The mother of a 20-year-old beauty queen is sure contemporary fashion killed her daughter
Vika knew something was wrong when she walked up the stairs to her apartment and heard the long intercity ring. The key was shaking in her hand. “Something’s wrong with Yulia,” she said to herself before picking up the phone. She was right. Her daughter’s roommate in Moscow was on the line.
“Are you Yulia’s mother? Please come immediately. Yulia’s been taken to the hospital,” she said.
“What’s wrong with her?” Vika asked.
“I don’t know. But she came back from a trip and she was just lying there… The ambulance took her. They told me to call you.” she said.
Vika didn’t have any money to go to Moscow. And her neighbors didn’t either. So she had no other choice but to call Yulia’s ex-husband. His secretary answered, listened and promised to pass the message to Yakov. Five minutes later she called back saying a roundtrip ticket had been purchased and was waiting for her, but “Yakov Mikhalych can’t talk at the moment as he’s at a very important meeting.”
Vika knew that Yakov wasn’t at a meeting. He just didn’t want to speak with her. He was too embarrassed to talk to “that mentally ill girl’s” mother. That’s what he called Yulia ever since the divorce. Of course, he would never say such a thing to Vika’s face. But it was a small town like many others in the Komi Republic — and any other region in Russia for that matter. A sneeze on one end is greeted by a “Bless you!” on the other. Vika’s coworkers had told her on more than one occasion with feigned sympathy how Yakov spoke about his ex-wife: “That anorexic idiot… You go to a restaurant with her, she swallows a salad shamefully and then she’s off to the toilet. Her hands smell like throw up and her mouth like dead mice.” But there had been a time when Yakov was proud to be marrying the most beautiful girl in town.
Gazelle among village cows
Yulia was always the most beautiful girl in town. The boys fought over who would dance with her in daycare or give her bike rides in first grade. In third grade each morning someone wrote on the chalk board: “I love you, Yulia.” In fourth grade she brought her first crown home from summer camp — “Miss Camomile.” In fifth grade her backpack was already full of angry anonymous messages from other girls who envied her. And in sixth grade Yulia entered the local modelling agency.
Vika’s mother laughed at her daughter’s friends at the time. They all wanted to be models. Yulia’s pimpled neighbor and even her plump schoolmate Valya. But Yulia looked like a gazelle among village cows in their company.
“I was so proud then,” Vika’s mom said. “I forgave her the occasional poor grades. I was so happy seeing her in the fashion shows at the local Cultural Center. The entire audience burst into applause when Yulia came on stage. I hung all her awards from the summer camps on our walls. I thought that I had raised a future star.”
Yulia first entered the adult competition at 15, but the judges, who come to the region only once a year, refused to accept her candidacy due to her age. At 16 she was disqualified because of her height. Yulia ran home in tears, crying: “The assistent said that I’m fat for 170 centimeters!” Vika’s initial response was to go complain to the casting director. But her reasoning got the best of her.
“You’re not fat at all!” she said calming her daughter. “That old witch was just jealous.”
“No, I’m fat. I have cellulite and I’m shaking like jello!” Yulia said, pinching her stomach and bottom hatefully.
“I should have started worrying when Yulia went on that diet,” Vika said. “But aren’t all girls on diets these days? I didn’t worry until I saw her hip bones protruding through her jeans and her ribs showing through her shirt. I started to force her to eat, but she just threw everything away. I even threatened to keep her inside until she ate. But she’d eat and then throw it all up in the toilet. Once I caught her on her knees making those horrible sounds and she told me: ‘Mom, you’re like a little kid. All the girls do it!’ And once again the judges came to that cursed beauty contest… And the worst of it is that they accepted her!”
Death by fritters
Yulia was crowned the town beauty and the most enviable bachelor in the area made her a proposal at the same time.
The next stage was the regional competition. But the girls still had several months left. Yulia decided to enroll at the law faculty at a local institute and married the son of the general director of a large local enterprise. She stopped losing weight and finally began to blossom.
But she lost the regional competition, although barely. Yulia received the special “Miss Charming” award. However, that night, Yulia got drunk, fought with her husband and went to her mother’s where she raised a scandal.
“You wanted my death with those fritters!” she screamed so loudly the neighbors started tapping their heaters loudly. “‘Yulia, eat, Yulia, eat. I lost a contract with a leading modelling agency because of my fat ass. I won the last competition because I didn’t listen to you and lost weight. And now what?”
From that day in 2005 onwards, Yulia simply stopped eating. She drank coffee and energetic drinks, smoked constantly, ate medicine that quelled her hunger and threw up in the toilet.
“She became irritable and was always cold,” Vika said. “Her blood pressure wasn’t over 90. She’d come to see me so thin… Her hands would be ice cold and she’d be crying. But she wouldn’t know why. ‘Depression,’ she’d say. And then she’d go to sleep. Yakov would call me and ask: ‘Is Yulia with you? Why isn’t she at home?’ What could I tell him?”
Finally, her son-in-law came to see her. Vika noticed something was wrong immediately. He wasn’t himself. Yakov was always such a cheerful man, but now he was gloomy and gray.
“Vika, please talk with Yulia,” he said. “I can’t take this anymore. I want a normal family — a wife and children. She’s nervous all the time and doesn’t want anything. She secretly bought a pregnancy test and I found the package in the garbage. I’m waiting for her to tell me about the baby, but she’s keeping quiet. I ask her and she says, ‘No,’ and she’s pale from head to toe. I think she has had an abortion.”
Vika spoke with Yulia that day and learned that she wasn’t pregnant. Yulia had just stopped menstruating four months earlier. Vika didn’t have time to get a grasp of the situation before Yulia argued with her husband and left for Moscow without even saying goodbye.
Yakov thought that she had a lover in Moscow and filed for divorce. Vika didn’t know what to think. Yulia only told her that she had found work in Moscow as a model and didn’t want to hear anything about returning home.
Modern beauty: Skin and bones?
Yulia called home and said that she participated in fashion shows periodically, but couldn’t lose the extra weight. Her boss at the agency was always calling her a fat-ass cow and Yulia was always on a diet. She told her mother about her friend Katya who was thinner than she was and two centimeters taller. But finally the long-awaited moment arrived when the prodigal daughter was to return home to take her exams.
“She took her clothes off and she was like a skeleton wrapped in skin,” Vika said. “I cried when she handed me her portfolio and said: ‘Mom, you don’t know anything about modern-day beauty.'” Then her friends came over, neighboring twins, and they flipped through the portfolio jealously. They listened to Yulia’s stories and I just started to doubt my own saneness.
Three years passed.
Yulia came home again, passed her exams and then left for Moscow. Word about her success in the modelling industry spread quickly throughout town. Soon Vika learned the twins were also on a diet. They wanted to be like Yulia. They just didn’t know much about the hidden life of the local supermodel. Only Vika knew and she kept silent.
I met Vika in winter 2007 when she came to Moscow to see her daughter. Yulia had suffered from anemia and oesophagus burns due to a vinegar diet. She was being treated at the Sklifosovskiy Institute. The doctor who registered Yulia called Vika and said that she had been brought in unconscious straight off the street.
“Come quickly or your daughter will kill herself,” the doctor said. “I’m telling you this as a mother and a psychiatrist.” She added that Yulia weighed 35 kilograms at 171 centimeters. Vika repeated the numbers to herself painfully, boarded a train and left for Moscow. He cried the entire trip.
Vika stayed with her friends in Moscow. She transferred her daughter to a psychiatric hospital with the diagnosis “anorexia” and appealed to me as a journalist to help her find finances so that Yulia could received treatment at a commercial clinic.
“They don’t cure anyone here, understand?!” Vika told me crying. “She hasn’t had her menstruation three years! They’re just giving her an IV, making her eat mashed potatoes and prohibiting her from closing the door to the toilet so she can’t throw up. But I know it won’t help. We’ve gone through this before. I paid them so they wouldn’t let her go until she started to gain weight. I brought her protein cocktails. She gained three kilograms and then they let her go. But she refused to come back home because Moscow is where the ‘work and fashion shows are.’ She stayed, promising me that she would eat and everything would be okay. But she then she started starving herself again.”
Yulia greeted us coldly at the hospital. She had bad skin and bruises under her intelligent brown eyes. The patient’s robe hung on her like a hanger.
“Mom, calm down,” she said. “Everything’s fine. I don’t need to go to any clinic. I’m just tired. They’ll let me go soon. I have a normal model’s appearance. Isn’t that right,” she asked, looking at me. “You write about Hollywood stars in the paper. They’re far thinner than I am.”
Gay boss doesn’t like women
At the time, I refused to print Vika’s request for funds in the section of the paper where we gather money for children sick with diseases.
“It’s one thing when people are dying, but Yulia’s just an idiot,” I said.
And in early summer, Yulia passed away. Vika called me several days ago out of the blue. READ MORE