An ex supermodel’s new novel, based on her own experiences of the modelling scene in the nineties, reveals more incredible tales of starvation and seediness in the world’s most ‘glamorous’ industry.
The novel follows shocking revelations about the model lifestyle including former models and editors revealing how eating cotton wool and tissues is commonplace to keep weight down and stave off hunger pangs.
Former Australian Vogue editor Kirstie Clement’s now infamous tell-all book on the fashion world recently caused shockwaves. It included alarming details of models spending time on hospital drips to maintain their tiny frames, and though this new novel is technically fiction, it’s not hard to see the truth between the lines.
A dream career?
Linda Evangelista once famously said top models don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day, but the regular murky headlines about emaciated models prepared to go to desperate lengths to make it big in the industry are a real turn-off.
Yet with series nine of hit show Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model due back on our screens this summer, with new judge Dannii Minogue joining Elle Macpherson, the number of young girls clamouring to break into modelling has never been higher.
And wannabes and the show’s hopefuls may do well to read the former haute couture model-turned-author Muriel Rodriguez’ novel, A Model Life.
Now 37 and a mother-of-two, Muriel started working professionally in the early ‘nineties, aged 18, after she beat 3,000 other hopefuls in a competition to win a modelling contract with famous agency Elite Model Management.
Over the next 13 years she walked the catwalk for the likes of Valentino and Commes des Garcons, worked with Christy Turlington on a campaign for Danish label Vero Moda and earned an amazing €1 million for one commercial for Peugeot in 2002.
She was also working alongside Naomi Campbell at the haute couture fashion shows in Rome in 1997 when Gianni Versace was murdered.
Muriel’s novel is largely based on her own experiences of the fashion world and she hopes her debut title will show what it’s like being thrust into the limelight as a ‘normal, naïve girl.’
“There are record highs and lows in modelling,” she admits. “One day people make you believe that you’re about to hit the big time, but tomorrow there’s a new flavour of the week.
“One of the saddest things about modelling for me was the loneliness – even when surrounded by people. I felt as if I couldn’t rely on anyone, constantly watching my drink at every party and having pressure put on you by the agencies to lose weight.
“The upsides of course are the money and being surrounded by luxury. You get into the best clubs, fly first class, stay in the most luxurious hotels and party with celebrities. For a while that’s a major attraction.”
An unhealthy relationship with food
Muriel, who is based in Normandy, having lived in London for several years, says the pressure for models to stay super-thin is worse now than in her heyday, but she still has an unhealthy relationship with food.
“To prepare for a photo shoot I used to cut down on food and skip meals for about three days. My whole life I’ve been very conscious of what I eat and rarely indulge, which is a shame.
“My mother weighed me from when I was a child and at 37 I still feel guilty about eating cake or chocolate.
“Of course I knew models who had eating disorders but thank god I never succumbed. I did lots of commercial work as a model and they often wanted someone who they considered to be of ‘more substantial build’, but then on castings I’d frequently be told I was too big.
“I had to develop a thick skin. In those days there was no air-brushing and you’d hear of models being sent home from a job because they had one spot.
“Make-up artists would frequently complain about models who had pimples or wrinkles. One photographer once said I had ‘awful curly hair that looked like seaweed.’ There were no manners or compassion.
“No wonder numerous people around me were taking all sorts to keep them up, then take them down.’
Another dark side of the industry Muriel repeatedly experienced was sexual harassment at the hands of agents and snappers.
“One famous photographer said he’d like to put an option on me for an Armani campaign and the cover of Italian fashion magazine Amica, but he told my agent he wanted to have dinner with me,’ she recalls.
“I didn’t really want to go but was advised to ‘play along’, then go home. Of course he kept touching me in the restaurant, then invited me back to his room. I got in a cab – and next morning both options were cancelled.
“Photographers at the top of their field hit on models all the time. You learn at a very young age that modelling is an industry where you feel like a piece of meat.
"You become worldly wise at 16, 17, 18 and learn how to use your sexuality to your advantage but not give into pressure. Of course that’s much harder when you’re young and naïve.
“The most humiliating experience I had was posing for German Playboy to pay off debts to my agency. I was naked, sprayed with liquid latex and had to pose in a mirrored box with my legs apart. I felt simply like an object.
“The French photographer could tell I was uneasy and kept saying things like: ‘I can smell you.’ He certainly didn’t put me at ease.’"
A Model Life by Muriel Rodriguez is out now published by Acorn Independent Press, £6.99 paperback, £2.99 eBook/Kindle