The Modeling Industry Destroyed My Soul

I was a high fashion teen model in the 1980's. I worked for Elite in Kansas City, Chicago and Tokyo. My manager in Chicago was the same one who discovered Cindy Crawford. By the time I started working for Elite Chicago, Cindy had gone to NY and other bigger cities to become a giant supermodel.

I can’t remember how I got into modeling. When I was 15 years old, my friends told me that I should be a model so I entered a Teen Magazine modeling competition. I placed in the top 10. From there my mother assisted me in most aspects of my modeling career and would set up appointments on the phone for me. I worked for Halls, The Peruvian Connection and would occasionally appear in the Kansas City Star. Modeling in Kansas City was a low-key operation and I made a load of money on a very sporadic basis. I remember making $500 for a shoot that lasted 3 hours. This was a lot of money for a teenager.

Towards the end of my senior year in high school I learned that Elite Chicago was scouting for models in KC. I thought I should give it a shot. It worked. I was hired immediately and arrangements were made for me to live in Chicago and work for Elite. I was 17 years old.

Once I arrived in Chicago I was told by my manager that I was not skinny enough. I was also told that my ankles were too thick. I was horrified. I played sports in high school and had a really toned body and it never occurred to me that I was not skinny. Actually I never thought about my body at all. I was very active, healthy and lean.

Then my reality began to shift. It was being defined by those around me at the agency. They all thought I was overweight so I started to believe them. Most of the models I worked with looked anorexic. When compared to them, I did look bigger. I was healthy and they were near death with zero body fat anywhere. But I couldn’t see this. I was a perfectionist and wanted to be the absolute best at everything, including modeling.

I had invested a lot of time and energy into this move to Chicago. It was quite terrifying to hear my manager talk about how I needed to lose some weight because I realized that if I didn’t lose it, I would be sent home and face a barrage of judgement from people back home, “Leah was too fat and couldn’t do it. What a loser!”

I wish I had had the strength to just say, “Fuck you” to my manager and pack up my stuff and return to KC. But I need to give myself a break. I was a child. I wasn’t even 18 years old. The lure of fame, money and status was too great. I decided to stay. I decided to begin starving myself.

I had begun experimenting with starving myself and throwing up meals around the same time I started modeling. It seemed the most logical thing to do since my weight was seen as a problem by my manager in Chicago. At the time I was 5'10 and weighed around 128 pounds.

I failed at anorexia most of the time. I could go for a few days without eating but would then be really hungry and would eat too much. Then I would throw up most of the excess food. I remember becoming absolutely fixated on achieving a skeletal body. I would pore over magazines, in search of absurdly skinny role models. I found plenty of role models to fuel my eating disorder. I began to feel really proud when I went days without eating. I would watch regular people and pass judgment on them. I thought they were lame and lacked self-control.

At this point you’re probably thinking, “Well, your eating disorder sucked, but what about the parties? What about your love life? What about the money? What about the feeling of getting famous?” My answer: I was 17. I didn’t drink. I didn’t really like socializing. I was shy. I didn’t have boyfriends. I didn’t get out of control. I spent most of my time in my apartment alone when I wasn’t working.

One day there was a casting call to work in Tokyo, Japan. I got it. My contract with Elite Tokyo guaranteed that I would make $20,000 in three months no matter what. That meant that even if I didn’t get chosen for modeling gigs while I was there, they would pay me anyway! Only a fool would say no.

On my first night in Tokyo, I received a call from my agent, Mimi. She said she was taking me out to eat at a restaurant. When I got to the restaurant I was shocked to find a whole table full of models and businessmen. Mimi hadn’t mentioned that there were going to be men there. I thought I was hired to be a model, not a prostitute. I felt a sick, twisted feeling in my stomach when I arrived at the restaurant.

I was placed next to an Australian businessman named Alan Bond. He told me he was Mr. Bond, the richest man in Australia and at the time, he was. I found him to be disgustingly pathetic, pompous, unattractive and old. He really loved talking about himself and tried very hard to impress me with tales of his obscene wealth. I was unimpressed. But I was also aware of the power dynamics. Mr. Bond owned me that evening. He had paid Mimi. Just how much, I never knew, but I had signed my life away in that contract. I had to do whatever Mimi said or else she’d send me back home to the States.

After talking with Mr. Bond for fifteen minutes, I could tell he wanted to fuck me. I immediately began plotting how to get away from this man who, in his words, “owned all of Australia.” After scanning the table for other models who were rebellious like me, I motioned to one and she came over to me. I suggested that we go to the dance floor for a bit. I expressed how freaked out I was that we had essentially been set up to be unpaid prostitutes for these bloated Australian tycoons. She was disgusted too, so we filled up on French chocolate tears, fruit and tea, then I told Mimi that we had to leave to meet some friends at a bar. I never found out if any of the models ended up having sex with Mr. Bond but I think one got really friendly with him. It was a disgusting experience.

Welcome to fucking Japan.

If you liked this, read the next chapter: The Modeling Industry Destroyed My Soul Part 2: THE YAKUZA. Learn about my naïveté with regards to not understanding what, “Do you want to go home with me?” meant. I remained a virgin the entire time I was a model. Click here if you want these stories delivered to your inbox.

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