‘My agents told me to stop exercising and stop eating.’
My name is Zuzanna Buchwald and I’m a fashion model. Up until now, I was silent. Silent about my illness, silent about being objectified, silent about being under tremendous pressure. Only now, at the age of 28, the traumas connected to my career in the fashion industry are healed enough for me to be able to speak up, hoping to provide a resource for all the young models struggling with stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as substance dependencies and eating disorders.
Isn’t it unfortunate that one of the only things you can control as a model is your looks?
Staying a size 0–2 throughout your career is the unspoken key to success in this industry.
For most women, staying the smallest size possible consistently for many years is very hard to achieve. Young models learn about it the hard way: If an agency catches the smallest weight gain, you are measured, told to lose weight immediately, and reprimanded.
The agency is afraid you won’t fit into the sample sizes of clothing your clients want you to wear. You often get a deadline, a time of when the next measuring will be. The skinnier you get, the better. You begin to crash diet to meet the expectations of your agents and their clients. If you lose weight, you will be praised by all for how good you look and sent out to castings. If you don’t, you will be sent away to continue dieting. No one is guiding you on how to do it, no one mentions your health. No one tells you to stop when you start looking too thin. You develop an unhealthy thought pattern: The skinnier you are, the more desirable and valuable the industry sees you.
This is exactly what happened to me. After transitioning from being an athlete to a model, I was pressured to lose muscle mass. My agents told me to stop exercising and stop eating. On my own and feeling alone in a foreign country, the pressure quickly developed into an eating disorder that I battled for almost four years. Ironically, I was most admired by my agents and designers when I was at my unhealthiest and unhappiest. It was then that I worked the most.
Up until now, I was silent. Silent about my illness, silent about being objectified, silent about being under tremendous pressure.
But I didn’t feel like “me” anymore—I felt like I was walking around in a fog.
I didn’t know what was normal, and I didn’t feel understood. I knew that starving myself wasn’t the way to live, but I also thought that it was the only way I could stay in my profession. The illness changed my personality and relationship with food forever. People often told me I had a dream life, but if you look past the surface, you can see that the modeling industry is way less glamorous than it seems.
In the 1980s and 1990s, models were strong, curvy women with personalities and stories to tell. They were characters that complemented the clothes they wore. Today models are anonymous, interchangeable clothing hangers. Today, you are the face behind the label, not the face that makes the label.
Despite many tragic stories, shock campaigns, and calls for a change, it doesn’t appear things have progressed. There has been some headway made, but little when it comes to the objectification and oppression of women’s bodies in general. I, for one, can’t understand how is it possible that this very visible industry exists—and thrives—with no rules or serious regulations that either dictate the behavior of those who work within it, or to protect those involved. How come there are no norms? Is this what we want, to see our children enter a culture that continues to perpetuate really damaging and irresponsible messages?
One thing that isn’t generally addressed is that a model is less likely to receive attention and care for any given psychological disorder. I speak with models constantly, and most of them don’t feel emotionally supported or guided by their agents. I have noticed that when agents realize that something is seriously wrong with a girl they represent, instead of investigating, they prefer to send her home and often replace her with a new talent. It’s not hard when there are so many girls dreaming of becoming a model and determined to do “whatever it takes.” There are simply no resources available on how to stay healthy, happy, and in business.
The things I talk about in the Real Women Real Stories filming project are brief. Real Women Real Stories by Matan Uziel brings awareness to critical issues that millions of women face every day. As a result of many different factors, however, many of them will never come forward to get the help they need—they will remain silent, like I did for so long. I hope that because I shared a bit of my story through Real Women Real Stories, others will have the courage to use their voices, too.
Beauty is not defined by the shape of your body, but comes from your glowing health and happiness.
I won’t stay silent anymore. I’m no longer afraid to say that the fashion industry has an exploitative and dangerous side to the often desperate young girls churning through it. It is cruel and unforgiving and often regards humans as commodities to be maximized then discarded. Why such things happen in a field that has the potential to send positive messages, set standards, and make role models, is beyond me.
Writing about this has made me feel truly sad. After seeing so many innocent models lost to the storm of this devastating illness—often young girls who are too young and vulnerable to look out for themselves, too young to know better—I am making it my mission to raise awareness and mentor young colleagues about health and wellness.
I am calling to the media and fashion industry to stop imposing this unhealthy, dangerous body-rigid ideal of a size zero and replace it with the image of health, happiness, and personality.
Making changes to an industry steeped in a culture of bone-thin will not come overnight, but one can only hope that more stories will change more minds. Remember that you should never be judged by the clothing size you wear, and that “fat” and “skinny” are just words describing body types, not insults or compliments. Beauty is not defined by the shape of your body, but comes from your glowing health and happiness.