When the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue came out last week, it was essentially a report on the state of the modeling world.
“The industry now is about body positivity and acceptance,” said Craig Lawrence, a director at Ford Models and an industry veteran of 31 years. “Look at the four people they put on the SI cover: [influencer] Kim Kardashian, a 70-year-old Maye Musk, Ciara, a singer, and Yumi Nu, a curvaceous Asian model. SI has pushed the boundaries and gone way ahead before it was [popular]. Now, of course, people are on the move.”
For decades, the modeling world was defined by glamorous exclusivity: impossibly skinny models in designer clothes, consuming designer drugs, liquor and cigarettes. They were seen and certainly not heard.
In the new issue of British Vogue, Gisele Bundchen opened up about her early career and her diet of wine and crabsticks.
“From the outside it looked like I had everything and I was only 22 years old. Inside I felt like I had hit rock bottom. I started my day with a mocha frappuccino with whipped cream and three cigarettes, then drank a bottle of wine each night. Imagine what that did to my mind.”
And in 2013, former Vogue Australia editor Kirstie Clements wrote an investigative story featuring tales of starving models, particularly catwalks eating paper towels to get thin. The Kate Moss cocaine scandal of 2005 dominated the headlines for weeks and Naomi Campbell has spoken out about breaking her addiction to coke and alcohol.
Bundchen, of course, cleaned up her act to eventually — along with Tom Brady — become one half of the world’s most insanely disciplined wellness couples. She saw a naturopath who suggested she eliminate sugar, grains, dairy, caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes from her diet.
Current model Bella Hadid told In Style in January she’s sober now. “I loved alcohol and it got to the point where I even started canceling nights that I felt like I couldn’t control myself,” said the 25-year-old, adding that she coexists with an alcohol-related 3 o’clock -Afraid to fight had stops.
Health, not hard parties, is the norm now.
“There was a time when heroin chic was part of the business,” Lawrence said. “In my first agency, we represented Jaime King, who was very accommodating with her drug problem. And then it was glorified.”
He added: “Years ago you saw models partying without sticking to a healthy lifestyle. Now you see models interested in yoga, fitness and healthy eating.”
Lucie Beatrix, 33, is one of the former. While living in NYC Model Apartments, the St. Louis native, who modeled for a decade, survived on cigarettes and a bottle of wine with dinner, allowing her to pass out easily.
“I learned from my roommates,” said Beatrix, who has also graced the cover of Elle Mexico. “The skinnier I was, the more money I made. It was applauded.”
But social media and social justice have changed our society. The once-demanding industry has welcomed many sizes and ethnicities, and encouraged models to speak out on their favorite topics.
“I remember when I left the industry I was excited to see the body positivity stuff. I was happy to see bigger girls being hugged instead of scolded,” said Beatrix, who is now sober and a competitive runner.
“It’s like going to a fast food restaurant. In the beginning you only had the burger. Then they added a turkey burger. Now they have a burger, a veggie, a turkey, and an impossible burger. This is the way of the industry. There will always be customers who want a size two or a size four, but what we’re seeing is that you can’t just go into one thing,” Lawrence said.
The agent has seen the changing nature of the curves industry and realized that when Ashley Graham was at his agency, it wasn’t an overnight success. “It took a while,” he said. “I remember Victoria’s Secret saying they wouldn’t use curve models because VS is about aspiration. I personally think these doors are open to millions of girls who may not have considered themselves models and presto. Ten years ago Yumi Nu might not have been an option.”
He noted that having a lot of social media followers is just as desirable today as having a zero waist size was 10 years ago.
“A lot of these brands are looking at the algorithms. The influencers have become what the actors were in the ’90s when magazines started replacing models with actors,” he said.
And brands aren’t just about blue-eyed blondes anymore.
“I have friends in the industry all over the world and everyone wants the ethnically ambiguous girl. It used to be about a girl who looked like Christie Brinkley. These news [of ethnic ambiguity] is amplified louder than ever.”
Beatrix noted that models are encouraged to speak openly about their issues – even scoring points and front pages or campaigns for their radical transparency.
“When I lost weight to maintain my contract end, I became extremely skinny and there was applause from left and right. When I came out and said I had a problem, everyone around me told me not to talk about it. It’s very different now.”
Or as Lawrence noted, “Models navigate their own journey.”