SXSW Movie Review: Girl Model

Modeling is certainly a weird subject for me. It’s so polarizing. There are people that think it’s beautiful and full of grace and style, and then people like me, who think it’s dehumanizing, offensive, and kinda gross. Why should the fashion society dictate what’s beautiful and what’s not? “You’re not tall, blonde, and super skinny? You’re ugly.” That’s bullshit. And of course, the worst of the absolute worst is child modeling. You know, the Toddlers In Tiaras crap. Middle aged moms past their prime forcing their kids into pageantry.

That’s essentially what David Redmon’s documentary Girl Model is about. There’s this model scout that goes to a Siberian village and books a thirteen year old girl named Nadya to model in Japan. She goes there alone, away from her family, not knowing any other language other than Russian. It’s an extremely aggravating film, because almost from the get-go, Nadya is taken advantage of by everyone around her. She’s promised 8,000 dollars and two modeling jobs, as well as an apartment, once she gets into Japan. Instead, she get’s a living space the size of a cubicle, which she must share with another 13 year old Siberian model named Madlen. And instead of modeling jobs, she gets endless casting calls that go nowhere; all run by Japanese model agencies looking for the next young thing. It’s pretty creepy. The film details how the Japanese market almost exclusively wants young girls, and the younger the better. Yeesh.

But, Girl Model is also just as much about the opposite ends of the spectrum of child modeling. On one hand you’ve got Nadya, and the other, you’ve got the actual model scout, Ashley. She’s an ex-model who travels all over the world to remote villages searching for girls like Nadya to send to Japan. Almost every single time she’s on camera, you can sense how lonely, bored, and depressed she is with her own life. Even at one point admitting that she has no passion in her job, but keeps doing it simply because she’s afraid to try anything else. She was well aware of how shady the industry was, discussing how most models eventually turn to prostitution, because they know nothing else, but tries to force herself to ignore that fact.

What I found was the most depressing aspect of her life was when she showed off her home, which is, as she put it, a glass house, that’s basically nothing but huge windows and blank white walls, that she lives in by herself, as well as two plastic baby dolls that she bought so that she felt like she had a family. Kind of sad and weird, right? I just got so bummed out watching this girl’s life. She didn’t seem happy at all and was kind of just wasting her time.

But in the end, this documentary ended up holding my attention more with her, rather than Nadya’s story. I liked seeing Ashley so disillusioned by the modeling lifestyle. As she said at one point, “modeling is an addiction,” and it proved true in the final moments of Girl Model, as Ashley continued to travel around scouting girls, and after how much Nadya hated her experience in Japan and swore she didn’t want to do it again, she ends up going BACK to Japan on her own. Whatever floats your boat, I guess!

I give this documentary 3 1/2 Eden Woods out of 5!

By Richard Pepper

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