Rebecca Pearson: The Model Fighting The War on Women

The Notebook | 29th May 2019

The model, writer and raconteur behind Modeltypeface on feminism, body dysmorhpia and the importance of advocacy in the struggle for fempowerment

There are some people who can genuinely be described as ahead-of-the-curve and one such maverick is the model and journalist Rebecca Pearson, who has been discussing body dysmorphia and feminist issues via her website Modeltypeface for over five years. Often to be found tapping away in a quiet corner of The Living Room & Den, the Mortimer House member tackles subjects from the playful to the profound on her uncompromising platform, which was set up primarily to provide industry advice for young models facing the challenges of an industry that is all-too-often rife with abuses of myriad kinds. Since setting out on the journey detailing her experiences as a working model, Rebecca has been called upon to write for titles such as The Telegraph, The Guardian and Wallpaper, and has appeared as a regular fixture on The BBC and Sky News, discussing model rights and the avalanche of body-image issues that the Instagram era has arguably gifted an entire generation. Here, the outspoken writer and model talks to Maslow’s Notebook about her journey from the catwalk-to-the-typewriter (well, keyboard), and tell us why some of the societal changes we have seen of late in various global locales represent nothing less than a war on women.

Tell us about the genesis of Modeltypeface–how did it begin, and what first drew you to journal your experiences as a model?
I can clearly remember when I started feeling maternal towards other models. I was living in Athens. It’s a really tough city to model in–transport and finding your way round is beyond tricky, and there were so many strikes and riots to navigate while the agency rang us up telling us we were late. I was struggling, and remember a 14-year-old Russian model walking into a casting. I just couldn’t believe that she was doing this. I think that’s when I stopped feeling like the adolescent, and started feeling more protective towards other models. I decided to start Modeltypeface as a platform to give other models information, advice and just generally share anecdotes. I think that other models feel vindicated when they see their experiences set out in writing. The most rewarding responses have probably been the emails I get from models who say that I make them feel less lonely.

Feminist issues and body-image issues have often played a key part in your writing long before #metoo–what is your take on the #metoo movement with regard to the modelling industry?
I try to make it clear that models need to decide on their boundaries and practice enforcing them, even if it’s saying the words at home into the mirror. I’ve had some horrible experiences both as a woman and as a model, and the best way to deal with the latter has always been to learn how to say, ‘I don’t shoot sheer garments,’ or, ‘would you call my agency to check, because I wasn’t told about this.’ They sound like straightforward things to say but they are important to master as there are so many things going on. Firstly, I find as a woman, I have not been socialised to assert control over my own body, which is probably why there is so much going on right now with #metoo and conversations around consent. I remember, as a 16-year-old, getting changed backstage at a show. Suddenly, there were all these middle-aged men backstage taking photos and we were all only in nude thongs. Those pictures weren’t going to go in any glossy magazines. But what could I say? Do I let myself be known as difficult? Do I ruin the ‘fun cool fashion vibe’? All the models hated it and learned to ‘zone out’, which is disassociation and can be really damaging.

Do you think there is a war on women happening right now?
I have felt a visceral pain and shock at the recent anti-abortion laws in Alabama, as have many of my friends. Abortion is never an easy choice but it is a choice that should definitely exist, which benefits women and the men that got them pregnant. It makes me realise how easy it is to sit in my comfortable London echo chamber of liberal and progressive friends, and has definitely made me think a lot about times I could have spoken up more for others. Like a lot of my female friends, I am a little shocked at how few men we feel are joining the outrage (or at least, conversation) about this. Is it because they are actually more confused about their thoughts on abortion that we assume them to be? I probably could have been much more vocal in my support for trans rights, and a more visible LGBQT ally. Many women of colour are rightly saying to the Alabama outrage, ‘welcome to our world’–because these issues have disproportionately affected them for years. I guess I am saying that what is happening in Alabama has made the war on women feel much closer to home and–in doing so–it has exposed my own blinkered-ness.

How do you think Instagram is affecting body dysmorphia?
The social media age is pretty intense for models. A lot rides on our follower counts–I am not even put up for certain jobs because my following is too low, and I don’t want to just buy tens of thousands. In order to get those follows, it’s all about projecting a certain glossy lifestyle and looking busy, so we can get jobs. Or else, it’s about posting a picture where our thighs look thin, and another next to it where you can see cellulite, and a caption that reads…'Hey guys. I want to talk body image'. It’s rigid and fake and curated, whichever way you choose. Then, of course, we’re all putting those pictures out, and there are impressionable kids who follow us that think that we look and live like that every day. So, as you can tell, I’m quite against what Instagram has become, which is this unstoppable, self-esteem-eroding juggernaut. There can be pluses too. I stepped away from anything too polished and tend to post a lot of my dance videos, which are often full of mistakes. I think because I let people into quite a human and imperfect passion of mine, it resonates in a more truthful way.

What is your advice for anyone who feels they may be suffering with body issues?
I’ve definitely had body image issues over the years too, and the only thing that truly sorted that for me was dance. But learning to cook (I’m a fan of Ayurveda, which teaches you to eat according to your natural disposition, rather than all those stupid useless faddy diets) helped, and yoga. They let me sit into my body and accept and love it. I think that is what was important to me, and what I would suggest to anyone going through something like depression and body image issues is to have the motto, baby steps. You can’t just get better immediately. You can’t try out meditation and suddenly be a Buddha statue. Sometimes, the road to recovery can seem so huge and overwhelming that it feels like you might as well not try. But if you focus on those baby steps and celebrate every victory–no matter how small–you’re getting there and learning to be kind to yourself.

Interview by John-Paul Pryor