She’s a photographer and a model. She runs Fashionmilk.com — a website about the Dutch modelling world — and she is the coordinator for the Dutch department at Donna Models, Japan. Bianca Toeps (29) is deep in the fashion world, but she wound up there because of her eating disorder, rather than the other way round.
Bianca never intended to get into the modelling industry. Quite to the contrary: she started her studies to become an accountant at age 19, and though she did well on her tests, she felt unsuitable for the job.
“I kept thinking: ‘Who cares? Who cares that this company didn’t number their invoices correctly; who cares that this man is saving too much in his retirement fund?’ One day, we attended a guest lecture by people from the communication department at the Dutch Tax Offices. Immediately, I was like: this is what I want! But I was ‘too smart’: people around me kept telling me I should go for this prestigious job with a big paycheck. I got depressed and obsessed with my weight; anything so I didn’t have to think about the accounting numbers.” She laughs.
Bianca started rewarding herself for going to work by eating lots of candy, but she didn’t want people to see her weakness: “So, my weight should stay the same: exactly 138 pounds.” This lead to a very unhealthy eating pattern of eating lots of candy and then nothing, to compensate. She wound up inflicting a kind of hypoglycaemia on herself.
Bianca quit her job when things went terribly wrong.
“Basically, I sabotaged myself so I felt sick all the time and couldn’t continue any longer.” She started going to therapy three times a week. “Then I got bored after six months of therapy. Some people on a message board I was on were planning a photography meeting, and I decided to be one of their models. It was very amateurish, but so much fun!” Amateur or not, modelling gave Bianca confidence. “Even though I didn’t have the model measurements — and I never will, since that’s just not how I’m built — I noticed I could have fun and look good.”
On the other side of the camera
Eventually, Bianca got interested in photography as well, and she now works with models herself.
“Most models — and when I say most, I mean by far the most — are skinny by nature. Some girls were even picked on for being too skinny. Modelling gives them confidence, too: no longer are they ‘a stick’ or ‘a skeleton,’ but a beautiful girl. Of course, they have to watch their measurements — which is harder work for some than others — so most models exercise and watch what they eat. They regard it as part of the job.”
It’s about more than just size
However, Bianca points out that not everyone can model, even if they lose weight. “Most model scouts look at measurements first. You can be a total stunner, but if you’re not built the right way, you will not get signed. And even though you might slim down to the right sizes, you still may lack the right proportions. It’s about so much more than just size: shoe size, the length of your legs, the width of your shoulders. Most models are really born with the figure.”
Bianca also explains that fashion works with clothes that “do not even exist yet,” and so designers use samples that every model should fit. They are looking for girls to fit clothes, not the other way round. “You can make that size as big or as small as you want, but the situation remains the same: there will always be girls fitting that size, girls almost fitting in that size, and girls that just will not get in that size. Even if we would make the sample size a Dutch 38, then still it wouldn’t be healthy for a size 42 to try to change her body to fit in that 38, or for a size-34-girl to gain weight and fit the 38 sample regardless. Though we tend to idolise models, it’s basically not about them; it’s about the clothes. Well, except maybe for some ‘It girls’ like Cara Delevingne, who’s more of a celebrity. For those girls, the standards are different (Cara, for example, is too short). But in most cases, modelling is not about the model. And if a girl doesn’t realise that, she will get disappointed.”
Variety of sizes
Speaking of standards: how does she feel about the rise of plus-size models and the possible shift to a greater variety of sizes? “I think size variety sounds nice, but it’s very impractical because of the sample sizes. Imagine a fashion show with 50 dresses, all of them in a different size. How hard would it be to find models for the show, compared to a show where all dresses are the same size?”
The modelling industry’s role
In general, we tend to accuse the fashion and modelling industry for forcing a particular beauty ideal upon us. Bianca shares how she feels about this: “I think this role is highly exaggerated. People tend to repeat each other, and start to believe that it’s indeed the media that’s dictating their beauty ideals. I don’t think this is the case. However, when one is vulnerable, one will look for examples everywhere of people doing it better! Then you’ll get something like this: ‘I want the talent of Taylor Swift, the money of Kim Kardashian, the looks of Doutzen, and the brains of Emma Watson,’ so now you’re not only comparing yourself to the best parts of someone, you’re comparing yourself to the best parts of multiple people! You can never win.”
“If you look around outside, at school, at work… You’ll see pretty average people. It’s just about what you focus on. And I agree that, with social media, it’s easy to surround yourself with famous people (you can follow them on Twitter etc.) and mistake them for your peers. It makes sense, it’s how people work, evolutionary. But it’s good to realise that. It’s good to be critical at who you compare yourself to.”
Another way to compare is by means of those numbers. But why? Bianca believes people are looking for some kind of security.
“Beauty is arbitrary, but numbers make beauty ‘measurable.’ I think it’s like that with all OCD-like behaviour; people are looking for things to give them security, and numbers give that false security, so people hold on to them. As if everything will stay the same, as long as the numbers are the same. It took me a while to realise you cannot be secure in life. Life equals uncertainty, and that’s actually the only thing you know for sure,” she laughs.
First photo: Bianca’s hand modelling work
Second photo: Bianca (with white necklace) for Holland Casino
Third photo: Backstage at a shoot
Fourth photo: Testshoot with Anna (Ego’s Models)
Fifth photo: Fashionmilk shoot
Last photo: Bianca’s work for Monki Magazine