Chasing Beauty is a documentary directed by Brent Huff.
This is a fascinating glimpse into the harsh realities of being a fashion model. The director, Brent Huff, actually worked as a top model for Ford Cosmetics in the 80s. Later he turned his endeavors to film-making.
This documentary focuses specifically on the topic of beauty as it pertains to models.
We admire models for their beauty. And in this world, beautiful people get a lot of free passes in life. So naturally, we’d assume a model’s life to be very easy and glamorous. But in fact, to become a model means entering a world of brutal, cut-throat competition.
The overarching theme of this film is that you have to be a pain-loving masochist if you want to succeed as a model.
Many of the people whom Huff interviewed come from widely varying backgrounds. You hear from fashion designers, agents, makeup artists, cosmetic surgeons, struggling models, retired super models, young people with high aspirations of breaking into the modeling industry, beauty pageant contestants and even people commenting in the streets.
Although millions of people try their hand at being a model, most of them end up having their hopes dashed. Even those who are beautiful and fortunate enough to break into the industry have to struggle just to keep their jobs.
The work is physically demanding, involves long work hours and provides no job security. And often, models are the ones who have to pay for their own travel expenses.
This brought to my mind a recent bit of news that I read, in which British Vogue has become one of the first in the fashion industry to sign a 10-point code of conduct for models. This code sets out to provide models with the most basic of workers’ rights. The conditions include being paid within a reasonable time frame, reimbursement for travel to and from jobs on location, and receiving workplace insurance.
Many models who begin working before they are 16 years old often have to face “surprise” nude shoots in which they have very little say. So it’s a relief that the model’s code also requires informed consent for jobs involving full or partial nudity.
When it comes to stopping such rampant exploitation of models however, the fashion industry still has a long way to go.
As for the subject of beauty itself, the documentary cites which physical traits are highly sought after in models.
Youthfulness tops the list. As someone in the documentary put it, young models are still innocent and haven’t had enough time yet to abuse their skin. Skinnyness is another trait that tops the list. To be more specific, uber-skinnyness. Modeling agents claim that this is a condition demanded by the fashion designers.
Laying aside any pre-conceived notions of beauty, sometimes breaking into the industry can be as arbitrary as being in the right place at the right time. Or having really odd, unique, almost alien-like features. Just to grab viewers’ attention. Or sometimes it’s just about being unusually photogenic. There are models who’ve studied and mastered the way light falls on the different parts of their faces. And so they know exactly how to put their best foot forward when posing for photos.
Of course, you can’t talk about fashion modeling without touching the subject of eating disorders. One retired model admitted that for months, she ate nothing but carrots. Followed by a period when she ate nothing but pineapples. Another model talked about a girl she knew who ate cotton balls dipped in orange juice, just so that she would feel full.
Then there’s the matter of retouching photos. According to a makeup artist interviewed in the documentary, photos are retouched “almost 100% of the time.”
The film briefly shows how a computer program can be used to place a “mask” over faces and retouch them in a way that brings a person’s face closer to what their “ideal” face would be. By the way, if anyone knows what this program is called, tell me because I would love to get my hands on it and play around with it. And then blog about it of course.
Man, after watching this documentary, I’m not sure I’d ever want to work in the fashion industry. It sounds intense. And that’s putting it mildly.
To me, the most interesting story in the documentary was the one about Hoyt Richards. He rose to the pinnacles of supermodel-dom, only to lose himself in a religious cult.
Hoyt Richards is considered by many to be the first ever male supermodel in the 80s. Back then, things were a little more bizarre with the rise of cults who targeted and recruited models for their looks, their influence and their money. Richards ended up giving at least $4.5 million dollars to the cult that he was then part of.
The only problem I had with this film is how utterly hodge-podge it is. There is no straight or clear storyline followed. It felt like a collage of random glimpses into the world of modeling.
Overall though, this was a really interesting documentary. I can see how it would be especially interesting to those who work in fashion and modeling. Or people who know someone who works or wants to work in fashion.
If you don’t have the hour and a half to spend on this movie though, I’d recommend instead that you watch this 9-minute TED talks with fashion model Cameron Russell.
In the video, Russell gives a very honest talk about what it’s like to work as a model. Dealing with the insecurity that comes from having to think about the way you look everyday. And the social influences over our ideas and attitudes toward beauty.
Russell’s social commentary is incredibly spot on.
“I am the recipient of a legacy. For the past few centuries, we have defined beauty not just as health and youth and symmetry that we’re biologically programmed to admire. But also as tall, slender figures and femininity and white skin. And this was a legacy that was built for me and this was a legacy that I’ve been cashing out on.”
~ Supermodel Cameron Russell, TED Talks