Friday, October 19, 2012

"Girl Model" Trafficking Young Girls from Siberia to Japan

The thirteen, fourteen and fifteen year old girls (some may actually be younger) line up in their skimpy bathing suits, mostly bikinis. There are dozens of them. A badge pinned to the suit has a number on it, so they can be identified by number, if picked. They are almost all rail thin, and some appear to have not completely gone through puberty. Their hips and breasts are those of young girls not young women, for that is what they are, young girls. They wait in line for their turn to stand before the recruiters; to find out whether they will be selected. The process is impersonal, the girls objects that the recruiters eye and evaluate – “her hips are too big, that one is too fat.” In the acting trade this is called a cattle call and that is exactly what this is.

“Girl Model” is a disturbing documentary that delves into the seedy business of underage models. In this case, teenage girls from Siberia are recruited to work as models in Japan. “They like them young in Japan,” one of the recruiters says. “In Japan, you can’t be young enough.” As the girls are being measured, hips, bust, another voice says that the secret of a successful modeling career is to start modeling at 5 to 10 years of age. In a scene later in the film, we see very young girls perhaps 6 or 7 years old demonstrating runway moves at a modeling agency. The image of Jonbenet Ramsay was inescapable.

The film by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin follows Nadya, 13, as she travels, seemingly all alone from her home in Siberia to Tokyo. She has been promised work – at least two modeling jobs in Japan and $8,000.

It is also features Ashley, herself a former model and now a model scout who recruits Nadya. Ashley is ambivalent about the business, clearly aware of the abuses that occur, but she rationalizes it. She has made a lot of money, which perhaps helps the rationalization.

Nadya and her family live in poor circumstances and she hopes her modeling career will help improve their circumstances. She sheepishly calls herself a gray mouse, a country girl. She is pretty but not devastatingly so however there is sweetness to her and something about her draws us to her.

Nadya’s time in Tokyo is not successful. She doesn’t speak the language and though she has a roommate, another girl from Siberia, she is lonely and homesick. The promised jobs are not there and no other jobs materialize. Eventually she returns to Siberia. Not only has she not earned any money, she owes $2,000 for her expenses.

The film documents the exploitation of these girls. Nadya is not unique. The film does not suggest any sexual abuse, but the harsh reality is that this is an abusive business; the girls are abused whether financially, sexually or emotionally.

“Girl Model” peels away the glamorous mask of modeling to reveal some ugliness behind. This is a troubling film but one which should be seen. It opens today (Friday, October 19) at the Denver Film Center, Colfax.

View a Trailer from "Girl Model"

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