Polish model Zuzanna Buchwald has worked for Versace, Calvin Klein, and other renowned fashion houses throughout her career. But when she was new to the industry (and the country), the model says the pressure to stay sample-sized took a toll on her. Now, she's speaking out in order to help others who might be going through the same thing. In a video for the Real Women, Real Stories project, a series of short interviews that showcase the often unseen issues women face in different industries, Buchwald talks about how, early in her career, her agents told her "to lose muscle mass by not eating and not exercising." The 28-year-old model, who was an athlete prior to entering the fashion industry, then developed anorexia and bulimia — illnesses she went on to battle for four years.
"I lost my period for three years, I had problems with teeth, my complexion was gray, my skin was dry, my hair started falling out," she shares in the powerful clip. "It was a terrible experience," she says, but it was necessary to endure in order to get jobs. "I wanted to work and I wanted to fulfill what was asked from me, but I didn't feel beautiful, or powerful, or strong at all," she notes. "Even though I beat both disorders, I have a very emotional relationship to food." Now, she's speaking out in order to help young models who might be going through the same thing. More specifically, Buchwald is encouraging newbies on the catwalk to think about their health first.
In an accompanying essay for The Daily Dot, she goes more into detail about what she went through — and how she hopes to change things by sharing her story. "Staying a size 0 to 2 throughout your career is the unspoken key to success in this industry," she writes. Buchwald laments that she "was most admired by my agents and designers when I was at my unhealthiest and unhappiest," adding that that's when she got the most jobs. Other models have been vocal about the sometimes-destructive industry demands. Just last week, former Victoria's Secret model Erin Heatherton spoke out about the pressure she felt to trim down after the lingerie giant reportedly asked her to lose weight before a show. She told Time's Motto: "I got to a point where one night I got home from a workout and I remember staring at my food and thinking maybe I should just not eat." In October, British model Charli Howard wrote a scathing open letter accusing her agency of body-shaming her, when she was a size 2 to 4. A month prior to that, model Rosie Nelson started a Change.org petition to urge the U.K. Parliament to pass legislation protecting models from pressures to be too thin. There have been a few steps taken at a higher level in recent years to address this issue, in the form of legislation in countries like Italy, Spain, and Israel to ban too-skinny models from runways. A French law passed in December requires models to present a medical certificate when going out for jobs (with modeling agencies and fashion houses facing imprisonment and fines if they don't follow through). The law elicited mixed reactions, WWD reported. A similar bill is up for vote stateside in California, according to USA Today. Still, change has been slow — and Buchwald says she "won't stay silent anymore," per her Daily Dot essay. She hopes that by sharing her story, others will come forth with their own experiences: "Making changes to an industry steeped in a culture of bone-thin will not come overnight, but one can only hope that more stories will change more minds."