Little else exudes cool and composure like a catwalk model strutting steely-eyed down the runway. In that moment it’s almost unbelievable that they were just seconds ago at the centre of a backstage hubbub: being poked and prodded by a flurry of stylists and make-up artists as photographers snapped away.
Imagine, then, coping with the bloating, cravings and leaking of periods at the centre of this storm in a fast-paced industry where your body is your work and there’s little accommodation for its needs.
To mark London Fashion Week – one of the most important events in the industry calendar – one runway model has chosen to smash taboos by speaking out about menstruating when the whole world is watching and anything short of perfection is unacceptable.
Nineteen-year-old Victoria Cain was first approached by a talent scout aged 13, but landed a modelling contract at 16 when she was spotted working at her Saturday job in a clothing store in Surrey.
“The first time I realised periods could be a problem was at a photo-shoot where I was the only girl,” the model who has worked with the likes of L’Oreal, Rimmel and Toni & Guy recalls.
“I got a surprise [period] attack in the middle of the day and I had to fake a cigarette break and go to find a shop. All I could think was ‘I can’t leak on the clothes.’ It makes me stressed just thinking about it.”
“Fashion week is just castings, castings, castings, castings,” she says. Fashion weeks involve early starts, to cram in as many shows, auditions, and fittings as possible, before the after-parties where professional relationships are sparked and cemented. “It can be exhausting – especially if you have your period and you don’t have time to eat properly.”
The nature of castings – where hundreds of girls can queue for up to an hour and a half and competition is fierce – means that leaking in line is common.
“It’s hard to find five minutes to do what you’ve got to do,” says Cain. While the uniform of black skinny jeans that models wear disguises blood, this is hardly ideal.
“It’s horrible because you can feel it and you can’t go to the toilet because you lose your spot. You think, do I lose a possible job or wait for another half an hour? So you just put up with the leakiness.”
Just yesterday, Cain was at a casting with a friend who was desperately trying to find a toilet after her period started. As she becomes more experienced and in tune with life constantly on the road, she packs tampons. And, like a true millennial, uses a Birch Box-style subscription for periods called Pink Parcel to get product delivered to where she is booked that month.
“The chances are if I don’t need it, there’ll be another girl frantically looking for a tampon and I’ll come to the rescue.”
Pesky hormones, meanwhile, mean Cain craves sugary food and struggles to maintain her healthy diet. “I can eat for England during my period,” she says, adding that bloating caused by water retention can be nerve-wracking when wearing clothing tailored when she wasn’t menstruating.
“The thing that stresses me out most about getting my period during fashion week is my acne-prone skin. It’s like my period is smack bang on my face.” At times her skin is so bad that she avoids all-important castings altogether because models with, albeit temporarily, spotty skin are rarely chosen above those with perfect complexions.
But thanks to taboos surrounding periods, the catwalk is where nightmares can be made – as Naomi Campbell discovered when she stumbled walking for Vivienne Westwood in 1993. The fashion industry is like an elephant that never forgets.
“My absolute worst nightmare would be leaking on the runway,” says Cain. And in this restrictive profession, models must wear thongs to ensure their underwear doesn’t show through clothes and so women can only use tampons.
“I always make sure I tuck my tampon string in when I’m on a job – walking down the runway with the string hanging out would be a super embarrassing moment.”
Surely, though, she wouldn’t need to prepare if the fashion world was more accommodating? And yet Cain doesn’t see how it can change.
“A lot of people can't see behind the glitz and glam of modelling. These things happen all the time. The vast majority of a models' time is standing in line for hours for a job hundreds of girls are all competing for... Personally I don't see what the industry can do at all, it is what it is and it is tough at times.”
Instead, she looks to society as a whole. “I think sanitary items should be free. You can get condoms for free yet not tampons or towels? I would love to see this change in the near future.
“Periods are a natural thing and they happen to half the population. I feel that often others regard it as a taboo subject, when really it's just human nature.”
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