Moving Through the Lens

Her world outside of the industry was diminishing. She said: “I never wanted to say no to work. I was really lucky. Every time Paolo Roversi or Craig McDean or Steven Meisel would call, it would be a yes for sure. And then, runway shows take up a good portion of the year, and pretty soon you’re working Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, not seeing your family.”

She paused. “Yeah, I didn’t pace myself very well.”

Ms. van Seenus began experiencing crippling anxiety and depression. It got so bad that she couldn’t get out of bed. “It stopped my life entirely,” she said. She needed an out. In 1997, she decided to leave modeling and moved to Woodstock, N.Y., before ending up in Los Angeles in 2001, where she enrolled in Santa Monica College to study art.

At the dining table, Ms. van Seenus shared her personal collection of the test Polaroids taken of her throughout her career. There’s one by David Sims, another by David LaChapelle. Mr. Friedlander affectionately referred to these younger versions of Ms. van Seenus as “Baby G.”

Ms. van Seenus entered the industry as a teenager. Soon, her body began to change. No matter how much she worked out, how skinny she could whittle down her frame, her hips were still considered big, her breasts full. In one early test Polaroid, Ms. van Seenus wears a bikini. Her ribs are strikingly visible.

“I remember, they couldn’t run it,” she said. She noted that the endless commentary the industry made about your body — this part of you is too big, that part of you is too small — could be exhausting in its contradictions.

“All of sudden, you feel like you have no protective barrier in the world,” Ms. van Seenus said. “You’re supposed to be available to people. You want to protect yourself and it starts to be this battle.” An imperfect vegan — “I do my best,” she said — Ms. van Seenus has also refused to model fur, which was once perceived as a limitation.

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