus on developing her character, her own intellect or sense of humor and being valued for those things,” the former model continued.

“I’d see girls comparing themselves to models and letting their happiness be determined by whether or not the number on the scale said what it should say, according to these people in the fashion industry, who I came to learn didn’t know much about health,” said the director.

Clark, who studied health and nutrition at the University of Guelph, claimed she then realized she had been helping to perpetuate misconceptions about what was healthy. No longer wanting to be a part of the problem, Clark removed herself from the modelling industry. Later, she began work on Cover Girl Culture, in hopes of remedying the growing issues caused by the media’s portrayal of women and girls.

Cover Girl Culture includes footage and interviews of some of the fashion industries most forefront individuals, including Anne Slowey, fashion news director at Elle magazine, Pat McDonagh, a co-founder of the Fashion Design Council of Canada, and several editors from Teen Vogue magazine.

Of the early stages of the film, Clark explained, “As soon as I said I was going to make the documentary, it was like the universe opened all these doors. There were interviews people were telling me I’d never get, then next thing I knew I was in New York interviewing at Teen Vogue and Elle magazine.”

“It’s a film that I truly believe has a life of its own, and a will of its own.”

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