I’m not a big watcher of daytime TV, and I definitely have no love for Dr. Phil. But I may actually try to watch his show tomorrow, because the star of a program I did used to love in college–America’s Next Top Model–is going to be on it. Jael (full name: Jael Strauss) who many of us remember for her raspy voice, her edgy look, her beautiful pictures…and her pretty irritating attitude in Cycle 8, has apparently been addicted to meth for years, and it’s entirely changed the way she looks. But worse than that, it’s wrecked her life.
The whole thing is so, so sad–and also, a really good reminder of the power that drugs have to destroy lives (in addition to faces). A lot of people are focusing on Jael’s looks. Which is fair, because her modeling career is why we know about her in the first place. But these drugs have done so much more than ravage her face; they’re put her on the streets, and her life in danger. Yes, it’s shocking that she looks so different–but there’s a lot more to be shocked and saddened about.
Here’s the Dr. Phil description of the episode:
At 22, Jael was an aspiring star and finalist on the hit show America’s Next Top Model. A statuesque beauty, her future seemed prime with possibility — until the darkness of substance abuse and addiction stole her from the spotlight. Now 28, the former model’s family says her drug habit has taken a toll both mentally and physically, including rotting her teeth and leaving her body covered in sores, and they fear for her life.
With Jael living on the streets, Dr. Phil sends mother-son intervention team Brandon and Debbie to Jael’s hometown to find her and stage an intervention — but their trip does not go as planned…Desperate to get Jael the help she needs, Brandon finally locates her, and what follows is the most out-of-control drug rage in Dr. Phil history.
Reluctantly, Jael agrees to travel to Los Angeles to see Dr. Phil, but just seconds before appearing onstage, she takes off running. Don’t miss the unlikely place Dr. Phil goes to help her.
Woah. Which means, as a lot of other blogs are pointing out, that Jael has been addicted to meth since she was actually on the show five years ago–though that was never brought up. There were, however, a few red flags.
In one of the early episodes, Jael lost a close friend to a drug overdose. I remember my college friends and I watching the episode and wondering if she, herself, was a user. Erratic, boisterous, inappropriate, and, of course quite thin, the Detroit native stood out as being kind of… alternative. But we concluding that that would make such great TV, that there was no way they wouldn’t have shown it.
But then, addicts can get pretty good at covering their tracks.
Jael isn’t that much older than I am, and at the time I was religiously watching ANTM, I was friends with some pretty legitimately shady people, and involved in not-great things. But when you’re in your early 20s, the troubling message swirling around still tends to be that drugs are fun things you can play with, and then get off when they get too real. With Jael, this is obviously not the case. And while Faces of Meth™ and other campaigns focus on disolving beauty, the fact is that that’s not enough to scare kids away from drugs.
I sincerely hope the Dr. Phil intervention goes well for Jael. I also hope that she serves as a cautionary tale for those who watched her on ANTM. She may never have a modeling career again, but that doesn’t mean her life is over. Being beautiful is not the only thing she has going for her–and to suggest otherwise is supremely unfair and problematic. This woman is clearly a survivor, and she (and her family) deserve better than what meth does to a person.
Images via Tumblr and Dr. Phil