Why the modelling industry needs to change.
Models are often thought of as having the easiest job in the world, simply looking beautiful in front of a camera. What the public do not know is how much work, sweat, blood and tears go into this perfected image – the treatment of models by those around them all the way throughout their careers. Working sixteen hour days, being rejected by clients on a daily basis after waiting hours to see them, being treated like a piece of furniture, having photographs taken of them changing, living on cotton wool soaked in water to fit into sample sizes – this is the ugly truth behind a beautiful industry.
The entertainment world has been rocked in recent months by exposes on those in power preying on the hopes & dreams of the vulnerable in such industries. Casting director James Scully spoke out on Instagram after witnessing a Balenciaga casting in which over 150 girls [were told to] wait in a stairwell, [that] they would have to stay over 3 hours to be seen and not to leave. In their usual fashion they shut the door went to lunch and turned off the lights, to the stairs leaving every girl with only the lights of their phones to see.’
The post went viral, hitting headlines and causing many models to share their stories of abuse and harassment within the industry. Social media has proved a huge challenge to the once invincible brands and directors, offering a platform for those once silenced to be heard. British model Charli Howard became famous after sharing her experiences with her agency asking her to lose weight and she went on to model in New York, most recently releasing a book on her experiences, ‘Misfit’. Danish model Ulrikke Hoyer made a splash after sharing her story of being dropped from a Louis Vuitton show hours before the show because of her weight, which was shared and reposted thousands of times. Cameron Russell became an Instagram sensation in October 2017 after reposting stories of abuse of models following the Harvey Weinstein scandal, aptly hashtagged #MyJobShouldNotIncludeAbuse.
Social media gives models the power to speak up and be taken seriously by the world they are a vital part of, cementing their own identity beyond what their agency chooses to present to clients.
In response to Scully’s posting, fashion conglomerates Kering and LMVH (whose brands include Louis Vuittion, Christian Dior, Marc Jacobs and Givenchy) established a Charter on the Working Relationships with Fashion Models and Their Well-being.
The Charter states that no models will be hired who are below a size 34 (F) or 44 (M), effectively banning Size 0 from their catwalks and photoshoots. There are also commitments to having a psychologist or therapist on hand during jobs, private fitting rooms, strict nudity agreements, a provision of healthy food and drink at all times, the ability for models to complain directly to the brand via a hotline, the provision of transportation home after 8pm and a ban on models aged below 16. Models between the ages of 16-18 must have a chaperone with them on the job and cannot work between 10pm-8am. Conde Nast have followed suit with their own Code of Conduct, with similar provisions for models working with their brands such as Vogue and Glamour Magazine.
These charters shows that the world is changing – fashion directors are considering models as human beings and understand their days of scaremongering and mistreatment are quickly coming to an end. Instagram offers a platform to see the entire process of a photoshoot or catwalk show – everything from the casting process, to behind the scenes and the show itself. Practices that were once seen as normal for the industry, such as waiting three hours to be seen for three minutes, are being exposed and validated as unacceptable for 2018.
Previously models had virtually no voice whatsoever, on or off set. They were to do as instructed, and were afraid to speak out in fear of being deemed ‘hard to work with’, being dropped from their agency or alienating clients. In 2018, with the rise of social media and exposes on mistreatment, models finally have found a voice. Many also have blogs to share their experiences, such as myself and Rebecca Pearson, who runs ModelTypeFace.
Rebecca observes how models find their voice with age and experience, ‘These days, as an older commercial model, I feel I have a pretty sweet deal. Shoots run to time, I'm paid within the 90 days set out, and I'm rarely expected to do anything outside of my comfort zone bar, perhaps, the odd bit of public dancing. The power feels more balanced: I know what I can say no to, and how to do so.
However, looking back to my early days of modelling, when I was a malleable, eager to please young teenager, still awed at my Cinderella moment of getting scouted, I put up with so much. Transparent clothes thrust at me by stylists in freezing cold flats, without asking whether or not I was comfortable with nudity (nope). Alone in a photographer's basement studio, having him rub baby oil on my thighs. Running around the scariest parts of London for Fashion Week castings, where the size of my (then, tiny) hips and once, bizarrely, my teeth (I had worn braces for three years) could be commented on for all the other models in the queue to hear.
When you're 16, it's very hard to stand up for yourself in an adult world where everyone seems so much cooler, so much more successful and, crucially, could hold the key to your success. LMVH are right to draw up this charter, because official regulation and the fear of a financial penalty (and/or being named on social media) is the only thing that will make certain folks behave decently.’
With the explosion activism within the industry comes greater acceptance of organisations such as Equity Model’s Network, a UK union for models. They offer models insurance, counselling, free legal advice and discounts in addition to campaigning for improved working conditions for models in the UK. USA models union The Model Alliance are fighting for real and lasting change, helping to implement the first ever private changing rooms for models at the latest New York Fashion Week.
2018 marks the rise of equality and fair treatment for all, whether they are sixteen year old new faces or world famous supermodels, female or male, model or not. The next step will be to see whether these promises for change are made a reality, and with driving forces such as Equity, the Model Alliance and other prominent speakers having models’ backs, the future looks bright.