'The fact I was bed-ridden made me value life again': Israeli super model talks about the job

The glamorous lifestyle models supposedly lead is often just a mirage and it's not often the physical price they pay is made known to fans; But Israeli model May Tager paid such a price

Lior Ohana|
May Tager is a model that has become accustomed to hard work, consisting of bouncing from one campaign to another, as well as from one country to another. But she was unable to anticipate the intense and frightening physical price she was forced to pay.
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"Recently, I was quite ill. The anxiousness and stress have led to a physical ailment that became more pronounced with time, the Israeli supermodel says. "I felt ill when I was in NYC, at which point the joint pain began flaring up. After a while, it got so bad I couldn't even move. I couldn't even unpack my suitcase," she says.
"So my friends helped me out and the driver took me to the airport. On the plane, I couldn't get to the bathroom by myself. That's when it hit me - My body was telling me to stop, so I did, for two months." Tagar says.
"When I got back to Israel, my brothers had to comb my hair. My parents had to pick me up. I was prescribed steroids. The doctors told me a Streptococcus was infecting my joints. Relatively speaking, I got off easy, but the intense pain and the fact that I was bedridden made me value life again."
At 24 Tagar has a lot to appreciate. She's a busy model with a rich resume of international brands wanting her services. Brands such as Giorgio Armani, Louis Vuitton, Victoria's Secret and many others.
That said, it definitely took her time to find her footing in this highly demanding profession. Being far away from home is difficult. Being away from family is even tougher.
"I'm still not entirely used to it. I wake up alone, do everything alone," she says. "Loneliness definitely gets to you. When I was younger it was more difficult to contend with, but as you grow up and your soul develops, you start looking at the world differently. But it doesn't mean that this goes without apprehension and anxiety."
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מאי תגר בהפקת אופנה
מאי תגר בהפקת אופנה
May Tagar
(Photo: Adi Segal)
How did you cope? "I've had bad periods in the past. This time, however, I've decided to start seeing a psychologist, on Zoom. Still, it doesn't mean it was easy to make peace with the physical pain. It was overwhelming.
"While I've been flying for years, galloping from one location to another, I never actually got used to it. Getting on a plane right now is still as difficult as it was in the beginning. It's a sort of scar that has stayed with me from modeling."
How did modeling begin for you? "In elementary school, I wasn't exactly the class beauty. It was a bit later that I started realizing that I actually looked good. Then came high school, at which point, an agent blocked my mom's car, so I got out and he began speaking to me, and that's how we got into it.
"I was only 15. Initially, my inclination was towards acting, and my parents weren't exactly big fans of the whole idea of modeling, but quickly enough things started moving in that direction."
Do you remember your first set? "All I remember is that I didn't exactly feel at home. Some of the world's most familiar models were there with me. I can have my picture taken in front of 100 staff and feel comfortable, but if a friend of mine takes a picture of me in the middle of the street I can look atrocious.
"I can handle a selfie just fine, I guess. My friends are still dumbfounded by all this."
When did you begin working internationally? "All beginnings are hard and mine was too. It was just a month after I began modeling, that I went to London for a month when I was 16. I got lost on my first day there. I cried all the time. My parents came to visit, but they weren't there the entire time.
"I was traumatized, and my agency actually had conversations with me, and told me to stop pouting whenever I come on set. Dropping everything and just heading off to London is a lot to handle. Still, I got through it. From there I went on to Europe, started taking bigger jobs and things began coming into place."
Where does a 16-year-old live in London by herself? "I stayed with my local agent. She rented out a room to a different model each time. The alternative was a pad full of other models, which was a bit too much to handle.
"I brought my own linens from home. Some girls there were problematic, and were using drugs. Once they were caught, the agency kicked them out."
She grew up in the Israeli town of Ganei Tikva, where her parents moved to, from Denmark. Growing up, she never dreamed of becoming a model.
"The highlight was a shoot I did for Estee Lauder just one year after I began modeling. It was the biggest campaign, which lasted an hour. They examined me very closely from every possible angle.
"For an 18-year-old, it was quite an achievement. I was absolutely elated. Despite all of it, I prefer shooting in Israel. It's too technical over there. Barely any talking. It felt cold."
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פיקס דובאי מאי תגר
פיקס דובאי מאי תגר
May Tagar
(Photo: Omri Rosenblatt)
Sounds lonely. "That's the life we lead. It's neither easy nor glamorous. Sometimes the agencies want us to travel with a friend so we won't be sad. We'd stick together like we were magnets.
"Whenever we had free time, we'd hang out and do pretty much everything there is to do together. An Israeli friend that understands what exactly it is you're going through makes it much easier to contend with."
Does it cross your mind sometimes that maybe you're in the wrong business? "Whenever I'm on set, I often doubt my own choices, but then it dawns on me. The money, the ability to see the world and have extraordinary experiences throughout.
"That said, whenever I get to work, I'm not really looking forward to it that much. Just the idea of being a model is quite different now than it used to be. Pretty much any girl can start a modeling career on Instagram, and people don't view models with quite the same sense of adoration they used to.
"I always keep in mind this isn't forever. When I'm 35 and have two kids, I'll probably miss the hell out of this, and that's what I remind myself whenever things get tough."
What do you think of when you see yourself on billboards? "I remember being in New York with my mom and seeing myself on a Dior billboard. It was probably the most exciting moment of my life.
"Three years before that, I was with my dad at Macy's. He went to buy some stuff and I recall looking up and seeing myself on a huge Estee Louder billboard. Those are the moments in which you realize the superficial work actually builds up to something."
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דוגמניות שצעדו בתצוגת האופנה בוורסאי, 2011
דוגמניות שצעדו בתצוגת האופנה בוורסאי, 2011
Runway life only seems easy
(Photo: AP)
She's been residing in Barcelona for the last two years, but even there the superficial nature of the business does not escape her. She's become accustomed to hearing comments about her outer appearance and her weight, but with time comes experience, and she's learned how to deal with it.
"I can't exactly say I was harassed, but there were comments about just how sexy I was. When a staff member says it publicly in front of everybody, it feels uncomfortable.
"I project strength and confidence, so how do you even bring yourself to a position where you feel like you're entitled to tell me something like that?
"There were times on set when the wardrobe lady would grab me by the hand and pull me over like I'm a puppet. I used to choke whenever that happened, but I'm more confident today and now I make it clear that I came there with the full intention of being able to put on my own clothes."
How do you handle having this much money? "I keep shifting between wanting to splurge and enhancing my own comfort and saving up. When I'm off to Paris I'm going to rent my own apartment and I'm not going to skimp on it, because comfort is important.
"My mom helps me manage the money since I'm often too busy. I don't know where I'd be without my mom. I often make fun of girls who walk around wearing brand clothing, but now I'm just as guilty.
"Even when you're dealing with the world's most prestigious shoots, the stylist often shows up with jeans and a T-shirt. I remember when I began modeling, people told me to buy a nice handbag and expensive shoes so that clients would see that I'm actually working, and I'm certain I'm not the first one this has happened to.
"If there is something that I really want, after having worked so hard, then I see no point in denying myself."
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