Killer Face, Killer Body...Deadly Job?
I wrote this piece for Models and Moguls where I am a weekly contributor, and have decided to share it here. The cause of Daul Kim’s death has not been confirmed at the time of publication; however, for the purpose of exploring issues within the modelling industry (as much as I can in 750 words) and due to lack of evidence to the contrary, I am basing this article on the assumption of suicide.
Last week the fashion world was stunned by the news that top model Daul Kim was found dead in her Paris apartment in an apparent suicide. The 20 year-old South Korean beauty and Karl Lagerfeld muse had written on several occasions on her blog 'I Like to Fork Myself' - which is now restricted to invited readers only - how she was feeling lonely and depressed, then came back to assure her fans she was fine. In fact she was far from fine. Kim hung herself on November 20.
The pressures of the high fashion modelling industry are no secret; girls in their teens and early 20s fly alone from location to location, working long hours catering to the, at times impossible, demands of their agencies and photographers while their family and friends are left behind, and struggling to make sense of and adapt to foreign cultures. On October 30 Kim wrote “Mad depressed and overworked, the more I gain the more lonely it is. I know I’m like a ghost.”
Kim is the second model on the rise to end her own life in 18 months. In June 2008, Ruslana Korshunova, also just 20 years old, jumped to her death from her 9th floor Manhattan apartment. While her friends have said there were no signs she would do such a thing - one claiming “she was always happy” - like Kim she also expressed despair online. In March she had written on a Russian networking site “I’m so lost, will I ever find myself?” While not yet a household name, the Russian model known for her feline looks and Rapunzel hair had been named as a 'face to watch' by British Vogue, with several covers and high profile campaigns under her belt including a perfume commercial for Paris fashion house Nina Ricci.
And in March of this year a model turned actress whose film career was taking off took her own life in circumstances eerily similar to those surrounding Kim’s death. Lucy Gordon, a 28 year-old Briton was found hanged in her Paris apartment located in the city’s trendy Right Bank in the 10th arrondissement, the same neighbourhood where Kim had lived. Gordon had played reporter Jennifer Dugan in Spiderman 3 after making the transition from modelling to acting; she had been the face of U.S. make-up giant Cover Girl. However, it appears a row with her cinematographer boyfriend the night before prompted her desperate act. She left two suicide notes, one detailing her last wishes regarding her estate and a letter addressed to her parents.
While many models go on to flourish within the industry and forge successful post-modelling careers – Cindy Crawford and Elle Macpherson, for example – there are many others who succumb to the pressures, most of whom we don’t hear about unless they’re considered a rising star, the ones who will be missed. Young teen girls who have the opportunity to work as a model typically leave school, their families, and their cultures, to pursue their dream career which has a relatively short shelf-life compared to more traditional paths; do it now or the chance may pass you by. Yet, a 16 year-old is hardly equipped to deal with the unaccommodating and unforgiving adult world she’s been thrust into with only her perfect bone structure and long legs on which to rely. Pitfalls can include eating disorders, drugs and alcohol abuse and falling prey to unscrupulous older men – it’s not uncommon for models to be used as prostitutes.
Former model Louise Gagnon worked in Paris in the 80s and went on to become an editor of a French fashion magazine, after barely escaping the industry with her life. "I was raped regularly. Sometimes multiple times per week. I was depressed all the time and the only thing that made me feel better was the heroin. It didn't stop when I stopped modelling either," Gagnon recalls. "I was in some bad relationships with the photographers who I had met years earlier and I was involved with them professionally so I had to ignore my feelings. It was complicated and I became more and more disgusted at myself everyday. I finally decided I needed to quit before I killed myself."
In a video Kim made during New York fashion week for New York magazine's series Model Diaries, she recounts how she was once asked by another model what she was reading. She replied “Tolstoy” which prompted the witless model to correct her pronunciation of ‘Toy Story’. One could blame Kim's Korean accent for the misunderstanding but once cleared up it became apparent that the girl didn’t know who Tolstoy was, and this astounded and frustrated Kim, an accomplished painter who once had a solo show of her art in Seoul. A model seeking intellectual stimulation in the fashion industry is like a goldfish trying to survive in a bowl of porridge.One can only speculate as to the reasons for the loss of these young lives. But it would appear that in these tragic cases the modelling industry took far more than it gave.
Prolonged, unrelenting stress can lead to depression. If you think you may be suffering from depression, you need to get help. Here are some online resources to consult, in addition to talking to your doctor: