The ugly side of the beauty industry
The final episode of The Model Agency has aired on Australia's ABC2 and during its entire seven-episode season I’ve debated with myself whether or not to write a review. However as the repeats stretch over the coming weeks, and the material is still available on ABC's iView, I think it’s worth drawing your attention to the distressing industry that sits behind those glossy magazines we love to flick through.
The Model Agency is an extended, observational documentary of Premier Model Management, a leading British company responsible for connecting designers and publishers with some of the most beautiful people in the world. Over seven half hours the series provides us a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the day-to-day dealings that make up a career in modeling – the catwalks, the photo shoots, the conferences, the calls, the calls, the calls… More importantly we meet the people who help turn models into household names. Chris and Carole White are Premier’s brother and sister founders, having started the business in 1981 at the end of Carole’s own modeling career. Premier has nurtured some of the fashion industry’s most successful models, including Claudia Schiffer, Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell. Consequently Carole’s opinion is considered to be gold, even if her language lacks the shine.
Living off your looks is harder than you think
The Model Agency should be required viewing for any teenager considering making a living out of their looks – for that matter, any adolescent who thinks the right body shape is the key to happiness. Carole and her crew present themselves as persons concerned with the welfare of their charges – “We look after our models like they're our children,” says senior booker Aidan – and indeed they do everything humanly possible to ensure they stay healthy and meet their modeling commitments. But there’s no getting away from the distinct impression that Premier is running a high-price meat market. Clients are caressed lovingly then criticised in the most caustic terms once they leave the office.
The majority of Premier’s catwalk models are teens who are yet to develop the curves or bulk associated with adult bodies. Annie is in charge of new faces and experiences a personal meltdown with Anthony, head of scouting, when one young woman considers returning to her normal life. Her boss Chris is outraged and astounded:
Chris: “Does she realise how big the opportunity is?”
Anthony: “She does, actually. That's the really sad thing.”
Chris: “It's just unbelievable. What is she going back to?”
Anthony: “Just regular life, regular life as a teenager.”
Chris: “Well, it's just the amount of hours and effort that Carole, Annie, you, the phone calls . . . I mean, Jesus Christ, it's just outrageous.”
And it would be, to someone who believes that the potential for greatness resides in someone’s height or bra cup. The result is a stable of highly polished, emotionally unstable individuals who enjoy all the trappings of success but ultimately have no more confidence than a teen with pimples.
Personal beauty is ultimately the most fickle of gods. Premier’s clients will have to add international rejection to their lists of concern when they fail to suspend the passage of time. Their handlers will only help until a shinier talent comes along; their worshippers have the memories of goldfish. Even the very, very few who make it to the top arrive with wounds – witness Naomi Campbell’s bitter court case with Carole in the final episode. It all goes to show that “… charm is deceitful and beauty is vain.” (Proverbs 31:30) Only a healthy respect of the God who made body and soul will lead to anything that lasts.
Watching The Model Agency with your kids
Be careful of the language in this one. Premier’s staff certainly isn’t afraid of the F-word. However the language is actually part of the program’s rude awakening and might still be suitable for a mature teen. With that mind, here's some questions you might want to chat through at the end of the show:
- Why are so many of the models so worried about their looks?
- Carole was once a model – has the experience left her happy?
- Leomie is one of the few really nice people involved – how much importance does she place on other people liking her?