Last week, the Sunday supplement and fashion magazine, The Sunday Times Style, chose a different type of model as their cover girl. Victoire Dauxerre was plucked from a busy Parisian street, aged just 17, by a beady-eyed model scout on the hunt for the next Kate Moss. The then teenager had never even considered a career in modelling at that stage, and was instead preparing to enrol in academic studies at University. Within eight months, Victoire had shed 12 kilos (22 lbs); was an emaciated size 0; had developed osteoporosis and was terrified of every morsel of food. Anorexia had swept her up into its rigid, self-righteous arms, with the modelling industry controlling the reigns on its ever-tightening grip.
This week, as the global fashion industry thrives and we watch neat rows of boney, brittle women saunter down the runway, showcasing a wardrobe of dreams, spare a thought for the story of Victoire – and thousands like her – and ask yourself; what is the true price of fashion week?
By Victoire Dauxerre
“I never had a problem with my body image and I never went on diets. If you saw my family you would see we were very close and happy. Anorexia, for me anyway, was not about food at all. It’s about something else, like a voice in your head and there’s a certain person who may be more fragile and vulnerable to it. Then, perhaps there’s something that catapults you into it – a type of conditioning.
At the age of 17, I was very upset and disappointed because I wasn’t accepted into a very famous university in France – it’s kind of like Oxford or Cambridge. Then, suddenly, I was scouted and thought, this is my opportunity to actually be good at something! Something I could do that I wouldn’t fail at. This is part of my personality – it was a challenge. They [modelling agency] told me, you are a size 8, but you have to be a size 2 (U.S size 0) and I thought, okay, fine. I didn’t know it meant losing 12 kilos.
I never had any interest in fashion at all – I hated it from the beginning. They told me, you’re going to be a star and it’s going to be so easy and I thought; ‘fine I’ll do it for a year’, but I had no idea of all the damage it would have on my body and on my mind. When I was anorexic, I had no idea. I would completely deny it. I’d see other girls on the catwalk and I thought they were all going to die they were so thin, but when I saw myself in the mirror, I thought I was fat. On some level, I knew that I wasn’t healthy because my back hurt all the time and I had to sleep on my front because my the bones in my back would dig into the bed. I fainted all the time and for about two months, I was eating three apples a day – that was it. The voice in my head had so much power and it’s awful but that’s what I loved. I had energy and power controlling not eating. After two months of two apples a day, I started to eat some chicken and fish, but then I took laxatives – but the body gets used to it so I ended up using enemas, which is not nice to do.
“SOME MODEL SCOUTS GO TO PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITALS TO LOOK FOR YOUNG GIRLS”
When we [models] were backstage, there was so much food but none of the models were eating it. Someone with a camera would come over and take pictures and then we’d all be posing with the cake and burgers, but then after the photographer had gone, we’d put it back on the plate. We were so mistreated that the only glory we had was to pretend that we were goddesses – we could be so skinny and eat so much without gaining weight – which, obviously, is not true. What made me realise the extent of my sickness was that I used to study and read a lot and I wasn’t able to even read a line anymore. I couldn’t focus on anything because it wouldn’t stick in my brain – I had become stupid and I didn’t like that at all. I went to the hospital and found out that I had osteoporosis – my skeleton was similar to one of a 70-year-old woman’s. I was 19. I was fortunate because I had periods again, whereas some of my friends are now 24 and they can’t have kids.
I had a good friend who was also a model – we were very close – and she told me how shocked she was after one particular show. She walked on the catwalk and then came backstage to find the emergency services were there because one of the models had a heart attack and died. She was 18.
Since then, I have done some research and found that, actually, it happens at every fashion week – girls do die.
“IT HAPPENS EVERY FASHION WEEK – GIRLS DO DIE”
Girls are taken to hospital during fashion weeks all the time, too. In France and other nordic countries, they discovered not too long ago that some model scouts would go out to the psychiatric clinics and scout girls to be models. Of course they do – how can you be a healthy adult woman and be a size zero when you are are 5ft 10 tall?! It doesn’t exist. A doctor is supposed to see you when you sign a work contract with the modelling agency, but I never saw one. Between my first meeting with [modelling agency] and my first scouting I had lost 22 lbs – 10 kilos – and I got lots of work but I never was told to see a doctor. The whole industry knows about it, they all do, but there’s a kind of a code of silence. It’s the designers who ask for the size 0 girls. They have a sick fantasy about androgynous bodies and are obsessed with an image of eternal youth. Overall, I see it as being about hating women and diminishing any kind of femininity. If the designers asked for size 10 girls to wear their clothes, the model scouts would scout size 10 models.
They have changed the law in France but it doesn’t work. I recently met with the Minister for health and women’s rights in France and she told me that she has had meetings with all the designers in Paris and they told her – ‘if you enforce this law, we will go somewhere else and we won’t do the fashion week in Paris anymore’. Obviously they don’t want that to happen – it will lose them money. Of course she’s the minister of health, not economics.
“THE DESIGNERS SAY: IF YOU ENFORCE THIS LAW, WE WILL TAKE FASHION WEEK SOMEWHERE ELSE”
When you experience something like that and see people mistreated as much as I did, you have to talk about it. I couldn’t leave without talking about it and now, six years later, I’m strong enough now to talk about it. I really want to protect young girls like my cousins who are only eight and they are already telling me they feel fat. I have so many friends from all over the world and they’ve all experienced eating disorders or body image issues, it destroys so many lives. Suddenly in my head, something has been unlocked – I have had to see it another way and not be focused on food and diet and weight, but instead how I feel in my body. My biggest mistake – for many years – was to go with the attitude of; “I’m not going to eat this and that,” but now I am free. Never tell yourself that you can or can’t eat something – follow your desires and go by what you are attracted to.
Nowadays, I love myself and I love my body and it CAN happen when you’re happy on the inside. I’ve made myself happy because of things other than diet and food. I am focused on going to auditions and going to theatre because it’s my passion as I want to be an actress. I’m not always thinking about what I eat because I don’t have time, so instead, I am just listening to my body which is absolutely right. When I know that I really want chocolate, I’ll buy chocolate because maybe my body is telling me that it needs it!
“FASHION SHOULD CELEBRATE WOMEN’S BODIES, NOT DESTROY THEM”
I don’t buy any magazines anymore. I couldn’t look at them for a whole year after I quit modelling because I wasn’t looking at the clothes, I was just looking at the girls and thinking, “they’re going to die”. I couldn’t go shopping, either. Now, my mum buys some magazines and I have a flick through but it’s always the same. On one page it will say, we love curvy women and then turn over and it’s, here’s the new fad diet and then on the next two pages you have an anorexic model posing for Chanel and Dior. I’m like – that’s bullshit going in my brain and I don’t want it. Fashion could be a really beautiful world if it was about healthy women, treated like human beings because it would celebrate women’s bodies, rather than destroy them.
Anorexia is a serious mental illness and yes, there are many complicated things which cause it. But if we can change one reason for why it may appear – and we have the power to do so – I think we have to do it. Anyone who thinks that they want to be a model and if they’re skinny they’ll be happy; read my book and notice that happiness is not there. Instead, join us in speaking up and making people aware that this can happen to anybody.”
Size Zero, My Life As A Disappearing Model is out now. Amazon.co.uk, £10.49