Former Céline model Victoire Dauxerre was dangerously underweight and depressed within months of being scouted. She says she is striking back at the industry that nearly killed her.
In French fashion circles, Victoire Dauxerre is known as “the witch.” But the 25-year-old former model is unfazed by the animosity. “My goal today is to empower women and talk about body positivity,” she shrugs, with customary Parisian insouciance.
Once a runway model who walked for McQueen, Miu Miu, and Philip Lim, Dauxerre is now one of the most spectacular whistleblowers the fashion industry has ever seen. She didn’t merely blow the whistle on fashion industry abuses—Dauxerre burned the whole house down, couture drapes and all.
Her novel, Size Zero—How I Survived My Life As A Model, exposes the dark side of the industry, like the model who had a heart attack and died backstage, or the agents who asked her to drop two dress sizes in eight weeks.
When Dauxerre was spotted by a modeling agent, she was a healthy, high-achieving 18 year old. Within eight months, her weight plunged from 128 pounds to just over a 100 pounds. As is common with anorexia sufferers, Dauxerre grew a fine layer of hair all over her body, and would regularly faint in the street. Her periods stopped entirely.
The more weight Dauxerre lost, the more work she got. She was feted for being the only girl able to fit into an extra-small sample size dress backstage at a McQueen show. Agents would literally applaud her newly emaciated frame—the result of a three-apple-a-day diet—alongside sustained laxative abuse.
As her career took off, Dauxerre’s mental health plummeted, leading to a suicide attempt and a three-month stay at an inpatient eating disorder facility. Dauxerre now works as an actress and is not in the mood to dissimulate when it comes to the industry that nearly killed her.
“It’s indentured slavery,” she says down the phone from Paris. “While I was living it, I kept thinking, This isn’t normal, what’s happening to me.”
Dauxerre is especially critical of the false economy that traps models in the industry. While she was from an educated, middle-class French family, many young models are from impoverished communities in Russia or Eastern Europe and do not share her privilege. Dauxerre’s parents feature regularly in Size Zero; they read her contracts, call the agency to complain on her behalf, and even accompany her on shoots.
“A lot of the girls come from Russia, and they can’t leave the modeling industry because they have so many debts. The agency pays for their flights and their flats and if they can’t pay the agency back—because they haven’t been working—they can’t leave,” Dauxerre explains. “They have to stay in it.” (It’s worth noting that Dauxerre isn’t always as charitable to models from Russia in her book—when she is the only non-Russian model at a casting, she describes the women as a “hornets nest of spiteful blondes.”)
Dauxerre is scathing about how agencies trap models and mismanage their wealth. “The agency takes 70 percent!” she exclaims, telling me that she left the modeling industry having earned only 10,000 euros in eight months of non-stop work. Her agency, she claims, made ten times that sum off her labor. In addition to financial abuse, modeling agents are frequently complicit in the industry's worst abuses—including sexual misconduct and assault.
Throughout Size Zero, Dauxerre characterizes the agent who scouted her as venal, manipulative, incompetent, and misogynistic. Seb encourages the girls to diet excessively and compares them to each other in a bid to encourage competitive weight loss. Eventually, Dauxerre stops answering his calls entirely and cuts ties with him. “He’s in prison now. He raped seven girls,” she says. “Some were under 18. The police called me, and asked if it happened to me.”
Dauxerre says that young models in the industry are vulnerable to abuse in part because they are cripplingly and chronically malnourished. “You’re 15, or 16. You’re so far from your family. You’re so weak, because you never eat. You can barely walk, sometimes, you can’t even think any more. You become stupid, because you don’t have any energy, and the people around you manipulate you, and tell you what to do.” She says that Seb frequently deployed coercive techniques to try and estrange Dauxerre from her close-knit family. “Seb used to tell me, ‘Don’t call your family, I’m your family now, you have to trust me.’”
Size Zero is powerful because Dauxerre doesn’t pull any punches. She exposes the modeling industry’s original sin: its continued insistence that models aren’t dangerously emaciated, but naturally slim, even as they OD on slimming pills. “From the outside you may think it’s wonderful and models have perfect bodies but eat brownies all the time,” Dauxerre says, “but this is fake. It doesn’t exist. I’ve spoken to models—I even know the Victoria’s Secret girls, and it’s not true.”
One of the most harrowing moments in Size Zero comes when Dauxerre—who has subsisted on fruit for months—snaps and begs her mother to bring her a roast chicken:
“The wait was unbearable, and all the time the little voice was saying ‘stop eating’, while my stomach was saying, ‘Eat, you’re hungry.’ When she got back with the chicken, I pounced on it and ate it with my hands, stuffing it into my mouth and devouring it down to the bones to satiate my hunger, to fill the void inside me, to soothe my pain and to silence the little voice. It didn’t work for long. The voice started screaming again: ‘You’re too fat. Stop eating. You’re too fat.’”
Now in recovery, Dauxerre is scathing about the failure of the fashion industry to acknowledge the extent to which models are abused and under-fed. She believes that, without her family’s intervention, her story would have had a much darker ending.
“I guess I’d be a drug addict,” she says. “I’d continue being a model, and take lots of drugs like some famous models do. Taking cocaine to starve myself and only be able to eat three apples a day. Or, maybe I’d be dead.”
An uncompromising and at times brutal read, Size Zero should be required reading for anyone considering a modeling career. “I wish I could have read a book like this before becoming a model,” Dauxerre tells me. “The book is for the girl I used to be when I was 17 or 18. It’s for them.”
Size Zero: How I Survived My Life as a Model by Victoire Dauxerre is published on the 22 nd February (William Collins, £8.99)