There is a moment in Picture Me, a documentary about the fashion industry, where model Sara Ziff’s father recalls hearing his daughter’s look described as the girl next door. The camera closes up on Ziff in a two page Tommy Hilfiger ad. “I guess that depends where you live,” her father quips, flippantly alluding to the exclusive world of high fashion. Filmed largely by Ziff and then boyfriend Ole Schnell, Picture Me documents Ziff’s developing modeling career from her first trip to Paris at eighteen to her eventual burn out at twenty-three and, along the way, exposes the human side of an industry built on solely on image.
Picture Me began as a homemade video diary and it maintains that feeling throughout. Adorable, sometimes cynical, animation by The Boos punctuates the various themes of the film. The visuals of notebooks and grade-school graffiti offer a consistent reminder of disrupted youth and the choice to forgo education; many of these models are simply schoolgirls, invited into this world as young as twelve and aged out by their mid-twenties.
I commend Ziff’s bravery for sharing her personal experience; however, I was disappointed by the lack of attention given to the privileged position she was in, especially in regards to physical appearance. “Modeling just happened to me,” Ziff states as she recounts being approached on the street as she walked home from school on day. Yeah, it happened to you because you’re tall, skinny, and blonde and you were walking down the street in New York City. Turns out Ziff’s ambivalence is rooted in deeper emotional issues such as putting off college. She also struggles with the age-old dilemma of using her body as a commodity by comparing modeling to stripping and when shortly into her career she begins to out earn her father, a college professor, Ziff wonders why she should make so much money for being “pretty and on time.”
This film is rife with contemporary social issues, especially around work and women’s bodies. Most interesting were the admissions by the models who share everything from being sexually assaulted by photographers to being told they are fat in a host of different languages. The models interviewed are cognizant of the way they are being treated, like a “robot” or a “prop” but are unaware of how to resist or respond. Ziff offers many of the most poignant insights herself—“Skinny is power. And it’s the one thing you can control.”—and her relationships with the other models are refreshingly sincere and drama-free. Unfortunately, the filmmakers missed an opportunity to connect their story to a broader social context and the many feminist issues are either ignored or under-developed.
Nonetheless, Picture Me is an excellent platform for discussion and would serve well as an educational tool, especially for media entrenched teens.