Image Courtesy of Madeline Hill
I woke up with my legs sprawled across the pavement. My head hurt and my hands shook. As I regained consciousness, I saw the concerned looks across the faces of a group of Japanese huddled over me. Someone who spoke a few words of English rushed to my side.
"You fell down," he said.
I nodded and responded with a few words of Japanese I was able to pull together in the moment. I began to sit up slowly, finally planting my feet on the pavement.
A woman began poking and prodding me. She touched the blouse and skirt I was wearing, making sure they were not damaged by my fall. Two others rushed to my side. They frantically touched up the red lipstick that was now smeared on my cheek and sprayed my fly aways with hairspray.
My knees still felt weak. I was not ready to return to work as a high-fashion model, but I also did not have the power to say otherwise and the client was relying on me.
At 15, I was completely and utterly burnout out. Fainting was just the straw that broke the camel's back.
Most 15-year-olds are more concerned with high-school football games and sneaking alcohol from their parents than the measurement of their hips or making it to a shoot on time.
Working as a model in Tokyo, Japan only heightened these concerns. In that summer after my sophomore year of high school, they were the only things that mattered. My job was to sell my physical appearance seven days a week. I was to obey instructions from my agency and obey the requests of the client.
When I was tired, I could not complain. Even if I woke up at 3:00 a.m. to work for 12 hours to then go on more than 10 castings, I had a smile on my face. When I was hungry, I ate hard-boiled eggs and plain greek yogurt. This strict diet was due to a clause in my contract, which stated that if my measurements were above what they stated in writing, I could be sent home.
In Japan, I was transfixed by my outward appearance and pleasing the adults who were signing my paycheck. I was not sleeping the recommended 9.5 hours per-night, which according to a study conducted by the Journal of Sleep Research in 2013, teenagers are supposed to have. I usually averaged around four or five.
When I fainted, it did not come as a shock to me. My body quit and I was ready to quit on my body. Mentally, high-fashion modeling burnt me out and I was ready to wave the white flag.
Glynnis MacNicol's article on career burnout for Elle.com brought back all these memories from that dreadful day in the suburbs of Tokyo, fainting in a sample that clung to my exposed ribs and bony hips.
I connected with MacNicol's sense of shutting down. Burnout should not happen at 15, but it hit me hard. As Patty Forbes Pedzwater, a practicing psychotherapist in Manhattan tells MacNicol, she was looking to go home and so was I.
"It's simply a fantasy of something we perceive to have a beginning, middle, and an end. There's a timer on it. You work someplace, the whistle blows, and you're out."
Fainting on set was my ticket home. It was the wake-up call I was subconsciously waiting for. Fainting was a way of my body telling me that enough was enough.
The modeling industry runs in a cycle, where one minute your look is the trend of the moment and the next, you are struggling to pay rent, because you are not "right" for every client. In Japan, my "look" happened to be one that required me falling below the recommended BMI.
Burnout is hard to avoid when you are being controlled by adults with power and authority. I was lucky, though. At 15, I was able to convince my agent to let me go to a doctor after I completed the shoot, despite their complaints that I would "miss too many castings."
As I sat in the doctor's office, he diagnosed me with exhaustion. In that office, I made the choice to stand up for myself and make a change. I told my agency I could no longer work on the weekends, something they fought hard, I might add.
They reluctantly agreed, but I did not last much longer in the Japanese fashion world. Maybe they were mad at me and sent me on less castings. Maybe they used the fact that I was now eating a healthier diet against me -- regardless, I was sent home.
I knew it was coming and was not angry with the decision. When you are burnt out, you just want to escape to what you know. I did not care anymore about booking Vogue Nippon. Being on a strict diet and getting measured every week was not what I knew or what I wanted to remember from my teenage years.
Burning out at 15 is not what they talk about in the coming-of-age movies. It is not the common gossip at lockers and is not the topic that rules Friday night sleepovers. That is how it should be, though. Not just for teenagers, but for everyone.