“We Just Want You Down To The Bone”

 When you think of models, you probably think of long legs, designer clothing, and flawless figures. When I think of models, I think of eating disorders, self-doubt, and an everlasting feeling of dread and isolation. 

(Photo by Rob Crawford)

I started modelling almost ten years ago in my home country of Australia. I never wanted to be a model, I didn’t care about fashion or parties or “being cool”, but I wasn’t opposed to trying something new. I loved modelling in Australia for the most part, I did a lot of exciting jobs and I started to feel more confident and happy with who I was growing to be. Then, around the age of 22 I decided I’d move to England, I have family here and I thought I could try modelling in the European market.  

I was unprepared. I visited most of the top agencies in London, and all but one rejected me. The one agency that didn’t had one condition - I had to lose weight. In Australia, I was encouraged to look lean and “fresh faced”, but that is not the look agencies in London are after.  

Of course I wanted to try to lose weight for them, whatever it took, I wanted to continue to work as a model. They didn’t offer me any meal plans, any diet regimes or exercise tips. They simply said “Come back when your measurements are down”. The measurements they’re after are 'sample size', size 6-8 UK, I was close to a size 10, but I remember the agent saying “You’re a skinny size 10, it won’t take long”. I took that as a compliment.  

I lost around 20 pounds and went back to visit the agency, but my measurements weren’t quite there yet. The agent sat me down in a big room with a glass table, famous supermodels plastered the walls in shiny frames, and she said to me “You’re making great progress, we just want you down to the bone”. I said thank you, and I left.  

Rosalie when she was told "we just want you down to the bone"
(Photo by Rob Crawford)

I had already lost 20 pounds, I was stick thin. My friends and family were asking if I was eating enough, if I was healthy, if I was sure this was what I wanted. Then I realised, it wasn’t what I wanted. If I lost more weight, I’d be seriously injuring myself, more than I already was. I had been eating the same three meals every day for four months and exhausting myself with exercise. I didn’t see myself as thin anymore, all I saw was someone who wasn’t thin enough.  

It’s been five years since I was asked to get down to the bone, but the words still resonate strongly. Soon after I left that agency I searched for commercial agencies, ones which wouldn’t mind that I wasn’t a size 6. I joined an agency and was doing well, but I quickly fell out of love with modelling. I had lost my confidence and happiness. I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons anymore. I felt that I was chasing a dream which I didn’t even want.  

One day I was at the train station getting ready to board my train home and my agency rang to ask if I’d do a news piece talking about Fashion Week. I asked why would they want to speak with me, I’m not a catwalk model, I’m not thin enough. My agent insisted it would be fine, so I went.  

The news piece was being filmed in a dressing room of a small studio, I was placed in front of a mirror, as though I was getting ready for a photoshoot.  The cameras were rolling and the reporter asked me “Are you excited about Fashion Week coming up?” and without hesitation I replied “I don’t do Fashion Week, I’m too fat”. The cameras stopped rolling and the reporter asked me “Are you really too fat for Fashion Week? You’re really thin” and I told him what I thought was the truth; I wasn’t really thin, I wasn’t sample size. He looked sorry for me, similarly to how most people around me looked at me. 

The news piece aired that evening, and within 24 hours my story was gaining interest and I was being contacted by other journalists. I spoke with change.org and I started a petition to raise awareness about the modelling industry. Within a few weeks, I had 100,00 signatures, which meant I was able to take my petition to 10 Downing Street. I was so glad that these issues were getting so much attention, and amongst it all I was receiving so many incredible messages and emails from former models, from parents, from complete strangers across the world, all thanking me for sharing my story and struggle.  

I wasn’t aware that people didn’t know the truth about the modelling industry. Sure, we have long legs and we get to wear designer clothing, but for most of us - we are skipping meals and we are constantly comparing ourselves to others. For a lot of models, the constant pressure to be thin results in loss of periods, fainting on the job, not enjoying a slice of cake on their birthday. For a lot of models, seeing themselves in the mirror only causes dread.  

Even today, I look in the mirror and grab the ‘fat’ around my thighs and think I’d be prettier without it. I’m a size 8, a heathy size 8, and I still carry body dysmorphia around with me.  

I’m lucky that I didn’t sign with that agency, if I did, I would have continued to starve myself and I wouldn’t be happy. I’m lucky that I knew that being healthy and happy is more important than what size is printed on my shirt label.

References :
petition - http://change.org/modelslaw 
personal instagram to keep updated - www.instagram.com/rosalienelson  

Rosalie Nelson has been a model since 2012, and in 2015 she set up a petition to raise awareness on the issues within the modelling industry and hopefully one day bring in legislation to protect models. She has continued modelling in London, and currently works as an ambassador for the Parliamentary Society of Arts, Fashion and Sports, and is a committee member of the Commonwealth and Foreign Council, mainly dealing with mental health issues and the effect of social media. 


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