Living Dolls Have Hearts
Published on September 16th, 2010 | by Emily Cheever1
Opening on the heels (get it?) of New York’s Fashion Week, festival award-winning “Picture Me: A Model’s Diary” documents the life of a successful model. Filmed by fresh out of film school Ole Schell and his girlfriend, model Sara Ziff, “Picture Me” is perhaps the most comprehensive film about a model’s life on record, taking us through photo shoots, fashion weeks, and the duality of success.
The documentary follows Sara Ziff through four years in the fashion industry. She’s impossibly adorable and yet multilayered. Her candid moments on camera make her out to be Doris Day; but add some make up and leather and she man-eating vixen. It takes nothing to see why Ziff is a model. She, like Naomi Campbell and Gisele Bunchen, was stopped on the street by a photographer when she was a mere tween and encouraged to be a model. (I had thought that was simply a fashion myth but apparently flagrant discussion of a fourteen year olds attractiveness is the best way to find the next “it” girl).
Unfortunately “Picture Me” stops short of what you already knew about models; they’re exploited, sexually assaulted, young, and emaciated. Ziff’s voiceover borders on the cliché, with the not quite believable self-torment in having to just “display clothes” for a living. However, despite its unorganized narrative, Schell and Ziff succeed in giving the models complete respect, and underscore the fact that, like any job, there are moments of joy and complete pain. Empathy is masterfully achieved at a moment when Ziff breaks into tears because of complete and utter exhaustion, a point that illustrates the hardship of being a living doll.
The best moments in the film are focused around Ziff and the other models as they give testimonials about their profession. The models Ziff chooses, Missy Raydar, Lisa Cant, Caitriona Balfe, are incredibly well spoken and honest. Their self-awareness is admittedly surprising, especially when it comes to discussions of age (well into their 20s they are too old by industry standards), and the disillusionment that agents place into their heads as youths, only to come to harsh realizations of a glass ceiling many years later. Perhaps the most heartbreaking moments are when they realize their shelf life, and most admit that they have no idea what they’re to do now, now that the gig’s up. The realization of such hits the audience hard; a life hurriedly lived in the most glamorous setting, only to be over at age 24.
The trailer and reviews promised to show the dark side of modeling, a statement that’s more bait-and-switch than anything. There are two confessionals by models placed a lengthy amount of time apart in the sequencing about sexual abuse that happens to models in the industry. The most disturbing of such is a model explaining a moment with a well known photographer known for being aggressively sexual with his subjects (if you loosely follow the fashion industry you know immediately who this photographer is, as he seems to take pride in the fact he has a reputation of being a leech). After the model endured sexual abuse, her response to it was “I did it. But after I didn’t feel very good about it. And I didn’t feel good telling my boyfriend about it. And I did get the job…But I turned it down. And he never booked me again.” Her eyes slightly falter at this moment, knowing she did the right thing but also regretting that taking the shoot could have brought her more success and change in her purse.
Then there’s the omnipresent discussion of body image. The models acknowledge the impossible body standard and it’s obvious that they’re just as uncomfortable and unhappy with their bodies as the majority of women are. However, their insights to the reason of the waifish figures are frankly stupid: the scarily skinny models are thirteen to fifteen years old, so obviously “if you’re fourteen and 5’ 9’’ you’re probably going to be a hundred pounds” a model shrugs.
For those already well versed in the fashion world, “Picture Me” brings nothing new. But there is something to be said about the personal account of Ziff’s journey—while it is not the hard hitting documentary some may have wanted, it is rooted in the honest truth, which makes it more than watchable. Especially due to its release post-Fashion Week it may give those a little more perspective on what it’s like to be in the spotlight at the end of a runway.