There’s an ugly side of the fashion industry—one that nearly cost former top model Victoire Dauxerre her life. At age 17, Dauxerre was a regular teen getting ready to go to university when she was scouted by Elite Model Management in Paris and told that she could be “the next Claudia Schiffer.” By the time she was 18, Dauxerre was walking the runway for big-name designers at fashion weeks in New York City and Milan. But the pressure to fit into size-zero clothes propelled Dauxerre into a dangerous spiral of disordered eating, and soon she was battling anorexia and bulimia.
In Dauxerre’s new memoir, Size Zero: My Life as a Disappearing Model, (Harper Collins, $22) the now 24-year-old reveals how she dropped from 123 lbs to a dangerous 103 lbs in only a few months, and how the pressure to be stick-thin pushed her to attempt suicide.
How did your eating disorder begin?
I never had issues before [modelling]. For me, it began when I first arrived at the modelling agency and they took my measurements. They measure your chest, your waist and around your hips. I had to lose three centimetres to reach a size zero, so they told me they were going to lie on my comp card. [Editor’s note: a comp card is a model’s business card that includes photos and measurements.] So on my contract, it said size zero, and you sign your contract, so you have to match it. When you’re 18, you’re like, Three centimetres is nothing! You have no idea it’s 11 kilos (24 lbs). Even when I ate three apples a day, I knew I was too big.
You survived on three apples a day?
I decided to eat three apples a day for a month, and then figured I would eat properly again. But when I started eating like that, the anorexia appeared. It was so hard to get out of it. I wanted to go lower and lower on the scale. The little voice in my head said you will never fit into the clothes if you’re not size zero. Every day I was so frightened of gaining weight. That’s how I began using laxatives and enemas.
What was it like trying to work while struggling with this serious eating disorder?
I was hungry of course, but also within that, I was not so hungry because I felt like I had so much power. Everybody around you is controlling your life, so all you can control is your weight. You are so proud and feel like you’re not even a human anymore, as if to say, “I don’t even need to eat and I’m still here and I’m so successful!” My agency was applauding me, and I was chosen for all these [fashion] shows. I did 22 shows in one season, and apparently that’s pretty rare. After one season, I was in the top 20 of the most successful models of the year. It was like, “If you are the skinniest, you’ll have so many jobs.” So of course you want to continue to do that.
In your book, you talk about how miserable you were doing fashion shows in New York and how badly you needed the support of your family. Do you feel like the industry exploits teenagers?
Oh, definitely. Agents scout you when you are so young. First of all, they do that because they want super skinny models—and you’re skinnier when you’re a teenager. You don’t have the same body you did at 15 when you’re 20. It’s also easier for them to manipulate and groom you because you’re away from your family. You likely have not studied [at university], and you don’t know anything about life, really. You are so weak—because you don’t eat—and are surrounded by men who have so much power. You are like a little girl. It’s all about your body and your beauty, and they tell you, “I’ll create your career if you listen to my advice.”
What needs to change?
I think all models—because [most of us] are at least 5”10—should be size 10 or 8 at least, and not size zero. I also think it would be good to employ models who are 18 or older. You have much more personality when you grow up and you know more about life.
You wrote that Karl Lagerfeld prefers women with flat chests and Miuccia Prada stares at models like they’re clothes hangers. Do you think the obsession with thinness starts with designers?
It comes from the designers, for sure, because if the designers asked for other sizes, the agency would cast other sizes. But everybody is responsible. The trouble is that [change] has to be something everybody does together. You can’t ask one magazine or one agency to say, “I will only employ size 10 models,” because they will stop getting work and it will be the other ones who will be successful. It can’t be a single person, and that’s why it’s important to really talk about it. If people begin to get angry, maybe that will change things.
In one chapter of the book, a fellow model has a heart attack and dies. In another scene, you faint and your agent doesn’t seem concerned. Why doesn’t the industry seem to care about these serious health issues?
Because they do not treat us as human beings. It’s like, “Oh a chair is broken, we can get another one. Oh a model died, let’s cast another one.” There is no humanity or dignity or respect. It is a huge issue we need to talk about and denounce. You can’t mistreat people that way—or ask people to lose so much weight. It’s really a public health issue.
Your illness got so out of control, you ended up in the hospital after overdosing on pills. Do you think that you needed that low point to realize you needed help?
I was really desperate and I really wanted to kill the suffering inside of me. So I went to my house and took the pills, and my little brother came into my room and asked me, “What are you doing?” I just remembered that I said, “It will be OK.” Before going to the hospital, I had never realized I was suffering from anorexia. When you are suffering from it, you are in complete denial. I saw the other girls and thought, “Oh my god, they are doing to die. They are so skinny,” but I never thought I looked like them. I saw myself in the mirror and I thought I was fat.
How is your relationship now with your body now?
It’s still very complicated. I really have an emotional relationship with food. Because of that, it’s hard for me to do three meals a day: when I’m really anxious, I eat a lot. I don’t suffer from anorexia or bulimia anymore, but I can’t say I eat like a normal person. It’s much better, but I still have moments when it’s more complicated than others.
What do you want readers to take away from your book?
It really is for all the girls who dream of modelling—because I would have loved to read this before signing my contract with Elite—but also for all the girls who are unhappy because they see these “perfect” models and want to look like them. I want to tell them this is not perfection and this is not happiness. I wrote my book for the fashion industry, too. They need to change. It’s their moral responsibility to help promote healthy images of women. Fashion is such a powerful medium, and it’s their duty to celebrate women’s bodies—not destroy them.
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