“Picture Me”: Profile of a Model is Honest, But Far From Brave

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Picture Me (2009) is a look at the ground floor of the fashion world. Filmed mainly in a video diary style, with a few more formal interviews interspersed, the film looks at the daily life of a model. Although getting the perspective of a young woman in the fashion industry as her career progresses gives some fresh perspective, the film provides no real depth. We hear little more than a list of personal experiences and non-shocking revelations of uncomfortable clothing, long hours and body dysmorphia. Picture Me is honest, but it’s far from brave, revealing trivial details while ignoring any larger issues at play.

The film follows model Sarah Ziff from the ages of 18 to 23. Her boyfriend, Ole, a film school graduate, decided to make a documentary about her new career over the years. As time goes on we see Sarah’s first billboards, commercials, magazine spreads and fashion shows. Often times Sarah invites her model friends and roommates to give a personal confessional style monologue for the camera. These interludes reminded me of the days I watched America’s Next Model with a fervent passion. After getting over the shock of her first paycheck ($80,000!), Ziff drifts into complacency regarding the money she earns, and although she questions her happiness in the industry, her issues never amount to more than a simple “pros and cons” list.

The film unfolds through confessional style video diaries of Sarah, interviews with her family and other models, as well as footage filmed backstage at runways, casting calls and photoshoots. For anyone chomping at the bit to check out a backstage pass to the life of a model, this film would be a great entry to the fashion world. What makes it watchable is Ziff’s friendly and outgoing personality. Ziff is wildly likeable. I’d pull out the popcorn and spend a night watching HBO with her any day. Truly, she is the one of the only things keeping this film afloat.

There is plenty of room in this film to expand and question the ethics of the fashion industry, yet Picture Me never digs deep. Ole’s camera simply skims over the surface. There is no deeper analysis of the ludicrous amounts of cash some models pull. Nothing to say regarding the predominance of the hegemonic fashion ideal of women being white, tall, and thin, other than the perception that clothing looks better on thin bodies. Although a few girls open up about some nasty instances with photographers taking advantage of them, there is no analysis of the power dynamic at work, and how these women are at the mercy of those around them.

Unless you really want to know more about Sarah’s particular journey, the film overall is not something I would rush out to see. It captures a few engaging moments, such as the hustle and bustle back stage at fashion shows. Ole seems to be able to get his camera just about anywhere Sarah goes. But for a film about fashion, it is lacking in both style and substance. Any chance it had to transcend the personal diary format into a deeper discussion on the myriad of issues in the industry was squandered.