“Modeling made me want to be perfect, but after having acne, my whole perspective on beauty changed. It made me realize that I can’t equate my looks to my value as a person. “
While some may think that being a model is glamorous, Monique Schreiber explains how there are actually many unlovely things about the industry. Monique Schreiber (25), a former model from South Africa, shares how life in the industry as well as the beauty standards can be toxic to the mind, body, and skin.
“I started getting breakouts at the beginning of 2019 which was six months after I had come back from a 3-month modeling contract in Istanbul. I think my acne was triggered emotionally because that was a very mentally traumatic time in my life. I’m very sensitive, and I can be very anxious. That’s just how I’m wired so the stress had a huge impact on my body. I developed cystic acne. I had never had a cystic breakout before even when I modeled in South Africa, and I had been modeling for four years. During my fifth and last year of modeling, I went to Istanbul. I always say that this was the best and worst time of my life. Although I had so many experiences, and I got to experience a new culture, it was also extremely harmful because I was in such a toxic environment where people put way too much emphasis on their appearance. As a model, I embodied my product. I was my product. I had to look my best and be my best all of the time. I remember how some of the girls just took it too far, and their mentalities started rubbing off on me. I had never been someone too concerned about my appearance, and this drastic change to my sense of self affected my mental state a lot.”
Monique discussed how shell shock from high-level modeling contracts caused a profound impact on her physical health. ”My body’s cortisol levels skyrocketed, and I gained 10 kilograms. I was quite heavy, and I couldn’t fit into my clothes anymore, and my relationship with food was bad. During my contract, I didn’t have acne, but I had eczema, and my hair was falling out because of the long term emotional stress that I was exposed to. I got acne six months after I finished the contract and went home. Istanbul was so different from modeling at home. When I was in Cape Town, South Africa, I had my own apartment. I still had my day job, and I had my own circle of friends. Whereas when I went overseas on a three-month contract, I was working with models, and I was chilling with models. There was no escape from it, and there was so much pressure and competition that I had to handle. I came across models that were so serious about taking their careers to the next level. All they wanted was to make it onto the catwalk of vogue or onto the catwalk of Louis Vuitton or Chanel. They were just so determined to achieve this that they became their product 24/7. But for me, I was quite shy in the industry. I didn’t really branch out to people in castings or jobs. I only did this when I felt comfortable.
Monique continued to describe how industry experiences can be all-consuming. “I found myself getting sucked into the industry world because I had to. In that world, it’s all about you. As soon as you get attention, you must work to become even better so you won’t become obsolete. You’re constantly having to improve. The industry demands you to eat, breathe, and live yourself. You almost have to forget about those around you because it’s a very self-centered industry. Also, the relationship between clients and models is so warped. They can often treat you like absolute dog poop on the ground. There were days where I couldn’t wait to go home because they weren’t even looking in my direction. You stand in a row, and they’ll just pick off 5 girls from the row, and if you’re not one of them, they just send you out. This made me want to be perfect, but after having acne, my whole perspective on beauty changed. It made me realize that I can’t equate my looks to my value as a person.
After her contract ended in Istanbul, Monique returned home, and six months later, she developed cystic acne. “I came back home to the same environment, but I wasn’t the same. I didn’t know how I fit in anymore, and I had to face old friends who could see that I wasn’t the same. I was really uncomfortable. When I came home, there was so much repair I had to do. I just felt fatigued, exhausted, and like a waste.
As a model, I appreciated the praise and validation, but I never thought about how I felt about myself independently. So when I stopped modeling and started breaking out, I lost the validation, and I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. Whether it was in the mirror or in a window, I just couldn’t. Because my face just broke me apart, it absolutely crushed me. So, I really had to dig deep and find out who I was apart from modeling during that time.”
Because Monique had personally experienced the detrimental impact of beauty standards and perfection, she began to challenge her own ideas about beauty and worth. “I did a whole 360 and went from one world to the next. My whole idea of beauty has been challenged, and I’ve outgrown the idea of perfection. My skin doesn’t bother me at all now. And yes, I’m doing scar treatments, but it’s just because I want to feel comfortable. I’m not trying to seek perfection. I just want as much of my normal skin back as possible. Some people comment on my social media and say - why do you say you’re acne positive, but you’re treating your scars and your acne? My response is: It’s not about that. It’s about opening up conversation and showing that skin is real. Acne normal, and it’s real life. People go through stages, and it’s part of being a human just like weight fluctuation or stretch marks. For example, if your hair falls out, and you put on a wig, does that mean you hate yourself? No, it doesn’t. It just means you want to feel and look how you want to. I can wear make up some days and not another. Sometimes within the skin positivity culture, there’s so much pressure to be authentic that we become inauthentic. No matter where we are, we have to make our impact more positive rather than toxic and start conversations around self-acceptance problems that no one is voicing. That is how healing starts.”