Sunday, November 19, 2006

TO EAT OR NOT TO EAT: Pain or Pleasure

Modeling is not a sickness……anorexia is.

Apparently, a model in Spain died of being too thin. She weighed 88 pounds.

I believe, at the height of my modeling, I was 110 lbs. I stand at 5’10” and really, my weight never got lower than that. Still, I would get friendly reminders from concerned fashion editors to take care of my health. I remember Bernadine Morris of the New York Times, telling me that it is OK to be thin but not if I am sick.

I won’t lie to you. I starved myself sometimes, specially, before the couture collections - which happens twice a year. It is so embarrassing to arrive at your fittings in Rome, the first stop and find that that beautiful gown that designers made especially for you is going to another girl. Here’s that ‘sexy’ number that every model will want to wear and there is nothing more unforgivable than you ripping the zipper accidentally when the women from the ateliers are dressing you. They have been working on the garment for 3 months and here you come, destroying their masterpiece. The women at the atelier start whispering and they can’t even look you in the eye.

Almost all couture design houses have a stuffed mannequin (of the A list models) with your body, customized to your specific measurements that they fit your clothes on before you arrive for your actual fitting. It is in a model's best interest to be consistent with her weight – it is about being professional. The less alterations they have to do on your finished garment, the better. So, I have learned to be on point with my weight; lest those pattern makers from the atelier start slapping my mannequin around in anger and frustration.

It is easy to lose weight, really – it is a choice between pain and pleasure.
Why do we do things? Whatever we do in life, it is to gain pleasure or to avoid pain. It is one or the other.
Well for me, the pleasure was not in the eating - but in surveying myself in the mirror and the immense pleasure it gave me to see that whatever I wore, I looked good. And the pain for me was the thought that all my bookings or shows would be cancelled if I gained weight. The thought that designers would reassign all my beautiful gowns to another model is enough to keep me thin because that thought would be really painful to me.


I really had to lose many pounds when I started to work for Thierry Mugler in Paris; I was young and had baby fat. However, it is easy to lose the weight because the French have a good diet. The French never snack; they eat solid meals and they take their time doing it. Have you ever seen a fat French woman? Not really - because they eat small portions and they take promenades after they eat big meals.

Anyway, I was so busy working that I never had time to eat. I admit I did not have good eating habits. Things get so hectic and I got by with only my adrenalin, that my first meal of the day would be at 4:00 p.m. – the hour when I felt my energy fading. However, when work was done, I ate very well. Sometimes, in the morning, I would drink milk – a habit that was forced on me when I was in school just to put something in my system for energy.

This bad eating habit of mine would get me in trouble sometimes; I would get ‘low blood sugar’ episodes (hypoglycemia). The most memorable was one afternoon at Azzedine Alaia’s atelier. I came from other bookings but I always went to Azzedine’s everyday to fit his clothes. Azzedine had put this beautiful, completely see-through, body hugging bridal gown on me. The mermaid silhouette (siren) was stunning. I was standing tall in 4-inch heels and Azzedine pinning beside me in front of a 3-piece mirror. I was concentrating, looking at the mirror, so I would not lose the pose for Azzedine. Suddenly, I saw black spots in my vision. The last image I saw on the mirror was me, starting to faint. Then I hear Azzedine screaming out loud, ‘Au secours! Au secours! –Quelque chose a manger. Vite! (Help! Help! Something to eat! Fast!)

When I came to, I was lying down on the sofa in the white wedding dress and beside me was a table, literally, full of food. “MANGEZ! MANGEZ!” Azzedine was coaxing me to eat. I did, but during all that time he was laughing his head off, saying “Voici, Anna Bayle” (This is Anna Bayle) then he would look up to the ceiling, roll his eyes and reenact my fainting. Azzedine really got a kick out of it. If you come to think of it, it was funny.

At the end of the day, you must eat or you will not have the energy to do all the shows you are booked for. I got very good at eating for energy in the different cities I worked in. Most of the time, we were billeted in 5 star hotels. What I would do is call the hotel from backstage, wherever I am working, and ask to be transferred to room service. I ordered grilled fish and a salad each day. I tell them to deliver it to my room and leave it there. So at night, if I did not want to go to dinner with my agent and all the models – I had a great meal in my room, albeit cold, while all the other models are eating panini or staying up late with my agent and the playboys in some Italian restaurant somewhere.

Before the age of 30, all models can really eat anything. It is when you get past that big 3 that it gets a lot harder, specially for me who never exercised. I did try exercising once with Radu, the body shaper, but gyms are not my thing. I lasted a month. I prefer dancing ..….that was my exercise.

When I got to New York, I had my nutritionist who prescribed a lot of expensive pills and meal packets that I drank instead of having meals. He offered an injection of Vitamin B12 every session to counter the expected lethargy one gets when one does not eat, but I refused to take it (aversion to needles). Of the pills, I found I was getting a personality change – I got very irritable and my throat was always dry. So I immediately asked my pharmacist to analyze the ingredients of the diet pills and she told me that they were mild forms or weak cousins of amphetamines. Since I never took recreational drugs, I decided to stop taking those diet pills. Anyway, drinking these meal packets did the trick but you really looked like an alien. The weight loss is so drastic that your body shrinks but your head doesn’t. You see this kind of unbalanced weight loss on a lot of women in TV. I call these caricature-like figures, big heads.

I stopped taking those meal packets and would just count calories instead. I even tried eating whole grapefruits before every meal. My stomach would get so acidic that I did not want to eat anything else. So I switched to drinking a whole glass of water before every meal, which was a healthier choice; or simply just drinking lots of water.

Over the years, it is indeed a challenge to keep the weight down. However, I must insist that models should eat. I propose that models make healthy choices. Why? Because Jerry Hall ate, Iman ate, Dalma ate, Cindy Crawford ate. All the great models ate.

Modeling is about making intelligent choices. It is also about learning from your mistakes. The definition of a model in the Webster dictionary that I would like to identify with is – a person or thing considered as a standard of excellence to be imitated.
Being a model means people adore you and young people look up to you. Wouldn’t it be great if you have the word role attached to your being a model? As in…Role Model.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comments regarding this issue. I heard about this on Monday as well and it definitely got me thinking - I'm auditioning for RPN-9's model search (sorry, I know this is competition to your upcoming show but I just mentioned it to paint a picture) and started 'dieting' which required a lot of discipline for someone like me who LOVES food. I wasn't sure how far to take it, but after reading your comments, I'm much more careful in not starving myself TOO much. I'm very glad to have found your website and I look forward to hearing more about your show in the near future.

8:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that you are fooling yourself, and definitely sound like a "typical" anorexic girl. "I was just too busy to eat" is such a normal excuse for someone suffering from anorexia, and same with drinking a lot of water, as it will stop you from eating too much. And gaining pleasure from being extremely thin is another anorexic trait. I hope that you have become more healthy since these days.

12:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the previous poster failed to grasp what Anna is trying to say here. She was talking about how difficult it is to stay within your desired weight/form upon reaching 30. As she explains earlier, her pleasure is in looking at the dresses draped beautifully over her tall, lean frame (of which she is blessed, and of which many aren't). She needed to keep her figure in check because her art/craft demands so. Anna is a fashion model, in the truest sense of the word. But in this article, she also encourages models to eat healthy, and even volunteers to exposing mistakes she had made in the past.

I can very much empathize with how difficult it can sometimes become to maintain, if not lose weight. I was initially diagnosed to be hypertensive so my doctor prescribed a diet for me to follow. And since I was dieting, I thought I might as well go to the gym. And so with my doctor's encouragement I did, lost the excess pounds in exchange for a firmer, healthier appearance. Not to mention the confidence to wear anything I wanted to wear, which was unimaginable before. So I decided to stick to the habit. I drink lots of water too, because I count calories and because every sensible idea on fitness and nutrition I come across with says so.

I fully support her plans of putting a tv show on modelling, because a lot of these young girls indeed are misguided, misinformed. And reading through this blog makes me believe that Anna is most suited to mentor these aspiring models.


11:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are absolutely right about the oversized head. I saw a Miss Korea on a drama a few years ago whom I didn't enjoy looking at. She did not have an emaciated face but I suspected that she was not eating to stay trim. Naturally trim girls don't look the same as starving girls even when the measurements are the same.

2:15 AM  

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