This is the heartbreaking story of the ethical model Kiko and her experience of life-threatening anorexia triggered by a cruel, troubled fashion industry that continues to exploit, manipulate and shame young women into thinking that they are simply not thin or perfect enough for the glittering world of catwalk modelling and the allure of an international fashion career.
It is deeply disturbing to learn that the fashion world is still only paying lip service to the idea of diversity. That it still hasn’t cleaned up its act when it comes to bullying, gaslighting and coercing very impressionable young women and men to lose a dangerous amount of weight in pursuit of a distorted, ugly idea of beauty and the ideal body shape. Or to tell a seventeen-year-old girl she needs plastic surgery because her nose isn’t ‘slim’ or ‘delicate’ enough, or her teeth not quite straight enough, for the glare of the runway and a thousand flashbulbs. Only this week, Kiko tells me on the phone from Paris, about the top fashion designer she went to see on a casting who told her, ‘ your bum doesn’t look good enough for me’.
‘Your Bum isn’t Good Enough.’
This is the daily diet of misery, put-downs, and insults many young models face in the brutal, insecure search for work in the fashion industry.
A world where money, power and the pursuit of fame, warps people’s view of themselves and affects their moral judgment and behaviour and allows them to play god. These people simply think they are entitled and invincible, and in any case, the fashion industry is much like like the film world. It is full of rich, silly, spoiled and pampered people, who have lost all touch with reality. Powerful people behave badly because they can. In fact, it is encouraged and expected. I will never forget a very young model confiding in me that she was terrified her model agency would keep trying to ‘feed’ her to rich old playboys, by sending her to their debauched parties.
Vanity Fair – Chasing a World Not Worth Having
Until this behaviour is exposed and becomes unacceptable, it will not stop and more young women and men will be seriously harmed and may even die in pursuit of a dream that is an illusion, rather like the story of Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair – ‘Welcome to Vanity Fair – a place where everyone is busy pursuing what is not worth having’.
The Problem with Social Media and Eating Disorders
Of course, the fashion industry is also responding to the relentless march of social media and celebrity culture, which pervades our lives like cancer. Teenagers have never faced more pressure to conform to some unrealistic idea of perfection which is peddled ruthlessly by global brands, using so-called real ‘influencers’ who are paid or gifted products to talk about their perfect diets and their perfect bodies using Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. As a result, we are becoming a world filled with vain, self-obsessed, deeply unhappy, troubled narcissists who endlessly compare ourselves to others. This is the perfect breeding ground for the rise in eating disorders, with new anorexia cases in teenagers doubling in just three years.
Into this world came Kiko, a beautiful young Japanese woman, who tells me that she was different from the classmates at school. ” I was very ambitious. I wanted to travel and learn English and my dream was to become an international catwalk model.”
Dying to Be Thin for the Catwalk
Here she tells her chilling story of how a model manager at leading model agency in Canada told her she needed to quickly lose 5 kilos in order to meet the fashion world’s idea of model perfection on the runway. At the time, and by any normal and common sense standards, Kiko was thin, but still, fit and healthy for her willowy five foot eleven frame. That would soon change. Kiko tells me that she felt ‘ugly, ‘fat’ and ‘ashamed’ that she wasn’t ‘thin’ or perfect enough to pursue her modelling dream. As a result, she hatched an irrational plan to eat almost nothing apart from one apple and a few salad leaves each day and to exercise more. The consequences of that desperate decision would become life-threatening. Kiko became severely anorexic, placing a terrible strain on her heart, by almost starving to death, in pursuit of a distorted dangerous fashion cult to be thin.
Recovery, Happiness and Wellbeing
Fortunately, after landing up in hospital, and having friends and doctors plead with her to stop, Kiko pulled herself back from the brink of death and recovered. Today, alongside her ethical modelling career, she also works as a well-being coach and she is training to be a nutritionist so that she can help others to see that eating well and looking after ourselves is the foundation of vibrant health, good mental health, happiness and to be at peace with ourselves.
This is her story, in her own words.
Kiko’s Story of Modelling, Anorexia, and Recovery
I became a model when I got scouted on the streets of Tokyo at the age of 13. However, I did not work until I turned 16 because my parents and I agreed that I needed to complete my education first. Before turning 17, I decided to go and study abroad in Canada for a year, because my dream at the time was to become an international model and walk the international catwalks of London, Paris, New York, and Milan for the world’s leading fashion designers.
I Felt Fat, Ugly and Not Good Enough to Be a Model
I knew in order to become a top model, I had to learn how to speak English. In Canada, through connections, I got involved in the international modeling world. I did Fashion Week and got signed to two agencies there. At the first agency, my model manager told me to lose about 5kg (10lbs) as quickly as possible in order to look like a “perfect” runway model even though growing up, I was always naturally skinny. I strongly remember the moment after the meeting, when I was alone in the elevator. I was swearing to myself I MUST go on a strict diet and lose a lot of weight because I saw myself in a mirror and felt ugly and fat. After that meeting with my booker, I felt not “good” enough, not “perfect” enough for the fashion industry. I wanted to impress them by how thin I could be and how serious I was about my modeling career.
“I was swearing to myself I MUST go on a strict diet and lose a lot of weight because I saw myself in a mirror and felt ugly and fat.”
Since I had almost no knowledge of nutrition, I took extreme measures to lose weight. I went from eating a normal amount of food each day to skipping meals and only eating an apple and raw leafy greens with no dressing every day. I thought I would be ok. In addition to eating less, I also started working out more (more like burning calories in my head). Every day after school in Canada, I would spend two hours on cardio and over one-hour swimming at the gym. I wanted to find a reason to skip dinner with my host family. I kept doing it for about one month and a half and I lost an insane amount of weight in a very short period of time.
Your Nose Could Be a Problem
After losing weight, I got signed to the second agency, which is one of the top international modeling agencies in the world. After the first meeting there, I received an email from my manager saying “I showed your photos to the Top Manager for Asian models. He said to me that he feels your nose will be a problem. For the fashion industry, they like the nose to look slimmer and more delicate. He is wondering if you would do plastic surgery to change it..?”
They also told me “Some girls can never model because they cannot change their height or their body shape to fit the world of catwalk modelling. In your case, this may be something you want to consider as well as doing Invisalign for your teeth to straighten them. I will show you one of your snapshots so you can see.” They sent me some photos of other models as examples. As a result of all these comments, I started feeling ashamed about my face as well as my body.
I was at Risk of Having a Heart Attack
As a result of my work, and the pressure to conform to these dictates of beauty, I developed a severe eating disorder, other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, body image, and low self-esteem. My strict diet and exercise regime eventually led me to the emergency room. I was so weak that my doctor told me I was at risk of having a heart attack; my heart rate was 38bpm, and I weighed only 45kg (99lbs) at 180cm (5’11) tall. I was so weak that I could barely stand, and I was too cold to fall asleep.
“This was the turning point where I decided to live my life, not the life that they wanted me to live for them. Today, I’m at peace. I am happy and healthy again.”
This was the turning point where I decided to live my life, not the life that they wanted me to live for them. Today, I’m at peace. I am happy and healthy again. Although it was not easy, I’m thankful for what I had to go through as a fashion model because it has shaped me into the person who I am today. It has helped me find my true passion in life which is to find ways to work as an ethical model, for sustainable fashion houses and to help women all over the world to build a healthy relationship with food and themselves with passion as an integrative health and nutrition coach. You can read more about me and my story on my website and find resources, tips and my coaching programme on my website.
My Wellbeing Tips
1. Love Yourself
What Helped Me Recover People always ask me what helped me recover. My answer was to learn to love myself. When I was ill, I thought that if I followed advice from people in the industry, I would be happy. But this pursuit of success only made me feel insecure. It took me a while, but I eventually realised that true happiness comes from within. I learned to appreciate what I had, and not look outside of myself for validation. But self-love means more than just loving yourself mentally. It also means loving your body. I adopted a Plant-based lifestyle: a diet based on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and fruits, but with few or no animal products. When you cook from scratch you will naturally cut out processed foods, unhealthy items like added sugar, and refined grains and you will know what is in your food. Instead, you’ll eat more whole foods that truly nourish your body and your mind.How to Live a Mindful Life I always try to live in the moment, not in the past or future. I don’t let the past steal my present and there is no point in being anxious about the future. In order to learn from your past and also to lead your future goals, then being in the present moment and focusing on what you do on that particular second is very important. In order to be present and happy, it is so important for me to appreciate little things that really matter in life. I believe gratitude is a key to true happiness. Every morning, after yoga or at the end of my meditation practices, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and think of 5 things I’m so grateful that day. Health is always at the top of my gratitude list because health is wellness. Without health, you cannot do anything. It is very important to have a healthy body to do all the things that you want to achieve in life.
2. Vitamin L – Love
How to Nourish the Mind and Body with Vitamin L – I eat a diet rich in plant-based, whole foods diet because these foods may help to reduce my risk of developing heart disease, certain cancers, cognitive decline, and diabetes. In addition, many studies have shown that populations with mostly plant-based diets have long lifespans. Since I adapted the diet (4 years ago), I started cooking more. Eating home-cooked food is very important for everyone because we eat to feed our bodies as well as our souls. You cannot always nourish your soul well with processed or market packaged food because you need Vitamin L in your diet, which is Love. Whilst studying nutrition, I learned that people who eat home-cooked meals on a regular basis tend to be happier and healthier and consume less sugar and processed foods, which can result in higher energy levels and better mental health. I believe putting Vitamin L into your food on a daily basis is as important as getting your vitamins and minerals through diet.
[Super Easy Pumpkin Soup Recipe (5 ingredients!)] [/ezcol_1half_end]
3. Super Easy Pumpkin Soup
4. Ethical Modelling Today, I’m signed with an ethical modelling agency, Role Models Management; I call myself an “Ethical Model”. I want to empower other women to love their bodies and themselves. As a model, I don’t want to be just looked at, I want to be looked into. I am an ethical model because I seek to work for fashion brands and companies that are more ethical, sustainable, slow and fair trade. Ethical fashion brands that do right by their society, environment, employees, and customers. Disclaimer – Always talk to your GP, general practitioner or health professional before cutting out major food groups from your diet. This article should be viewed as a ‘real life personal piece’ and not health advice. For science-backed nutrition advice please visit the World Health Organisation Report on diet and nutrition for the recommended healthy intake of key food groups – Who Diet FactsWritten and edited by Alison Jane Reid. Kiko’s story in her own words, as told to Alison Jane Reid. Layout design by Gwyneth Duesbury.