Review of Documentary: Girl Model
Having a troubled past with eating disorders, it’s always difficult to pass up a movie about twisted body image.
In the documentary Girl Model we are taken on a journey with American model scout Ashley Arbaugh who once took the same path as the females she is looking to recruit. She embarked on her modeling career in Japan, where is she looking to take her potential models. Despite modeling being portrayed as an exciting career path, the old self-documented video clips reveal a depressed, confused, and repulsed person. Ashely admits that she hated modeling, which makes one consider why she has dedicated 15 years to the industry.
On the other spectrum we witness Nadya, a 13 year old girl from Siberia, who is chosen to go to Japan in hopes of embarking on what could be a very successful and lucrative career. What Japan looks for are girls that young and fresh and what is most adored is the image of woman that is untouched and uncorrupted. Yet it’s funny how these innocent canvases are craved only to be carved into sexualized females through makeup and fashion.
While the documentary is controversial for many reasons: underage models, promised money and dreams that aren’t always delivered and skinny requirements aside, what I found most disturbing was the model scout, Ashley. She speaks about how the field is not exactly a fulfilling one yet the flexibility to travel and not have to succumb to a 9 to 5 offers it’s “freedom.” Yet what I see is not a woman that is free, but a woman that is trapped.
The small clips in which she offers her introspection say enough. Still striving to look presentable within the industry, her body is as thin as many of the other models. She is a woman in her mid-thirties with a very skinny frame which is paired with what seems like a rather meager diet. When they film her in her home in Japan, there is a shot that is focused on two plastic babies of life-like size. She commented that when she first moved into the house that it was so quiet, it was unsettling. But the plastic babies seem to symbolize more than a need for human connection; They seem to represent a life that she has ultimately passed by, for sake of her career, or what appears more like an obsession. While she doesn’t love what she does, she seems to be a rat in a cage. The modeling world is all she knows, so she finds it difficult to escape. And as unhappy as she may be, which is clear even through her own forced smiles, she finds comfort in it, for perhaps the unknown is more frightening than what she has become a slave to. And maybe it wasn’t so much the quiet house that was so unsettling but her own thoughts that she could not live with.
While this documentary may lack some of the climactic moments that many may crave, it presents the disconcerting reality of how people live with distorted body images and how difficult it is to escape a belief once one is entangled in it.