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Gemma Ward, A Supermodel Betrayed

 Gondolkoztál már azon, hogy hova tűnt Ausztrália és Lagerfeld szeme-fénye? 

Borzasztóan hosszú és borzasztóan érdekes riport, a modellek "kiöregedésének" jelenségéről.

Baby-faced beauty Gemma Ward was the hottest model in the world. But now that she's grown up and gained 30 pounds, fashion insiders say she's "over." Even though the industry claims it's embracing larger women, her story proves it's all a big fat lie. By Sarah Horne, The New York Post

Gemma wearing a body-skimming silver gown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Gala.
Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Patrick Mcmullan
Gemma wearing a body-skimming silver gown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Gala.

On a bright day last November, an Amazonian beauty with long, strong-looking limbs and silky blonde hair hailed a cab in the East Village. Wearing navy shorts and a faux-leopard-skin coat, she looked like an unusually pretty, healthy NYU student, out for a day of combing through vintage shops. It was an unremarkable moment, except that the 22-year-old was Gemma Ward—one of the most photographed women on the planet.

This week, thousands of stylistas will converge on Bryant Park for New York Fashion Week. The runways will host a parade of size-zero adolescents with measurements of 34-24-34, jutting collarbones, and razor-sharp cheekbones. But Ward, once the biggest name in the business, is expected to be absent.

Though Ward is still pictured on her agency IMG's Web page, she hasn't worked as a model for two years. Once her body began to fill out, in 2007, her flacks explained that she was on "hiatus."
IMG declined to comment for this story, and would not confirm whether or not Ward was still officially under their representation or grant an interview with the model or with David Cunningham, the agent responsible for first signing her. When granted anonymity, however, an IMG insider was blunt to the point of nastiness about Ward's future. "Her moment's over," said the IMG source. "She's not coming back."

While Ward's fame—for a brief period—was spectacular, her story is emblematic of the hundreds of pretty teenagers who come to New York City each year in search of a modeling career. Although the industry has recently embraced plus-size models (more on that later), the pressure to slip into size-zero samples is stronger than ever. In 2007, top model Natalia Vodianova said that when she weighed 115 pounds at 5' 9" clients called her management to complain about her size. In 2008, model Coco Rocha said that when she weighed as little as 108 pounds at 5' 10", she was told, "You need to lose more weight," and that she even took diuretics. "The look this year is anorexic," Rocha recalled hearing. "We don't want you to be anorexic, we just want you to look it," they reasoned.

Ward was discovered eight years ago in Perth, at the age of 14. The gangly Australian was sitting in the audience for the taping of a reality show called Search for a Supermodel, clad in a muddy-gray barn jacket, when she was plucked by an agent from the crowd.

She initially said, "No, thank you," but within a year Ward, a tomboy who was all elbows and angles, with giant, startling Bambi eyes, was well on her way to becoming the most sought-after runway model in the world, anointed the Next Big Thing by designer Miuccia Prada. Seemingly overnight, Ward, a schoolgirl from a suburban background—Dad was a doctor, Mom a nurse—went from sporting ratty jeans and surf tees to walking the runway in Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Jil Sander. At just 16, she became one of the youngest-ever cover models of American Vogue.

Over the next three years, Ward went on to land a staggering 20-plus Vogue covers and sparked a craze for pencil-thin girls who looked vaguely extraterrestrial, with improbably wide-set eyes and rosebud lips. One paper described Ward as "an archangel from Neptune." Others dubbed her a "porcelain doll" or a "Siamese kitten."

Five years later, walking in the East Village.
Photo: MIKE DISCIULLO/Bauer-Griffin
Five years later, walking in the East Village.

Says one photo agent who worked with Ward when she was 15 (and declined to be named for fear of repercussions from IMG, which reps the lion's share of the A-list models in New York City), her youth was almost a shock. "She was a baby," the source says of his first shoot with Ward. "A little girl, completely wide-eyed and lovely, and she had this entourage around her, handlers, all of these adults whose incomes depended on her looking a certain way." Ward, he recalls, seemed vaguely stunned by all the attention. "Models that young don't always understand what they're getting into, what the future will be if their bodies change."

For several years, however, Ward's career continued to boom. In 2007, Forbes estimated that she had earned $3 million that year, and in June she paid $1.525 million for a three-bedroom co-op in the East Village. In New York City, she hung out with the hip Australian expat crowd at the Nolita eatery Ruby's, sipped rosé at the Maritime Hotel and suffered from permanent jet lag.

Ward (second from right) at 16, on the cover of Vogue in September 2004 with Gisele, Daria and Natalia.
Photo: AP Photo/Courtesy Vogue, Steven Meisel
Ward (second from right) at 16, on the cover of Vogue in September 2004 with Gisele, Daria and Natalia.

The busy teenager, who flew back and forth across the Atlantic for major fashion editorials and lucrative ad campaigns for Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Dior, had no time to reflect. "I never really get a chance to sit back and think about it," she once said.

But signs of uncertainty had surfaced in September 2006, when Ward spent time in Los Angeles, where she was prepping for a film appearance in the Liv Tyler thriller The Strangers. As a result, she missed Milan fashion week for the first time in years—a decision that proved damaging for her modeling career. At the Burberry show, fashionistas buzzed that "she had been dropped because she had put on weight," according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Though Ward was missing in Milan, she had walked in at least a dozen shows that season in New York City and Paris, looking as thin as ever—her face ever so slightly fuller. She had perhaps gained just five pounds, but the media was beginning to take notice, making clients jittery.

A year later, in fall 2007, the speculation over her size had turned into a steady drone. Says one fashion editor who attended Paris fashion week in October of that year, "Gemma was only walking in a handful of shows—Lagerfeld Gallery, maybe Valentino. I initially thought, 'She doesn't have to do them, she's making so much money in the big campaigns,' until I saw her on the [Chanel] runway… I almost didn't recognize her," says the editor, who confesses she was aghast. Compared to the other ultraskinny models, Ward looked as if she had gained 10 to 15 pounds, "big, almost bloated."

Clad in a denim bikini, Ward certainly looked softer. Where her legs had once been bony, there were noticeable curves. One headline snapped, "CHANEL SPRING '08 EMBRACES THE BIG GIRL," while another article noted Ward's "not so itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny Chanel bikini."

The photo agent who worked with Ward wasn't surprised by the industry reaction. "Every six months you get a new crop of girls. For every one with staying power, like a Kate Moss, there are 20 who don't make it past 18. You gain weight, and you knock yourself out of the running. It's an image-driven industry that doesn't take kindly to the girl who bucks the trend. Clients start saying, 'She's fat now, don't book her!' If you want to be cynical about it, looking that way was her job. She doesn't want to do what it takes, she's not going to get work. That's just the way it is."

By the end of 2007, speculation mounted that Ward was being edged out of the rarefied world of high fashion. But her personal life was reportedly heating up. In November, "Page Six" noted that the newly single 28-year-old heartthrob Heath Ledger had been pursuing Ward, who hailed from his hometown in Australia and swirled in the same boho downtown scene. Back at home in Perth for the Christmas holidays, Ward was spotted with Ledger and the local papers rushed to crown them Australia's answer to Brangelina.

Less than three weeks later, in January 2008, Ledger was found dead of an accidental prescription drug overdose in his Soho apartment. At his funeral in Australia the following month, Ward mourned alongside his former fiancée, Michelle Williams, and Ledger's closest family and friends.

Ward in her heyday as a cover girl; and on the Chanel runway (inset) where she was called "fat."
Photo: Courtesy Hearst/ Chris Moore/Catwalking/Getty Images/ Jimi Celeste/Patrick McMullan
Ward in her heyday as a cover girl; and on the Chanel runway (inset) where she was called "fat."

In the aftermath of Ledger's death, Ward retreated further from the fashion world. The supermodel put on a more noticeable amount of weight and gossips began to surmise that his death had been the trigger for her so-called "emotional eating." That summer, she embarked on a trek through Nepal with a male friend, joining a ragtag group of travelers. Some of Ward's fellow trekkers were apparently underwhelmed by her presence. Two of them, Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott, later blogged about how they were skeptical that she was even a model. "She appeared rather—um—sturdy," they stated. "In other words, she was quite like the rest of us."

Says Olga Liriano, a New York City casting director and model booker who has worked with iconic photographer Bruce Weber, the notion that Ward put on weight as a response to Heath's death is fairly ridiculous. Ward's new body most likely marked "her natural point. A woman's metabolism changes in her twenties. Maybe trying to stay in a business where a size zero is the norm was too much for her, and not worth the sacrifice." In the insulated fashion world, "we have a collective body dysmorphia, where we don't even know what normal is anymore, where a size 6 or 8 is overweight for a model." As such, explains Liriano, "there was no compassion" for Ward. "Sadly, the industry just moves on. That's what fashion is about, always looking for the next thing. Who's going to be the next big girl? Who's the next Gemma Ward? There's a moment, a few years, when a girl can have a great career. And then it's on to the next one."

In a searing post in her personal blog (, Gemma Ward's sister, Sophie—a 24-year-old writer and former model—summed up the harsh realities of the business and how they had affected her sibling's psyche. In November 2008, Sophie wrote of the early days of Ward's career, when she was outwardly at the top of her game: "She came home every now and then, always for Christmas, sometimes in between, and I kept my head down trying to pretend my little sister wasn't being slaughtered internally by an external industry." In another post, in October 2009, Sophie wrote, "I once was a model, so I have authority to slam what is becoming to my eyes one of the most dangerous and wanky professions that ever became created on this earth's face."

And yet, despite her weight gain, Ward is even now getting modeling offers—not that IMG is encouraging her to work. As recently as November of 2009, her agency turned down a photo-shoot offer from Harper's Bazaar, stipulating that if she were to return to its pages, it would be on the condition that she be back in modeling shape, according to one magazine insider. But even if she loses the weight, she will never be a supermodel again, claims a high-ranking fashion-magazine source.
"Once these pictures are out of her being big, her brand is diminished, at least as far as her agency and the mainstream fashion world goes," the source says. "Gemma's torn. In the last few years [her weight gain] was very much her f--k you to the industry. She's rebelling by putting on 30 or 40 pounds, so now going back isn't a straightforward option."

Though it is not uncommon at other agencies for models to transition from the so-called straight-size to plus-size divisions when their bodies change, sources say that Ward is unlikely to launch a career as a plus-size model. Ironically, she is too small to do so. Furthermore, unlike rival agencies Ford or Wilhelmina, IMG does not have a plus-size division.

However, were a model like Ward to come out and say, "This is who I am, and I still want to work," says Glamour editor in chief Cindi Leive, she would be embraced. "One of the reasons celebs have taken over for models on the covers of magazines, by and large, is that readers relate to them; they know the ups and downs of their love lives; they know their weight struggles. It's the fact that not all of them were born to be a size zero that makes them more appealing."

Leive insists that the tide is turning, thanks in part to demand from readers who write to her and thank her for showing bigger models in her pages. This month, V magazine, a glossy with high-fashion credibility, debuted its first-ever size issue, featuring plus-size models such as Crystal Renn alongside straight-size models. But although one newspaper heralded the successful issue as "THE TRIUMPH OF THE SIZE 12S," critics say that in the more mainstream modeling world it's skinny business as usual, and models who do not adhere to the rules of the game, like Ward, are quickly pushed to the side.

Agent Gary Dakin, who heads up Ford Models' plus-size division and reps Crystal Renn, the size 12 supermodel, lauds Leive and others, including V magazine's Stephen Gan, for being more inclusive in their approach. "I'm seeing that the walls are coming down a little bit," he says. But there's still what he calls a "glass ceiling" when it comes to the major campaigns that can make a model serious money. While Gemma Ward was earning $3 million a year in her heyday, Renn earns more like six figures in a year. "The press about plus-size models has been amazing," says Dakin. But, he adds, "Let's not just talk about plus-size being 'hot.' Let's actually put those girls in the campaigns, that-big money cosmetics contract, that hair contract. I have 10 stunning girls on my board who are high fashion, who could do that job, but the clients have to go for it."

It's a chilling reminder that for all of the trend pieces about plus-size models gaining acceptance, for all the chatter in Vogue about a size 4 model like Lara Stone embracing her "curves," the world of high fashion is slow to change.

But Ward, who has seen the fashion world at its ugliest, is not so sure she wants to return to modeling, say sources, and she's exploring other options, like pursuing theater school at Yale. In 2009, Hollywood insider Nikki Finke reported that she had signed with CAA, which reps actors like Kate Winslet and Natalie Portman and Anne Hathaway.

Last March, in an interview to promote her part in the Australian indie film The Black Balloon, Ward spoke with a reporter for Australia's The Age about her decision to pursue an acting career. "I realize you can't please everyone," Ward said. "Sometimes when people are constantly wanting the fantasy or the illusion, you have to break it to them that it's not real."

Though Ward has rarely spoken out about her relationship with Heath Ledger, she said in that interview that he taught her to fight, a skill she will need as she contemplates a permanent move to the silver screen, also an image-obsessed realm where criticism of her looks will be inevitable, her talent notwithstanding. "He told me to always be a punk and 'stand up for yourself,' " Ward said then.
Indeed, last November, in response to reports that she had retired from modeling, Ward stood up to fight, writing to an Australian paper to say, "I have not 'quit modeling,' and my fans back home can expect to see me back at work modeling and acting in the new year."

Still, one industry insider thinks Ward made a lucky escape—and rather than return to the high-pressure world that chewed her up and spat her out, she should keep on running. "I say, congratulations," the magazine source says. "She has other things she wants to do. She made major money…and she got out of it alive." —with reporting by Hailey Eber

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