Breaking into the modelling industry – anywhere in the world – is extremely difficult. But the hardest part might actually be surviving it once you’re in. Behind the camera, models are under constant scrutiny that most do not see, often endangering their own physical and mental health to meet unrealistic beauty standards.
Just last week, Fashion Pakistan Week 2018 took place. We all witnessed glamorous models strut the runway with confidence, looking every bit aspirational in elaborate designer clothes. From the sidelines, some of us quietly compared our bodies to theirs, feeling less than happy about the way we look. But little do we know the struggle that takes place backstage for models.
Parisheh James, who is also former supermodel Frieha Altaf’s daughter, is one of them. Ironically, she decided to use her Instagram — a platform often credited with perpetuating our obsession with perfectionism — to open up about her body image issues.
In a detailed post, Parisheh revealed how she went on a very unhealthy diet back in 2015. “I would eat salads 3 times a day, drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. With fashion week around the corner, I had lost about 18 lbs in the span of a week and a half. I would look in the mirror and compare myself to the other models who were going to be in the show with me and constantly judge parts of my body that looked bigger/ rounder. I didn’t realize how much pressure I had put on myself to look a certain way where I began to convince myself that I looked great and felt great but in reality, I was weak and depressed.”
Needless to say, the experience left a big mark on Parisheh and somehow helped her understand that she wasn’t being honest to herself. Fast forward to Fashion Pakistan Week 2018, she decided to go in a different direction this time. “I knew I was not going to lose weight as fast as I had like the last time and I was completely fine with that. I decided to work out and eat healthy. I lost maybe only a few pounds. I was still 5’3 in height. I was not as skinny as the other models. But this time, I did not make that important. This last weekend’s fashion week went great and for the first time, I didn’t let myself get eaten up by my past insecurities,” she wrote in her post.
Weight is probably the most sensitive topic in the fashion industry. There’s immense pressure on models to meet unrealistic body requirements – a lot of it coming from within the fashion fraternity. Those who can’t meet those standards are conveniently singled out. This results in severe eating disorders and body image issues that can last longer than most modelling careers do. Young women outside the industry are reeled into believing they’re not good enough unless they’re not thin enough, tall enough and pretty enough. In a sample study conducted by Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences among 111 young women in Lahore, 59% normal-weight and 21% underweight women considered themselves to be overweight.
And while some designers didn’t take her in their shows because she wasn’t tall or skinny enough, Parisheh didn’t seem to mind as much. “I want people to know that my life isn’t as perfect as it seems. We all are fighting some kind of battles, mentally and physically but what’s most important is being content with who you are. No girl should ever make herself go through toxic mental punishment the way I did. Some people will constantly judge you and talk behind your back but don’t make your life about proving them wrong. Embrace who you are and never change yourself for anyone!”
The big take away: everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. We must be more sensitive. Before judging, put yourself in their shoes and think, carefully. Be kind. Face your insecurities and stand up for what you think is right. Never compromise your health for anyone or anything. And lastly, if you’re privileged like Parisheh, use it for the right reasons. Show other people it’s safe to be themselves rather than live up to some unrealistic beauty standard.
Tell us what you thought about Parisheh’s post in the comments.