I read a mind-blowing article the other day in the New York Post entitled “Gemma Ward: A supermodel betrayed”. Gemma is a 22 year old Australian model who, until a couple of years ago, was the closest thing to ‘super’ we’ve had since Elle Macpherson – in the fashion world.
This means she was a favourite of fashion designers for catwalk shows and ad campaigns and magazine editors for fashion shoots and covers. Unlike Elle and the ‘supers’ of the 90s, most non-fashion people might have recognised her face but probably didn’t know her name.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter now because her career is over. That’s what this NY Post article basically said. And I bet you’ll never guess why. Oh wait, yes you will. She put on weight. Not a huge amount. But some. So she was no longer dramatically underweight but in a more healthy range.
We will never know what caused her to put on weight – maybe life? Maybe grief after her rumoured boyfriend Heath Ledger died? Maybe she was just sick of being hungry or doing whatever it was to her body that enabled her to stay in the only shape that’s acceptable in the fashion world?
Regardless, for every girl who dreams of being a model and for every mother who thinks it’s a good idea to let her daughter dip her toe in that world at any level, it’s a story you must read.
I asked MM contributor Julie Cowdroy to write the following piece about Gemma and how putting on a bit of weight is the worst possible crime you can commit on Planet Fashion:
Gemma Ward defined the look of a whole new generation of high fashion models, with her wide-set eyes and ethereal features. She was discovered at just 14, and within two years had graced the cover of US Vogue.
Ward is reported to have earned $3 million in 2007 at just 20 years of age.
But now, according to an insider from her agency, IMG Models, Gemma Ward has no future in modeling.
An IMG insider was blunt to the point of nastiness about Ward’s future. “Her moment’s over,” said the IMG source. “She’s not coming back.”
Where did Ward’s moment go? It really was a short moment. She only celebrated her 22nd birthday in November last year. Well, it all started in 2007 when Ward’s body betrayed the entire fashion industry by maturing into that of a woman.
“Says one fashion editor who attended Paris fashion week in October of that year, “Gemma was only walking in a handful of shows—Lagerfeld Gallery, maybe Valentino. I initially thought, ‘She doesn’t have to do them, she’s making so much money in the big campaigns,’ until I saw her on the [Chanel] runway… I almost didn’t recognize her,” says the editor, who confesses she was aghast. Compared to the other ultraskinny models, Ward looked as if she had gained 10 to 15 pounds, “big, almost bloated.”
Clad in a denim bikini (right) Ward certainly looked softer. Where her legs had once been bony, there were noticeable curves. One headline snapped, “CHANEL SPRING ’08 EMBRACES THE BIG GIRL,” while another article noted Ward’s “not so itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny Chanel bikini.”
The photo agent who worked with Ward wasn’t surprised by the industry reaction. “Every six months you get a new crop of girls. For every one with staying power, like a Kate Moss, there are 20 who don’t make it past 18. You gain weight, and you knock yourself out of the running. It’s an image-driven industry that doesn’t take kindly to the girl who bucks the trend. Clients start saying, ‘She’s fat now, don’t book her!’ If you want to be cynical about it, looking that way was her job. She doesn’t want to do what it takes, she’s not going to get work. That’s just the way it is.”
Seemingly, seeing the ugly side of the industry caused Gemma to pursue other options like acting. Ward said at an interview promoting her film, The Black Balloon: “I realize you can’t please everyone. Sometimes when people are constantly wanting the fantasy or the illusion, you have to break it to them that it’s not real.”
So, will Ward ever grace the cover of Vogue or other high fashion magazines ever again? Not bloody likely.
The article in Page Six goes on to reveal that Ward was offered work in 2009 with Harper’s Bazaar, on the condition that she is “back in modeling shape,” but her agency turned it down. But apparently, it is not as easy as simply getting back in shape. Ward has put on weight, and therefore, her brand is permanently tarnished.
“But even if she loses the weight, she will never be a supermodel again, claims a high-ranking fashion-magazine source. Once these pictures are out of her being big, her brand is diminished, at least as far as her agency and the mainstream fashion world goes,” the source says. “Gemma’s torn. In the last few years [her weight gain] was very much her f–k you to the industry. She’s rebelling by putting on 30 or 40 pounds, so now going back isn’t a straightforward option.””
Ward has said that she will continue to pursue her modeling and acting career, as well has considering furthering her education at Yale University. In my opinion, whatever she decides, the future is looking bright for this fabulous, talented and gorgeous woman.
But what of the future of the fashion industry? The following discussions shed some interesting light.
The panel at this year’s meeting consisted of designer Zac Posen, agency executive David Bonnouvrier, model Doutzen Kroes and other industry representatives. Diane Von Furstenberg introduced the panel. Big names. Big movers and shakers.
The discussions at this particular seminar focused on designer’s sample sizes. It was suggested that sample sizes needed to be increased, because let’s face it, not many 10 year olds could fit into them. It was naturally concluded that fashion designers played a key role, considering they, you know, decide the size of their sample garments. Consequentially, the designers would then book older, fuller models for their runway shows. Makes sense to me. It is definitely worth reading the entire article on the panel from Jezebel for yourself.
However, one point of discussion is particularly noteworthy, when, during Q & A time, Anna Wintour spoke up.
“I’d like to ask the whole panel a question,” she announced in her clipped accent. “I asked someone who works a lot with the shows if the Initiative was helping the problem at all. And I very sadly report that this gentleman said, No, it wasn’t. So what I would like to know is what can we do to help the problem. Because obviously we’re not doing enough. Because we’re not making progress.”
Did Anna Wintour just say: “What can we do to help the problem?” Do I hear angels who are over a size 2 rejoicing?
Then a woman in the crowd spoke up in response to Wintour’s question.
‘A fashion designer in the audience pointed out that the problem was solvable by the very people in the room, if in fact they had the will. “Trends start by agreement. We keep saying ‘They started it,’ but we are ‘they.’ We are they.”’
While this meeting presents some interesting developments, in the meantime, reports of the lengths models currently undertake to stay “in modeling shape” continue to be disturbing.
Fashion casting director James Scully says:
“Things are very seriously wrong right now. I can open up any magazine or pick any show and tell you what girls are taking Adderall, how many girls are taking Vicodin, how many girls are throwing up, how many girls are carrying flasks,” he said. “Girls are really resorting to incredibly dangerous things.”
Gemma Ward, it seems, is refusing to be one of those girls. More power to her.