Recalling one of her earlier experiences, Elson said she was 16 years old and had never kissed a boy when she was sexually harassed by a modelling scout and his friend. When she shared the story with another model, the scout threatened her.
“His reaction was to corner me in the model agency and say: ‘I’ll f*****g get you kicked out of Paris if you ever f*****g say anything ever again’.”
Since being scouted aged 16, Elson has walked runway shows for designers including Marc Jacobs, Jan-Paul Gaultier, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Tom Ford and Versace.
She has also covered editions of Vogue, W, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Marie Claire.
Despite her successes, she told the Guardian her biggest takeaway from her time as a model has been “a s**t ton of PTSD”.
“Modelling looks like it’s all glamour, and it really is not,” she says. “I survived sexual harassment, body shaming and bullying. And I am supposedly one of the lucky ones.”
Elson also weighed in on the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, which she walked in 2001. she described it as a misogynistic event with “a bunch of lecherous men in the audience”.
“I could smell the misogyny. I didn’t feel beautiful, I felt ridiculous. I felt like someone else’s fantasy of a redhead. I felt sad the whole time I was doing it,” she said.
While the model already struggled with disordered eating prior to becoming a model, the industry exasperated the problem.
She recalls being described as “a beast” and “disgusting” by a well-known Italian designer because of her weight and fasting for seven days in a bid to book more shows.
“Food has always been attached to trauma for me. And then I went into an industry that played into my biggest insecurities,” she said.
Elson, who now has a positive relationship with food thanks to the help of a therapist, said that although the fashion industry has increased its focus on body diversity in recent years, she believes its obsession with thinness still exists.
“I looked at photos from a catwalk show recently and the models were so, so thin. Not the kind of thin you get by going for a healthy jog in the morning – the kind you get when you stop eating. I find it heartbreaking to see that still.”