By Rachelle Chapman
For years, young, white models have dominated the modeling industry. Exposure, first in Benetton and later in Gap ads, allowed for the presence of different races within the modeling the industry. With this in mind, Bernie Disonglo envisioned, a modeling agency that showcased and provided world exposure to Asian models. Asian Modeling International was born, and on Sept. 11, it held its first model search at the Ryerson Theatre.
As the lights dimmed, rock music blared from the speakers. The contestants, vying for a round-trip ticket to anywhere in Asia, spending money, and a two-year modeling contract with AMI, emerged in black jeans and tight white shirts with AMI’s logo.
Throughout the show I was reminded of the egotistical attitudes of models as they paraded on stage baring their souls — as well as their bodies — for the entire world to see and judge. As I was watching the contestants, I was sickened to realize I too began picking apart the models in a stereotypical fashion that defines a person by the sum of their body parts. After the swimsuit competition it became all too obvious who would and would not land the exclusive modeling contract.
Back stage, during intermission, I was curious about the type of people who would subject themselves to such negative criticism, so I went backstage and asked some contestants.
When I asked why they were interested in being models, Carla Bautista, a 23-year-old York University television-broadcasting student, said, “It’s just for fun.” As did her colleague Joyce Ortega, 16. Ethel Abray, 18, a University of Toronto student studying English, on the other hand offered a more in-depth reason. “It’s a narcissistic and self centred pursuit, but I got to thinking, celebrities have so much power in the media, that it’s a good, positive role model.”
Both Bautista and Ortega seemed genuinely excited, although a bit green about the serious dangers within the industry. For decades, the industry has been plagued with psychological problems of anorexia and bulimia, not to mention the serious sexual liberties and abuses that some photographers take with their young, vulnerable clients. “I am not afraid for myself because I am aware of them,” Abray said. “But I am afraid for other models and other young people in general who are vulnerable to those types of things.”
As the lights dimmed once again, the audience was treated to a live performance from Miss Saigon singer Toto Bansil. Directly following, Asian dancers moved across the stage in elaborate costumes while music, drums and jingle bells added to the dance number. The female models were draped in black and red Noel Crisotomo crepe dresses and the men in black tuxedos rented from Tuxedo Royale for the formal evening wear competition.
As the evening came to a close, the winners of the AMI model search were announced. Gerrard Paras and Joyce Ortega walked away with an arm-full of flowers and a two-year modeling contract. The remainder of the 16 contestants continued to smile as they watched their colleagues (all of which are already members of AMI) receive what they all came here to win.
As I left the model search one question remained in my mind. Is winning this contest beneficial to their careers or is it simply an extension of beauty trapped in a small world where people have no value except for the manipulated division of their parts?