The Skin Trade

Model2 Chloe Schama reviews Ashley Mears'Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model in TNR:

WHAT DOES IT take to succeed in an intensely competitive, cutting-edge industry? You need to show ambition, clearly, while never exuding unbecoming eagerness. For the right kind of exposure, you may have to work for free—even go into debt. You need to be calculating with your acquaintances, but avoid close connections with possible competitors. Above all, you need to stay beholden to the unlikely dream of success and the rare moments of magic, building calluses and erecting blinders to the unpleasant and grueling realities.

Such self-steeling is required for a career in any number of creative fields: journalism, novel-writing, acting, design, singing, dancing. But the world in which such demands come into perhaps the sharpest relief is that of the fashion model. The modeling world, with increased intensity in recent decades, has become one of freakish and outsized expectations—professionally and physically. Look no further than the apex of the industry, the high-end catwalk model, for the starkest example: she is often a size 00, with a waist that compares to a seven-year-old girl’s. For all the beauty it regularly displays, there is something deeply twisted about this industry. In her new book, the former-model and current professor of sociology Ashley Mears untangles just how crazy the fashion industry can be.

The physical requirements for the high-end model, while upsetting and grotesque, are not exactly unfamiliar. As an agent half-joked to Mears at the outset of her teenage modeling career: “Anorexia is in this season.”