A Chat With: a director and model on body image, the media and more

Nicole Russin-McFarland is a jack of all trades; she’s a director, composer, model, and freelance journalist amoung other things. The Chicago born creator took the time to chat to me about body image, the media and more.

On Modelling:

“Modelling agencies always wanted to market me as someone who looked nothing like myself,” she explained.

“‘Perfect’ is in the eye of the beholder who thinks one look makes money. I heard everything from tan and black-haired like Adriana Lima to stick skinny, plain as can be blending into a crowd to unnaturally curvy to slight tanned blonde girl next door.”

“I might have been plucked away as a movie star for looking healthy and wholesome. In the late 2000’s, that old Hollywood esthetic had no value. It didn’t matter what I did because I was never someone’s first choice for a modelling job”

Nicole Russin-McFarland
Delia & Sammy” Screening, Austin Film Festival 2018

In her modelling days, agents called her as a fill in if another model was too irresponsible, drunk, or high to show up to work. Substance abuse was rampant among models in New York, she explains.

“Possibly the creepiest moment was the first time I signed with a modelling agency when the agent told me she signed me to replace someone who had left the agency and wanted me to look like her as much as possible. A little hard when you are not that person!”

“Losing weight for modelling is a gimmick. Mostly, they do it to sell services to young women who can then back owe the agencies for everything. As much as things are changing, sometimes it’s a good thing that we now have social media and new methods of people booking influencers, because models and influencers are now in control of their own agendas. They no longer have to look like other people to get work.”

Agents told her to lie about her measurements, weight, and other characteristics according to the modelling jobs she was auditioning for.

Has anything changed?

“Women’s clothing is now cut assuming you are either skeletal skinny, or that one has that tiny waist with a large bust and bum triple the size of your bust,” Nicole says.

She now wears men’s clothes often to get the fit that women’s clothing had when she was a teenager, as the sizing is now different, the 32-year old explains.

“As someone who is curvy between skeletal and plus size, I assure you, if you are legitimately curvy, you will have some waist but not a waist the size of an 11 year old girl. I am not joking. Some jeans are cut the size as girls who are 11 years old in the waist.”

“I don’t understand why women are destroying their bodies because neither my straight nor LGBT male friends like it. Women think men love it, whether for hiring them or dating them. One can have plastic surgery to look like a better version of herself, like the popular post-baby makeovers women get, and that is far from what women do to look like social media caricatures.”

But this seems to be ending. As I go out around running errands, I still see women walking around with lip fillers but they are smaller. Don’t ask me what they’re going to do with all of these massive bums. Those things are permanent. I go out and see people who clearly don’t have any financial means getting it done also. You see women with the most basic jobs like secretary jobs spending all of their money on this. That cannot be good for your mental health.”

Nicole Russin-McFarland
“The Wretched” Screening, Austin Film Festival 2019

According to Nicole, the body-positivity movement counteracting this culture is: largely run by people who are not ugly at all trying to look as bad as possible.

“Lena Dunham on her HBO show “Girls” used to purposely have women in unflattering angles during fictional sex scenes, and I argue, this is all wrong. “Real women” do not look bad. This is only encouraging the divide that there are “ugly people” and “pretty people.” We need to be portraying women and men in flattering ways in visual entertainment and print media, or we will continue having assumptions that young people are only a few calories and a new hair colour away from perfection.”

The Influence of Social Media and Eating Disorders

According to Nicole, social media does not deserve all the blame for the rise in eating disorders.

“Humans create the content on social media!” she says.

“We are not equipping young men and women with the proper foundation of self-worth. If your self-love is firm, you will always have good days or bad days but will not be a victim of the world’s evil towards negative self-image.”

According to Bodywhys: the effect of the media is to further undermine those individuals who are already vulnerable to developing an eating disorder, and to exacerbate and maintain eating disordered thinking where it is already established.”

A culture which promotes obsession with appearance and which markets a particular body shape as desirable and as a means of achieving success and/or happiness can contribute to the erosion of self-esteem in vulnerable individuals…the constant promotion of dieting also can contribute to creating an unhealthy relationship with food and body. It is in the light of this that the media can be seen as playing a part in the development of eating disorders.”

The causes of eating disorders are multiple and very complex. A whole range of factors combine to contribute to the development and maintenance of an eating disorder. However, two of the major risk factors for eating disorders are low self-esteem and dieting.

Nicole Russin-McFarland
@nicrussin — Twitter

How can people feel more confident?

Nicole explains that with schools and magazines, we are not talking about self-worth in a convincing, exciting way, as: It feels like we are lecturing people as if it were another homework assignment. While it is admirable how far we have come since I was a teenager in the early 2000’s, our global conversation on body image is not inspirational.”

“For one thing, I firmly believe that all men and women can look like movie stars with the right angles, lighting, and styling. Yet, we are seeing men and women of all ages promoting how “ugly” one looks as “normal.” I want this visual to flip this around. That everyone looks good when styled properly.”

She adds that Photoshop is not to blame either.

“Photoshop is intended to help people of every size with minor defects like correcting one small breakout or an arm with a strange look. I assume no bride or groom wants imperfect skin for wedding day photos.”

“It is rather the misuse of Photoshop where we come and shave a person in half to be skinny or transplant other features onto him or her that it goes wrong,” she explains.
What can you do to feel more confident?
Nicole believes that getting hobbies and becoming good at something is a big confidence booster.

Nicole Russin-McFarland
“The Wretched” Screening, Austin Film Festival 2019

“When I have done a good job on my music for my film scores, I feel very sexy, powerful, and confident. It’s like the boost of confidence one gets from a really good workout or swim, magnified. Nothing else in this world makes me feel that sexy and, believe it or not, body confident.”

“In 2019, I began studying special effects via the Stan Winston School and am continuing to do so. I learn about 3D computer software like Maya, how to craft puppets similar to those in Jurassic Park or The Muppets, and about directing blockbuster films. Knowledge makes me feel more confident. When you are getting more talented at something, it is as if nothing else matters.”

She also adds that, if there’s something bothering you about your apperance to do it; you really so badly want to fix your nose, do it.”

“When I was 18, I thought I would be prettier if I had fuller lips. As it turns out, all that happened was I got an infection and spent many years carving out the messed up upper lip material… when I saw what was going on with my upper lip and how horribly thin and ugly it was shaped during one of these times, I told the plastic surgeon I wanted to “just get rid of the whole thing! I hate it!” and he told me to find some plastic surgeons who had more experience than him with botched plastic surgery.”

“I did go to several doctors and today have a custom made upper lip implant that is on the medium side, and if I want to overline my lips and look fuller lipped, I can do it with makeup.”

“Plastic surgery is not all bad, and I believe fillers are worse than permanent surgery. If your nose bothers you, or you’re like me with a botched filler gone wrong, fix whatever bothers you. Plastic surgery exists to fix that one thing you dislike, not rebuild your face into a new human being.”

Nicole also suggests dressing how you want, using the make-up you want, and styling yoru hair how you want.

“Don’t follow massive beauty routines trying to look like someone else because society says so. You are attractive. All you need is the right styling.”

“I should look like whatever I dream of being, because we are our own superheroes!”

Nicole Russin-McFarland
@nicrussin Twitter

To learn more about Nicole check out her website and follow her on Twitter. You can also support her Etsy store with friends & actors  Samantha V. Hutton and Ryan McGregor, where theyhave an ongoing women in film T-shirt fundraiser. You can also sign her petition  to Stop Day Job Discrimination Against Actors, Musicians, Filmmakers and Entertainers.

While you’re here, check out last months interview with Amy the Vegan.

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Reader Comments

  1. Sophie

    This is such an interesting interview! I found her take on a few things making me pause for a second to think about, like the fact that people choose what to put on social media so social media itself isn’t to blame. Very, very interesting. Thanks for sharing! x


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