What It’s Really Like To Be A Model

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The once common view of models as subservient, dumb mannequins only hinging on their good looks is being chipped away with the rising dissent among those in the industry.

These new age models, and even some older ones who have recently found the courage to speak up on their experiences on unfair wages, blatant racism and sexism, and even unsafe work environments, have now utilized social media as a platform to express their views so the public can see the darker side of an industry that capitalizes on the image of glamour.

The New York Times recently featured several models from different ethnic backgrounds, body types, and all ranging from their early 20s to their early 30s, to divulge their experiences when the first started to try and getting into modeling.

Abuse abounded for most of the women interviewed; ranging from being forbidden to consume anything but water for 24 hours for a show, negative comments on their racial background, and even outright not getting paid at all for a show.

Diandra Forrest, who started modeling at 17 said she was in for a shocker when the modeling world wasn’t exactly what it seemed.

“Sometimes agencies are charging you for every little thing, and they’re charging you an arm and a leg for it too. Especially when you’re traveling abroad, they’re ordering you fancy cars and drivers. That’s coming out of your pay at the end of the day.

I’ve walked for a designer in February and didn’t see the check until next September or even the next February when they’re having another show. So sometimes the payments are just not there or really delayed. Sometimes designers don’t pay at all,” she said. Diandra is now 27 and based in the Bronx.

The most pressing issues raised by models that have either been heard by law-making bodies, or is still a problem not given proper attention in the industry are the following:

The Issues

UNDERAGE MODELS: Some states offer protections for child models, and New York extended the protections given to child entertainers to underage models only in 2013, which was accomplished in large part through the activism of the Model Alliance, a labor advocacy organization founded by Sara Ziff.

Federally, a law similar to New York’s, which would establish limits on working hours, salary requirements and a course of action in cases of sexual harassment, was introduced in Congress in 2015 but has not made much headway. Representative Grace Meng, Democrat of New York, who brought it to Congress, plans to reintroduce it in the next session.

Since 2007, The Council of Fashion Designers of America has asked casting directors and designers not to hire models under the age of 16 for runway shows. It’s hard to know how many are complying with this recommendation, but Steven Kolb, the president and chief executive of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, said: “It really did change. Every season there would be one or two designers that fell through the cracks. Often it wasn’t intentional.”

The British Fashion Council so far banned the practice.

RACIAL DIVERSITY: Only 27.9 percent of the models who walked the spring 2017 runways were nonwhite, according to a report from The Fashion Spot. In an assessment of the fall 2017 ad campaigns, The Fashion Spot found that 30.4 percent of the models were nonwhite, and of the seven models who booked the most campaigns, just one was of a minority background.

BODY DIVERSITY: Plus-size models appeared in 2.2 percent of the castings for fall 2017 campaigns, and they made up less than 1 percent of the total in the fall 2017 runway shows, according to The Fashion Spot.

HEALTH: This year, a measure in France that requires models to provide a medical certificate confirming that they are healthy and not excessively underweight went into effect. In a study conducted by the Model Alliance in conjunction with researchers from Harvard University and Northeastern University that was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, 81 percent of the models surveyed reported a body mass index of less than 18.5, which is considered underweight by the World Health Organization.

PAY: A model working in New York earned, on average, $48,130 in 2016, while one working elsewhere in the United States earned $36,560, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Models are often offered payment in the form of clothes.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT: Because models are considered independent contractors, they lack many of the protections reserved for full-time employees. The industry’s demographic — young, often female, sometimes foreign and non-English-speaking — makes models particularly vulnerable to exploitation. In 2012, a Model Alliance study found that 29.7 percent of female models had experienced inappropriate touching at work, and 28 percent had been pressured to have sex at work.

Elizabeth Cooper, an associate professor of law at Fordham University and the director of the Feerick Center for Social Justice, said that full-time employees who have experienced sexual harassment have a chain of reporting they can follow, and if the company they work for does not pursue some sort of action, they can sue the company itself.

 

Independent contractors have no such rights. “The only thing you can do is complain to the agency, but because of the fierce competition, if you become a ‘problem’ person, you’re more likely to not be hired and sent out on new jobs,” Ms. Cooper said. “It’s like fighting with one or both hands tied behind your back.”

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