Girl Model

Girl Model

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

In 2008, a survey found that a third of British schoolgirls aspire to become models - more than express an interest in any other career. This trend is the same around much of the world. In Siberia, a parade of bikini-clad, heavily made-up pre-teens queue up for the chance to be noticed by talent scouts. There's little they can do to boost their chances. The few who show poise and confidence are quickly discarded. "We're looking for a very particular type of girl," explains Ashley, a model herself. She says they need to be very young, "fresh", cute and vulnerable.

If this sounds like a meat market, it doesn't get better. This is the sort of film you should see at the cinema because owning the DVD could make you look like a paedophile. Films made by the scouts themselves, we are told, end up in the hands of some very unsavoury people. Nobody will take responsibility for this. Many of the children have loving parents, of course, but they are easily separated from them, and they tend to be poor families lacking the skills or resources to fight back.


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Nadya is 13. She's excited by the chance to fly to Tokyo and make her fortune. She and her family fail to understand how dodgy her contract is until it's too late. But this is no fly-by-night operation. This is the core of the fashion business. Meanwhile, we hear about Ashley's own background in modelling and how much she hated it, until she realised she could get out by becoming an agent for other girls. Now she has a successful career, a big house, and the kind of medical problems that tend to result from years on a starvation diet.

When I was 13 I had a schoolfriend in the modelling business. She thrived on the attention but was clearly depressed. When she died of an overdose the local paper ran a front page story with a picture of her in a bikini, even her death sold with sex. Nadya's manager doesn't let any of 'his' girls go near drugs. If they lean that way, he scares them off by taking them to the morgue to see teenage corpses. But, says Ashley, many models drift into damaging lifestyles when they discover that they're no longer fashionable, they have no skills, and all anyone wants them for is their looks.

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Girl Model is a scrappy looking film, parts of it apparently shot undercover, much shot in haste, but it certainly pins down the horrors of a dehumanising industry. In a way, its roughness serves it well, challenging the popular image of glamour and gloss and minimising the sexualisation of its young subjects. It successfully shows us vulnerability and despair without fetishising it the way conventional Hollywood narratives have done. It is honest and ugly and anybody with a catwalk-obsessed, ambitious daughter should take her to see it.

Reviewed on: 07 Feb 2012
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A scathing documentary exposé of an industry that trades in adolescent girls, as ugly as it sounds.
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Director: David Redmon, Ashley Sabin

Starring: Nadya, Madlen, Ashley Arbaugh, Rachel Blais

Year: 2011

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:

Glasgow 2012

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