Model Kim Noorda's Food Journal

In January 2009, a 22-year-old Dutch model named Kim Noorda came to my office to discuss her relationship with food.

Kim had been identified by her agent at DNA as a young woman on the precipice of an eating disorder, and therefore a worthy candidate for an intervention underwritten by the CFDA Health Initiative. (The CFDA Health Initiative was founded in 2007 to combat anorexia and bulimia in the industry, to provide information and resources to models in the throes of these diseases, and, more generally, to change the aesthetic on the New York runways from extreme skinniness to a more realistic, fit ideal.)

Although Kim was aware that she had issues with how and what she fed herself, she was at pains to tell me that she did not have an eating disorder. As a model, she said, she had learned to eat "a little less."

Although I had never met her before, I certainly knew of her. Since turning eighteen, Kim has been a consistent and lovely presence on the most important catwalks; she has a soulful grace to her, a certain introspective elegance that has endeared her to such houses as Balenciaga, Prada, and Chanel.

Had her weight fluctuated over the years? Perhaps, though not in any way that caused chatter in the industry. But what was apparent by fall of 2008 was that Kim was now very thin -- very thin for a statuesque Amsterdam beauty who should have been coming into her own as a woman instead of shrinking to the proportions of a naturally scrawny fourteen-year-old. (At five feet ten, she weighed 110 pounds.)

Our goal, I told her, was to help her see how she could diminish the centrality of food in her thinking to ultimately have a richer and more fulfilling adult life, in and out of fashion -- to, in a sense, learn to be "a little more."

Kim agreed. She is a very thoughtful, resourceful person, a young woman who reads novels by J. M. Coetzee and escapes to museums during Fashion Week. She knew the measure of her life was not synonymous with that of her hips.

So off she went to a four-week outpatient program at the Renfrew Center, a facility in New York (among other locales) that has for 25 years been treating patients with eating disorders through a multipronged therapeutic approach. This was the start of Kim Noorda's journey of self-discovery and wellness.

What follows are extracts from the journals she has kept -- honest, unflinching, sad, seeking, and, most of all, urgent.

January 2009

Yesterday I went to see my doctor for medical clearance. I told him that I did not have an eating disorder, but that I also believe that I do not take care of myself well enough and that I will learn something through the treatment. I am actually afraid of telling people that I am about to do this. I do not want people to see me as someone with an eating disorder. I want them to see the underlying reasons why I do not take good enough care of myself. The tests proved that not a lot of things are wrong with me: completely healthy, only my BMI is too low. ...

The intake meeting with the nutritionist [at Renfrew] took place today. She weighed me, calculated my BMI, and made a weight-gaining plan for the four weeks: one pound per week. This is standard procedure for the center for everyone who weighs less than 90 percent of ideal body weight. I did not like that at all. I told her I would try to agree to that because my agents have also told me that they would like me to gain an extra five pounds. She told me that five pounds is not that much, and probably no one would even see it. I told her that people in the fashion industry see every gram of fat. ...

[E-mail to her sister after the first day of treatment] "I already wanted to quit the project. I thought I couldn't cry for someone else's sorrow, but I did have to cry about these girls. There are some spoiled brats among them who seem not to be using their heads, but there are also some very smart girls who are still so unsatisfied about everything. The group works like a mirror, and I really thought, Wow, I do not want to be like that. The food is not luxurious here -- sticky toast, kind of old apples, which you cannot peel because that is policy. You have to measure off the butter, peanut butter, salad dressing, and you have to finish your plate within a certain time. I get very irritated by it, and I feel like a suckling pig because they are really feeding us. . . ."

This was a tough day. You are weighed on Fridays, and I was not allowed to know how much I weighed. I could ask them later, and they would say if my weight had increased or decreased, but I forgot. I feel stupid that I forgot, stupid that I cannot know. I experienced a collision with one of the staff members at breakfast that morning. She thought that I had not measured the amount of peanut butter well and wanted me to do it over again. I felt so embarrassed! I also believed that she should not give me a hard time -- after all, I wasn't difficult about food like the larger part of the table. I told her that I did do it right. She asked if we could talk in the corridor. I was almost exploding from all the irritations of the first week. I told her that I found it annoying that she was giving me such a hard time and that I am already disgusted by eating peanut butter on a banana. I told her she should do with her stupid banana what she thought was good for her. I could not open up for the rest of the day due to this. ...

Today a woman brought something up: "How do you interpret remarks from other people about your appearance?" For instance, you could misunderstand "My, you look healthy" as "You're fat." In me, it means the same, due to my job, I reckon. During a show season, when a model is not slim enough, people tell her, "Oh, you look so good, so healthy!" whereas the agencies recommend she lose weight. ...

I have an appointment with the nutritionist and learn that I had lost weight. I was convinced that I had gained. That was the reason I had consciously started to eat less. Surreptitiously I felt somewhat relieved. According to the rules, she had to do a weight-gain contract with me with sanctions if I had not gained at least one pound per week. I was slightly upset. ...

Today we discussed body image. The question was "What opinion did you have of your body before you started to get concerned about weight and dieting?" Most likely I have been a vain girl from an early age. When I was about twelve years old, a number of classmates started telling me that I should become a model. Since then, I can recall being asked questions about what I did to look as I did. It was then that I became aware that you could do something about your appearance, and thus make yourself beautiful. ...

How do other people react to me being a model? Last week a girl from the group left. She asked if I wanted to hug her, and then she said to the group, "I got a hug from a model. How cool is that?" Another woman has not made eye contact since I talked about working as a model. People often react so peculiarly to the world of fashion.

February 2009

I slept well. Started the day optimistically. Made myself breakfast at home and went for a cup of coffee afterward. I had been feeling hungry in the morning for about the entire week. They ask about this at the center, but I dare not tell them. First because other patients continually say they do not feel hungry anymore. And second because I fear that they will think I am better than they are, whereas I am actually more worried about everything. ...

I worry about making a mess out of the therapy. I do not eat exactly according to their meal descriptions. I do not exercise enough to get muscled arms. I do not dress like a model any longer. I am not overt enough toward the therapists. Just had a visit from the nutritionist, and she changed my diet again; I was afraid of that. She asked me what was the matter because from Tuesday to Friday I gained weight, and from Friday I'd lost some again. I was glad to hear that I had lost weight, because last time I gained over one pound. Because the diet keeps getting more and more, I am still nourished with distrust. I like getting used to eating a certain amount of food over a longer period. Otherwise I have to keep shopping for new clothes every week. ...

I am starting to worry about the castings for shows that are about to start. I look tired and do not have a suitable outfit to wear. I do not know how to talk to fashion people about what I have been doing lately. ...

I get the impression that people disapprove of change. This holds true for my job. When I look back on my career, most of my changes have been frowned upon. I was fifteen when I started, and by the time I was eighteen I did my first catwalk shows. I struggled to prevent gaining weight, whereas already I was considered to be a "heavy" model compared with the others. My agent told me I was beautiful as I was, but I had to make sure that I would not gain more. She encouraged me to lose at least some of my weight. I was ashamed that I had to diet. At home I was thinner than everybody else, but compared with other models, I was heavier. (This period in my life was rather difficult, too: My parents were divorcing in an unpleasant manner. My father and I did not get along well, and I missed his parental support in certain situations: the hard and sometimes incomprehensible fashion industry and also learning to stand on my own two feet.)

Every season I gained a little weight, and every time it felt like I was doing fewer shows. During the shows the pressure caused me to lose weight, and people complimented me on that. After the shows I gained a bit. When a month or so later I appeared for a job in front of the people who had booked me, the difference between me and my pictures was too great. Nobody said so, but I knew. So I would start eating less. Even now I ask myself, How can you lose weight responsibly? How does one do that? ...

The last two days at the center I was tense. I felt so angry about not being well yet. I felt that I was failing. I gained 1.6 pounds in three days. Now I have to focus on my shows. And after the shows I want to contemplate what I have learned at Renfrew, and what I want to do with the rest of my life: going to college, being a good model, expanding and improving my social life, and learning how to express myself in a better way. What do I want, and what could I mean to other people? ...

Not a single person has told me that I have gained weight since the start of the shows. Not during the castings, and not even my European agent has said anything. Everything fit. This confused me, because I thought people could see every gram. Then again, no one has said that I look good, either, or commented on my appearance otherwise. When I started looking at pictures from the first show, there were still some things I disliked. My legs and cheeks have become fatter. I really need to do something about that. Exercises. On the Internet there are no positive reactions to how I looked. ...

Yesterday I attended an after-care-therapy conversation with my case manager at Renfrew. Immediately afterward I went to fit a pair of trousers with a stylist who is known to prefer very skinny models. The board showed that she had only booked skinny girls. I didn't know if this pair of trousers was really too small or if I have become so much heavier than the rest. What I do know is that I could not get them zipped up with all my strength. The designer apologized for the small size. The stylist said, "Oops." Then she made a phone call. I thought, OK, she will probably cancel me, and I looked her in the eye. She really did not seem to blame me. That surprised me, but I could not care less because I felt rather all right. I had had my period the day before, and it had made me so happy. It felt as though I had achieved one successful result in the center this month. So I could take it. I did not panic.

To read the rest of the story, go to Vogue.com.