India Rose Ruiterman provides an illuminating and empowering account of her experience as a model within an evolving fashion industry. Working with designers and publications such as Maison Margiela, Dolce & Gabbana, Hermes, Comme des Garçons, Burberry, Elle, and Vogue pushed her to find her own confidence and self-acceptance. After struggling with the pressures of the modeling industry, India established her personality and style while contributing to a movement seeking to develop a diverse representation of human beauty and expression.
Having been scouted to work for a modeling agency in New York, India was 17 when she decided to take on an opportunity that was ‘too good to miss out on.’ Her first year of modeling was met with challenges from within the industry.
How would you describe any pressures you experienced?
‘There’s definitely pressure to stay in shape. You get measured on your hips, your waist, your bust – and there’s specific industry standard measurements you have to be within. Some people get way more stressed about it; for some people, it’s easy to maintain. You have to invest time and money into the way that you look in order to represent yourself well. There is pressure to have good skin and a good body and good clothes.’
Did you ever feel like you needed to lose weight in an unhealthy way?
‘When I first started modeling and had to lose weight, I was advised to cut out all carbs. At that time, I was maybe 16, 17. I wanted it so badly – I wanted to be in this crazy, glitzy-glam modeling world, so I took it very seriously. I thought I was just doing what was healthy. But looking back I realise that it was so unhealthy – I had no energy and I didn’t associate it with the fact that I was cutting out carbs.’
Do you feel like you could do your best work whilst under that kind of pressure?
‘No, I do my best work now, when I know who I am. When you’re modeling, you’re either behind a camera or at the end of a runway – you’re performing. You need to be comfortable in your own skin, you need to be relaxed and free. No one wants to work with a model who’s stressed, someone who’s clearly very shy and insecure – they want to work with someone who can look happy, healthy, charismatic. You only get that when you can put less importance on those pressures.’
These pressures you’re describing ended up pushing you to be more confident. In your mind, was this experience positive?
‘Definitely. Feeling such intense pressures of having to look and be a certain way – all those pressures affect you but then there comes a point where you can’t stress about those anymore and you’re like ‘You know what, I don’t really give a fuck anymore. This is what I look like. If I want to eat pancakes, I’m going to eat pancakes and that’s just it.’ You just end up accepting who you are. You can’t continue with that stress – it’s not sustainable.’
India explained how models are becoming more relatable as the industry includes more representations of women, with an emphasis placed on beauty, strength and uniqueness.
India was often styled to be edgy, artistic and somewhat androgynous – a look that never quite represented her. However, she accepted this loss of individuality as being part of a collective art.
Art is meant to be very expressive and personal – is it more about being part of a bigger picture in this situation?
‘Yes – I feel that it’s somebody else’s art. For example, Maison Margiela, one of my favourite brands – their clothes are more like artwork. In scenarios like that, you remove your own self and your own ego and you’re there to represent someone else’s artwork. When you’re on a shoot where it’s about you, the model, you can portray your own personality more. The clothes or the images are art – you’re either representing art or you are the art.’
Is there ever any chance for you to be the artist?
‘When you are behind a camera, if you have a personality and energy, you can become the artist by creating the vibe and energy behind a photo. I think you also have the space for expression within your own style. A lot of models express themselves through their own fashion styles, especially during fashion week. Instagram is such a big thing in the modeling industry now for representing yourself. You have space to be artistic in your social media.’
Having images like that – more expressive, artistic images that the model chooses to use – do you think that could be a future feature of the industry?
‘The industry is already going that way. Now there’s an opportunity to know [models] through social media and the magazines are following that trend. You see articles in Vogue about a model – they’re about a model who has something to say, or is doing something. You can’t really get by with just a pretty face anymore, you need to have something about you.’
In addition to an interest in the personal lives of models, a new focus on well-being has emerged as models feel empowered to speak out about needed changes.
Is the industry heading in a better direction?
‘I think at the moment, people are speaking up about the things that need speaking up about – whether you want to talk about body image, the “Me Too” movement, whatever. I think people are also speaking up about issues in the modeling industry. Two seasons ago, there was a scandal at fashion week about the way models were treated and now people are speaking up about it. In the past, this sort of thing would happen all the time. Now people are saying, “Wait, no, this isn’t okay.” Recently, the Fashion Council created new standard industry requirements. There were helplines created for models dealing with stress or eating problems. They put in a lot of rules and regulations to make sure models were being treated correctly. That was only put in place a year ago – so I think there’s been a lot more people speaking up. It’s the small things – if they’re all put together, models’ voices can work toward change.’
India described the modeling industry as being in an ‘in-between stage.’ During this unique phase in the modeling industry’s history, India developed her own personality and mode of self-expression by being part of both a work of art and a movement.