DOXA 2012: Girl Model puts a human face on a harsh industry

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      Girl Model (USA)

      Imagine trying to trek around Tokyo not knowing a word of Japanese or English. Now, imagine being 13, leaving home for the first time, and doing that on your own.

      In David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s documentary Girl Model, doe-eyed Nadya gets a painful education on the harsh realities of the modeling industry when she leaves her small Siberian village for the neon glow of Japan’s fashion capital. The teen attends a model casting call at an unnamed location in snowy Siberia, and is handpicked from hundreds of girls by model scout Ashley Arbaugh to be a fashion model in Japan. “I’m looking for a specific type of girl for the Japanese market,” Arbaugh explains. In Japan, female models who are blonde, fair-skinned, “not too tall”, and “prepubescent”-looking are favoured, which, Arbaugh says, makes Siberia an ideal scouting location. Nadya is optimistic that money earned from modeling will help her family rise above their rural surroundings. Meanwhile, Arbaugh struggles with working in an industry she has little passion for (vintage video clips show Arbaugh as a teenage American girl modeling in Tokyo).

      As Nadya’s perilous Lost in Translation experience and Arbaugh’s ambivalence towards a business she has spent over a decade working in becomes increasingly conflicted onscreen, so too will your feelings towards an industry that blurs the line between glamour and human trafficking. The film will, at the very least, make you wonder about who the “girl model” really is the next time you open a fashion magazine or see a billboard.

      DOXA presents Girl Model on May 12 at 4 p.m. at Pacific Cinémathèque.

      Watch the trailer for Girl Model.