Andrea Muizelaar on fashion, anorexia, and life after 'Top Model'

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Andrea Muizelaar on whether "perfection" exists: "Absolutely not in real life. In the fashion world the perfect image is definitely 'thin' and it will be for a long time to come."

In the 18 months since Andrea Muizelaar was crowned winner of the reality TV series Canada's Next Top Model, her life has been a complete whirlwind. From working in a dollar store in her hometown of Whitby, Ontario, to modeling haute couture in Toronto, she had reached her dream of becoming a true Top Model.

But at what cost? Unknown to casual television viewers, Muizelaar had been enveloped in the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, which inevitably became too much for her to bear. She gave up modeling and moved back to Whitby, where she sought treatment for her disorder, re-entered college, and now works at a bank. Where is she now? Happy and healthy, she says.

Recently Andrea Muizelaar sat down with Wikinews reporter Mike Halterman in a candid interview that stretched to nearly two hours, as she told all about her hopes and aspirations, her battle with anorexia, and just what really happened on Canada's Next Top Model.

Andrea's beginnings

Mike Halterman: Tell us a bit about your background. We know all about the Andrea we saw on Top Model, but we're interested to hear where you came from. What do your parents do? Did you have any hard times growing up?

Andrea Muizelaar: I am from Whitby, Ontario. My Dad works in the nuclear industry and my Mom is a stay-at-home mom. I had a lot of trouble from my peers at school due to my "geeky" appearance - braces, etc.

MH: How geeky are we talking here? Worse than any other teenager?

AM: Probably not extremely geeky; more of being a victim of a bully who liked to pick on me continuously and influenced other kids to do likewise.

MH: How long did that last?

AM: I would say from Grade 2 to Grade 9.

MH: What happened after that point? Did they stop, or did you grow into your looks, or was it something else?

AM: I definitely grew into my looks, the braces came off; high school is a bigger place and the bullying subsided because I had new friends.

MH: This was also around the time you wanted to model, right?

AM: Correct. Once I transitioned into a pretty young lady, people started telling me that I should model. Going from one extreme, to this one, it went to my head and I started dieting over the summer of Grade 9 to make sure that I was the perfect candidate.

MH: Is that when you first became anorexic?

AM: Yes - I lost 20 pounds that summer and then starting losing my control and modelling became my new excuse for this weight loss and soon-to-be disorder.

Andrea on her road to modeling, and America's Next Top Model

MH: Who were the people you looked up to and inspired you to pursue modeling? Did they have that thin body type that you hoped to have?

AM: I looked up to anyone in a media image as well as, and especially, America's Next Top Model contestants.

MH: That was actually going to be my next question. Who did you look up to on that show?

AM: All the contestants on the show, minus the plus size girl because I knew modelling was all about thin and not regular people

MH: Some of the plus sized girls on that show actually went into rather lucrative careers, like Toccara from Cycle 3, probably more so than some of the thinner winners. How do you feel about that, and how would you have felt about such an event occurring before you overcame your anorexia?

AM: Like most of the viewers of the show, I had no idea where any of the winners or past-contestants ended up. Now, I am starting to rebuild my career more than anyone ever helped me to before...and to boot...I am healthy doing it.

MH: Definitely. On that note, do you feel there is such a thing as "perfect" in terms of image in fashion?

AM: Absolutely not in real life. In the fashion world the perfect image is definitely "thin" and it will be for a long time to come.

MH: Even with the Toccaras and Tyra Banks of the world?

AM: Tyra Banks started off extremely thin to get to where she is today, I was sick and dying and not able to do the same. Besides, look at the hype and criticism Tyra is getting for her present size and even Britney Spears for that matter.

MH: That is true. Do you think Tyra Banks picks the bigger models for "good TV" instead of actually succeeding in modeling?

AM: Absolutely - has any of them ever won yet? ...or come close?

MH: There was a big hype over Tyra picking Whitney and Diana for ANTM 8, which was the first time two plus sized girls made it into the final rounds. They were both eliminated midway through the competition. That year Jaslene won. Do you think her look is unhealthy in terms of how it's promoted to the public and young girls?

AM: Yes I do. Look at me and how I looked when I won. I could not even face the young children that I used to babysit on my crescent, let alone the whole world. I was ashamed at how I looked.

MH: Do you believe the producers for shows such as Top Model intentionally pick people who are perhaps unstable, whether it be with body image or otherwise?

AM: Yes, definitely, look at CNTM 1 - there was a drinker, a nerd (me), a bitch, etc.

Experience on Canada's Next Top Model

MH: This question was asked by Steff Groulx, who was on Canada's Next Top Model, Cycle 2. "Do you think the experience you had on the show was what you thought it would be?"

AM: Yes, the show was as hard as I thought it would be and I can accept that. It is the "behind the scenes" that went on and is still going on that made me make the decision of "quitting" easier.

MH: In the third episode, the photographer who was the guest judge that week made a comment that he wanted to take you "to get something to eat," and then criticized fellow contestant Natalie for being "a bit big" for modeling. Did you feel you had the worst criticism, or do you think it was evenly spread out among all the girls?

AM: It was evenly spread out. The criticism affected me as much as the others, but because I had a severe eating disorder at this time, I was very afraid of being exploited because of it.

MH: Right, you had some big concerns. Ylenia also had self-image concerns while on the show, but we don't know of her full story. Do you still keep in contact with her, and if so, is she in a better state of mind now?

AM: I've talked to Ylenia maybe once since CNTM and personally I do not know how she is handling herself.

MH: Tricia Helfer hired a personal trainer for an episode, and he told you to revise your diet and to gain weight in your backside and in your thighs. Were you afraid to listen to him or did you mentally process his tips but were hesitant anyway?

AM: I knew out of every guest on the show that he was the most sincere in his advice. I wanted to do what he said, but I knew that it was just for the show and therefore didn't abide. I have talked to him recently and shared my story and he is so supportive of the way I look now and my true success story.

MH: He was also the same guest who memorably destroyed a scale with a sledgehammer. Since Tricia Helfer invited him, do you feel that she was sincere about wanting all the contestants to be healthy? Did she know you had an eating disorder?

AM: Tricia Helfer knows the demands of the industry as she lives them herself. She was not the producer of the show and did not plan the show, so I assume she is doing as she is told, knowing full well that weight was a big issue amongst all of us. They all knew that I had an eating disorder as I barely ate on that show. If anyone did not know, they were just plain naive.

MH: After the Pantene photo shoot, at panel, all the judges criticized your weight, specifically that you didn't weigh enough, and you later became defensive and said you ate well. This was interspersed with an interview from Alanna who said she never saw you eat a full meal the entire time you were in the house. The mantra quickly became "Andrea, you need to eat!" Now my question is, do you feel that they truly cared about whether you ate or not, and do you think that mantra was just an excuse to go, "Well, I did say she needed to eat..."?

AM: They obviously did not care as I ended up winning the show and only ate dinner with everybody once.

MH: What would you hypothesize is the reason for the disconnect between the fashion industry's definitions of "health," "attractiveness," and "beauty," and what most people, completely unrelated to the fashion industry, would see as healthy, attractive and beautiful?

AM: I have no idea why the image of beauty is so distorted and why the industry went wrong in the first place.

MH: Twiggy herself has noted that models were more full-figured and traditionally "beautiful" before she came along, and that she thinks she may be a trend-setter in that regard. If you believe that's true, then do you think that she should be telling other potential models how to fit in "the mold," since she was the one who broke it in the first place?

AM: I personally do not believe that she had such impact on the whole industry.

MH: In your opinion, who do you think had the bigger impact? Is it one model? A series of models?

AM: Personally, that is well before my time and I'm unsure as to how exactly it changed.

MH: But you don't feel it's correct for Twiggy to "claim ownership" of today's "model look," as it were?

AM: No way! No one in that industry has that much impact!

MH: Do you feel that there are certain good qualities that the fashion industry has, and if so, what are they?

AM: No, because the clothes the average person wears are not even remotely close to high fashion modelling.

MH: Alanna was bigger than you were, but still rather average in terms of everyday women. If she had won and not you, do you think she would have had a tougher time breaking into high fashion?

AM: For all I know - maybe she would be the one to break the mold of being skinny! Ha, ha!

MH: Alanna was a very strong competitor. Do you feel the final two was a good choice, or should someone else have taken Alanna's place?

AM: To be honest - I don't think that I should have been in the final two; however if I was on the show now - it would have been an extremely tight competition.

MH: One constant criticism by the judges and by fans was that you lacked confidence, and certain times in the series you questioned why you were competing against girls you felt were "better than you." Why did you feel that way? Was your body image a factor, and if so, how much of a factor? What other factors were there in the way you felt?

AM: Let's just say that 99% of [the time I was] filming CNTM, I was only focused on hiding my eating disorder, therefore affecting everything from the way I walked on runway to my confidence level.

MH: The CityTV final episode online viewer poll had the question "Should Andrea have won CNTM?" and the response was overwhelmingly in favor of "No, Andrea shouldn't have been CNTM! She's too skinny and the crying gets annoying!" Was hiding your anorexia the reason why you were as emotional as you were?

AM: Correct. I was so emotionally unstable that the only person I could talk to was my Mom because she knew what I was going through.

MH: You made a comment during the series that you felt Stacey McKenzie was the most critical and belittling of the judges. Toward the second half of the competition, you spent an entire afternoon alone with her at the house and it was shown that you two bonded. Do you feel that day really made you feel better about how Stacey viewed you?

AM: No, because after wrapping up the day with Stacey I went to give her a hug in front of all the other girls and her true colours shone through.

MH: Please elaborate. Her "true colors" in what sense?

AM: The bonding was completely TV material and not really there.

MH: Which judge do you feel was perhaps the most genuine in terms of behavior on-screen and off?

AM: Tricia Helfer and Ron (one of the producers).

MH: There's been criticism on America's Next Top Model that Tyra Banks and the care that she shows to her models is an act for TV. Do you think Tricia Helfer is the opposite?

AM: Absolutely, and don't you think it is weird that she no longer hosts CNTM?

MH: Jay Manuel now hosts, and it's weird to see because he's in a different mode than he is on America's Next Top Model, where he's often very blunt and sarcastic. [...] Toward the end, there was a lot of rather cruel teasing towards you coming from Alanna and Brandi. As you may remember, it culminated in the night they went through your belongings and then tampered with a "treat" they prepared for you and Sisi. It wasn't a complete 180 in behavior, per se, but it did get very nasty very quickly. Why do you think they acted the way they did? Also, you were never shown confronting them for what they did. Did you end up doing so? Finally, did you know the extent of all they had done right away, or did you not find out until you actually saw the episode on television?

AM: These girls were set up by the producers [and were asked] devious questions about me. I did not even know that anyone went through my personal belongings until I watched the show myself.

MH: What did the producers say? On TV, due to editing, it comes across as Alanna and Brandi deciding to be nosy and poke through your things.

AM: They were asked questions such as, "Soooo, what do you think of all the candy that Andrea has in her suitcase?"

MH: And they didn't know you had any before that time?

AM: Not to my knowledge. I was pretty good at hiding things due to my eating disorder.

MH: After the final runway show, you did a private interview and you said something that stuck out. "I have learned so much about being a woman, about being a model, about being beautiful." Considering what happened to you during the competition and later on, do you still feel what you learned was genuine? If not, what do you feel isn't genuine, and what good things did you bring from the experience?

AM: The whole show was a learning experience; I learned many tips about modelling and tricks of the trade and will have them in my back pocket forever. The thing that I brought from the experience is that the industry is not glamorous in the least and by the grace of God all these experiences brought me to my senses and the healthy and real woman that I am today.

The message she wrote to her fans on her facebook group

Andrea first told her story via facebook. You can read her statement here.

MH: You wrote that you decided to audition for Canada's Next Top Model knowing that you would have to perpetuate an image of unhealthiness and false images of beauty. Why did you choose to go down that road if you knew of the risks?

AM: At the time I did not feel that I was unhealthy - it was part of the requirements for CNTM. I had no idea of the risks, plus my eating disorder took 5 years of my life and I had to prove to myself and my family that it was all because of this disorder.

MH: You seem to describe a battle of what you wanted more, which in this case, modeling almost won out over your health. What finally made you realize that modeling became too much to bear, and why did modeling mean that much to you?

AM: I had no friends or family to support me [in Toronto]. My health started to slip (i.e., toenails falling off). My health was in severe jeopardy. Modelling meant a lot to me as any young girl's dreams [would].

MH: When your health faltered, that's when you said, "No, I can't do this anymore"?

AM: Correct. This as well as the fact that the industry was cold and treating me quite badly.

MH: Do you feel that there should have been more of a fine line drawn between the money you received, between "prize" and "work," for tax purposes?

AM: Yes! The money was at one point on the show classified as a prize and we never even thought about taxes. This would make the prize more inconsiderable if it was called "$65,000 total prize winnings" to all the viewers.

MH: You discuss many horrible housing situations during your reign as Top Model. Were you not allowed to make your own decisions as far as housing was concerned?

AM: In the beginning, no. My parents and I were told where I would stay, and what I could and mostly could not bring. The second housing was because I refused to live in the first dwelling and again this was an arranged accommodation. After seeing how nasty this second place was (mice in my bed), I decided to make a decision and see what I could afford in terms of rent close to what I was already paying ($650) in another place in Toronto [that was] NOT in someone's house. This is where I found [the final place], the only available place for this price...a place on Parliament Street. The nasty side of town.

Her brief modeling career

MH: Your spread in Fashion magazine only paid $500. Is that a competitive rate for models or do you feel that you were paid less because you were under your television contract?

AM: That is incorrect; I was paid zero dollars for the Fashion shoot. I was paid $500 for a wedding magazine front page and spread. This dollar amount is standard in the business for this job - apparently whether you are Canada's Next Top Model or not.

MH: Why do you feel CityTV did not back you, as you say they were going to, during the lawsuit with your previous agency?

AM: The truth? We never got them to sign on their promises to my parents and I. They knew this and we were naive and didn't. Everything these days is officialized only if it is in writing. So, they claim now that they never said such things and [told us] to deal with the situation as these things happen every day.

MH: The Canadian website Canoe said you had alleged that Jeanne Beker, a judge on the show, effectively "ruined your career." Can you elaborate on what was meant by that, and do you indeed feel she ruined your career?

AM: She did. This was one of the biggest reasons the industry was cold to me and showed me its true colours. Within days of winning CNTM I gave an interview and said certain words that were easily manipulated to mean harm towards Jeanne Beker versus honest innocent answers. She should have known this when the interview was made known to her but instead she threatened to ruin my career verbally and she did because most people in the business started to turn a cold shoulder to me.

MH: A big criticism of Top Model winners is that they don't go on to do many big fashion-related events, such as runway shows or photoshoots. Do you feel that was the case with you? In the year you did pursue modeling, who did you model for, and what shows did you walk in?

AM: Yes, this was true for me. Because the winner has a pretty big work contract to fulfill, the winner [was] pretty focused on it. You have to make sure you keep your hair and looks the exact same for one year as per contract. There are many jobs to do for the contract therefore the winner cannot just leave Canada and travel abroad to model.

MH: Another question from Steff Groulx from CNTM 2: "Why did you go from wanting to be Canada's Next Top Model to not wanting it at all?"

AM: I wanted it because I wanted to make the five years I spent suffering worth the while. I left because of my health and the coldness I learned the fashion industry [had].

"Happy and healthy"

MH: You're going back to college for business administration. What do you want to do with your degree?

AM: [I want to] become a very successful businesswoman, preferably working for the bank which I work in presently.

MH: How do you feel when people tell you that you looked so beautiful in your modeling pictures back when you had anorexia?

AM: Most of the time people are commenting on the glamour and the intrigue of the show's excitement but once they know of my true story and see how beautiful I am now they ALL agree I look way better than ever before. And this is how I feel every day. I don't even watch the past shows of me anymore because I cannot look at this person...she is not me...not at all.

MH: Do you feel you've fully grown into your "own skin," so to speak, as far as your self-confidence goes now that you have left modeling?

AM: Yes I have. I am officially able to hold my own; in fact, I am ready to move out again because I am ready to start my own life and family.

MH: When you have a daughter of your own and she wants to become a model, would you approve of her choice to go into modeling?

AM: No. I would never approve, ever. Times will not change in terms of the viewpoints in fashion until well into the future and I would never want my daughter to go through what I went through because she would. And others will/would too.

MH: Finally, what is your message to the girls of Canada who have big dreams of their own? What would you tell them?

AM: In terms of modelling, this story is what happened to me without a doubt. I know many more people (famous and non) that can relate to this story. If you girls out there want to do this well (like me) you may actually have to do this for your own fulfillment and to experience something you may feel you need to before you can focus on anything else...so do it. But I can assure you...this is a make or break you industry. I will still have the hurts and upsets with me so did it make or break me? I am not sure. Britney Spears...did the industry make or break her? Again, I am not sure.



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