Girl Model, a new documentary which debuted earlier this month at SXSW, has already caused quite a stir for it’s bald portrayal of the modeling industry–specifically the industry’s practice of scouting and employing young teen girls. The film follows 13-year-old Siberian model Nadya Vall through the ups-and-downs of her first year working–from getting scouted in her small hometown, to being sent unsupervised to Tokyo for her first gig. In the trailer alone, one can’t help but feel bad for Vall as she grapples with the language barrier in Tokyo, is told to lie about her age on a shoot, and winds up crying for her mother as the trailer comes to an end.
But what’s even more shocking is the backstory. After speaking with directors Ashley Sabin and David Redmon, it’s clear they never set out to make an exposé of the modeling industry–even if that was the end result. We also spoke with model Rachel Blais, who also appears in the film and served as a kind of consultant on the modeling industry to the film’s directors. She says she’s stopped getting as much work since the film was released. Finally, we spoke to Nadya Vall, now 17, at the center of it all, who has never even seen the film. She’s still working as a model and her agency is furious with the way she’s been portrayed in the film. Vall told us over email that she is confused and frustrated to learn, via letters and the internet, that she’s been depicted as a victim.
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Take the Long Hill Road exit off I-95 in eastern Connecticut and curl south toward the waterfront city of Groton and you’ll find each of the places that briefly employed Maureen Brainard-Barnes. There is the TJ Maxx and the AutoZone and the Stop and Shop. And the Chester’s chicken counter, where she made the potato wedges. And the shopping center with the Groton Cinema 6, where she picked up discarded snacks from the carpet in exchange for free admission and a bag of popcorn.
In 2005, Ms. Brainard-Barnes was a 22-year-old single mother who had difficulty holding down a steady job. She never could afford her own place, staying with her sister for long stretches and occasionally with a boyfriend. Modeling, she thought, could lead to a music career. As soon as she enrolled on a site called ModelMayhem.com, she received dozens of e-mails from places that purported to be modeling agencies but that, after a few clicks, turned out to mean nude modeling and sometimes working as an escort. She wasn’t thrown by seeing this. What did surprise her was the money.
Within a few months, Ms. Brainard-Barnes was making up to $2,000 a day on trips to New York City. She posted ads on Craigslist and worked out of a hotel room in Midtown for short stretches and then returned home to care for her daughter. After so many years of depending on others, she could leave her responsibilities behind and become another person for a while — and she could earn enough money to fulfill those same responsibilities. Online, she could be her own boss and not share what she made with anyone — not a pimp, not an escort service, not a boyfriend.
In 2010, Maureen Brainard-Barnes’s body was one of four uncovered close by one another in the sand dunes of Gilgo Beach, Long Island, wrapped in burlap. Three years later, the Long Island serial killer case remains unsolved, even as six more sets of remains have been discovered nearby along Ocean Parkway and farther east. The first four bodies were identified as women in their 20s — just like another woman, Shannan Gilbert, who had disappeared three miles from where the four bodies in burlap were found. These five women clearly had much in common. Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Melissa Barthelemy, Shannan Gilbert, Megan Waterman and Amber Lynn Costello all grew up in struggling towns a long distance from Long Island. And they all were escorts who discovered an easy entree into prostitution online.
Police smash high class prostitution ring that paid well-known Brazilian models £60,000 a WEEK to ‘service’ clients around the world
Women were dancers, models or actresses on popular Brazilian TV shows
Detectives close net after year-long investigation in Sao Paulo
Groups of women sent abroad to clients, for a week to ten days at a time
Some were told to have unprotected sex then fed fake anti-Aids drugs
From Runways to Redlight Districts
Europe is a wonderful place to be a fashion designer, photographer or model. Or so the fashion industry tells us. There are always plenty of opportunities for a pretty girl to make some money showing off some clothes and some skin.
But not according to former fashion editor Louise Gagnon and several models who have since quit the industry and have described as the seedy underbelly of the fashion industry. An industry filled with illicit drugs, prostitution, forced anorexia and mental/physical abuse.