Warning: This article contains mentions of depression and eating disorders.
Maud Le Fort won't be seen on the runways of Paris Fashion Week, which kicks off on Monday, Sept. 25, having chosen her health over a career on the catwalk.
Now in her 30s, Le Fort came to Paris when she was 18 to pursue a career in modeling and was immediately labeled a "commercial model"—i.e. not thin enough for the top-end fashion shows.
"I had a 36.6 cm waist, 85C chest so I was 'curvy,'" she told AFP.
"In Paris, I was told that I was only going to do lingerie and perhaps very commercial things, but not much fashion."
Le Fort refused to let go of her dream and worked to shed the little weight she carried—though without any exercise since muscles are as unwelcome as fat on the catwalk.
"I was measured almost every day. And the more weight I lost, the more congratulations I received," she said.
She got herself down to 49 kilograms (108 pounds) despite being 1.81 meters (5.11 feet) tall and managed to land gigs for Armani, Balmain, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Yohji Yamamoto.
But then she realized it was madness.
"One day, I said 'stop'. I'm going to eat, I'm going to do sport," said Le Fort.
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Now in her 30s, she does theatre classes and therapy in a bid to gain self-confidence and put the years of depression and eating disorders behind her.
"I still don't completely accept my body the way it is," she said. "I do not have a completely healthy relationship with food."
These days, she does mostly photo sessions where the pressure is much lower.
But it also bothers her to see how much her photos are retouched, saying it creates unrealistic expectations for young girls.
"It's absolutely shocking and it's sad," she said.
Some are blessed with a situation that allows them to escape the torment.
Sophie (not her real name) is a 22-year-old medical student in Paris.
She works as a commercial model and dreams of the catwalk, but knows she has a longer-term career to fall back on and is not about to sacrifice her health.
"Fashion is not an environment that I would recommend to someone who has psychological weaknesses," she said.
"If this was all I did for a living, I would be constantly worried.
"For me, if I go on the catwalk, that's cool, but if I don't get the job, too bad."
'Skinny girls passing out'
Many are not so lucky.
Brazilian model Tatiana (not her real name) was dropped by her agency after five years when she gained a few kilos from stress and hormone treatment.
Fashion was the only job she had known since adolescence.
"I was fired without notice. Losing fashion was very hard," she told AFP.
Both she and Sophie praised the 1980s when sporty, feminine physiques were prized in fashion.
Today, the few examples of curvy models on the top-end catwalks are people who built up a celebrity status before entering fashion.
Tatiana remembers seeing "very skinny girls pass out during fittings—they could barely walk on the heels," she said.
Now 37, she weighs 53-54 kilos and is 1.78 m tall. She works as a fitting model—used by designers to check the appearance of an outfit when it is adapted for real-world shops, rather than the fantasy land of the catwalk. (AFP)