'She has a fresh face, she looks prepubescent': New film exposes ugly world of model scouts hunting for underage talent in Siberia
17:51 GMT, 12 March 2012
A new film exposes the ugly underbelly of modelling.
Girl Model peels back the superficially beautiful world to reveal a complex – and often shocking – supply chain of fresh, young talent running from Siberia to Japan and east to the U.S.
The movie, launched at Austin's SXSW festival this weekend, sees a model scout on the road, searching for new blood in some unlikely – and economically deprived – regions.
Too much, too young: Girl Model exposes a side of modelling that many fail to acknowledge – or of which they are simply unaware
In Russia's bleak north east, Ashley Arbaugh, a former model, scours for potential talent in poor villages and towns dotting the wilderness. She hopes to find a face that is ripe for filtering into the international model circuit.
'You can't be young enough' she says
of the lax age limits in the industry – something exploited just weeks
ago by Marc Jacobs at New York Fashion Week shows, where 14-year-olds walked the runways.
'I look at beauty and I think of young girls – beautiful,' she says to the camera as the train passes through tundra.
Made by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin, the documentary followed Ms Arbaugh's journey in search of beauty and the influence she had over the future of incredibly sheltered 13-year-old Nadya Vall.
Big breath: The film sees girls as young as 13 being measured up for a world of runways and mirrors. Many are sent from Siberia to Japan to seek a fortune
Parade: Bodies are scrutinised by visiting scouts with the hope of finding the next big thing for the Western and Asian markets
Ms Arbaugh admits that the market demands for ever-younger girls and, for her part, is clearly torn by the role she plays in the murky trade.
was precisely Nadya's immaturity that struck a chord with her: 'They
love skinny girls in Japan. She has a fresh, young, face, she looks
young, almost like a prepubescent girl.'
'I look at beauty and I think of young girls – beautiful'
The lure of the bright lights – and paychecks – is enough to persuade young Nadya to board a plane to Tokyo. It is, she believes, the ticket out of being an
ordinary 'brown mouse' for the girl from Novosibirsk.
Alone in Japan, Nadya needs to fend for
herself with no funds, tackle the language and culture barriers and take on the hard
industry – though she is barely a teenager.
Her Tokyo contacts are told she is 15.
Watching on: Scout Ashley Arbaugh, left, sizes up the girls on show while an agent seems to appreciate his view – as hopeful families watch on the Siberian stadium
Summing up: The scout appraises what she sees and looks for fresh, young talent. She suggests that Japan and the West equate beauty with prepubescent looks
'I want to become a good model,' she
says at the start of her long path away from her home where she lives
with her siblings, parents and grandparents. Indeed, she is strung along
and is led to believe that she will earn a guaranteed $8,000 to just
is far more grim. On the film's site, the makers describe the modelling
world as being 'defined by glass surfaces and camera lenses, reflecting
back differing versions of reality to the young women caught in their
It soon becomes clear, they write, that modelling 'more and more resembles a hall of mirrors'.
According to Jezebel, Ms Arbaugh is misleading in her appraisal of young Nadya's prospects – the unstable modelling industry of Japan, she says, 'is a very safe market. Unlike other markets, the girls never go into debt.'
Big chance: The model hopeful leaves rainy Siberia with her dreams in check. She says she 'wants to be a good model' rather than an ordinary 'brown mouse'
Aged just 13: Nadya Vall is sent to Japan with a guarantee that she will earn $8,000. It is her first time away from home and she makes the long journey alone
Not only is it, in fact, largely
unregulated – and prone to shady characters on the lookout for potential
prostitutes – but it is far from the fashion hotspots of Europe and
The site comments that the scout's willingness to commoditise the girls is 'frankly a little disturbing.'
While she and the child spend very little time
together, their meeting has a profound effect on both of their lives and
goes on to shape Nadya's onward journey to Tokyo – and beyond.
The docu-movie, already out on DVD in the UK and elsewhere, has a string of film festival accolades to its name and is already winning praise for casting a challenging eye over the questionable practices that shape, albeit behind a guise of glamour, international modelling.
Girl Model is scheduled to go on general release this summer.