How should a Model be treated?
The fact is there is not a monolithic model experience–but there are unequivocal blemishes in an industry based on beauty: diversity or the lack thereof and the impact of racism, working conditions specifically related to pay or lack of it, sexual abuse, body image and mental health issues especially the impact on young impressionable and eager minds trying to fit in to an ever demanding industry. How does fashion begin to reconcile with its models? Here are their responses, many have asked to be published anonymously.
Verified testimonies below are from working professional models that Models.com was able to verify via Instagram or from follow up emails.
I feel like we all are supposed to deal with the mistreatment: We have a job that millions of girls would kill for, so we should be happy with what we’re doing even if it has a dark and sadistic side to it. It has gotten to a point where it is hard to justify your own complaints—of course we’d rather give up sometimes, but when it all comes down to it we would never dare to speak up about anything because of the risk of losing future job opportunities. That is why James Scully’s name-dropping was such a big thing. Although it’s wonderful to finally have someone with power in the industry to address these things, it’s not sustainable to have a single spokesperson.
I got a semi-exclusive for an A-list show with an opening guarantee during my first season in Paris. When [the designer] found out I was transgender, something no one knows about to this day, they cancelled my booking; they somehow considered it a risk—that it would draw too much attention, something they thought would affect the brand negatively: A very doubtful decision, especially considering that I was [then] an unknown new face.
We get to do amazing things. Meet wonderful people. Go to beautiful places we normally wouldn’t visit. I love that I get to have this job, but I wouldn’t say I love my job. I sometimes ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” and the answer is usually: “I might as well do it, what else would I do?”
I came into this job very at peace, very thoughtful and in touch with what I felt and wanted. I took a chance with the opportunity, being it came into my life in a very natural and meshing way. Right away, when I signed with my agency I made it clear that I want to stay myself and if I succeed, I am meant to. If I don’t, I move towards the path that would create a true sense of meaning for me. Since I did that right off the bat, I think my agency does treat me well and they know that I am a queen who is genuine and can do whatever I put my mind to. They strive for the best jobs for me with the best clients and the most money, of course, since this is a job at the end of the day. From my agency I would say I am respected and represented to the level that I feel inside although sometimes I would like to have a more personal connection with some of them. From the clients, not always so much. I think a lot of them are amazing, but some just have a huge ego and they treat me like I am replaceable, the least important in the fashion chain.
So many women are having to compromise their physical and often mental health for the advancement of their careers. The boundaries of what a model should be are too black and white, leaving little or no room for error or individuality. Of course, there are wonderful role models like Ashley Graham and Iskra, championing body positivity but the industry’s reluctance to stray into the ‘middle ground’ of sizing is alarming and limiting. It also completely discounts a huge proportion of society. The acceptance of each person as an individual is something that we need to keep working towards. We should all feel represented and be able to identify ourselves within the industry. That doesn’t just go for models but for all men and women.
Body inclusivity isn’t just a trend or something that should be accepted in the industry to appease or satisfy a demand. It’s not an exclusive privilege that should only be afforded to celebrities or activists. It should be a right across the board. I’d feel empowered to be part of a diverse, accepting industry like that.
The modeling experience, as someone who has first-hand encountered it all, and also as a black woman with curly hair, isn’t easy at all. In the industry, the younger you are the more you will thrive, and if you have a notable social media following chances are you will thrive too. Seeing minor-aged girls thrive in the industry can be positive, but as James [Scully] said, “We’ve become desensitized to the way we treat these girls and just discard them. It’s so much more sadistic and so much more mean than you can believe. We have to support girls more and stop treating them like Tinder swipes,” and I find that to be certainly true. Sometimes, because I have a walk that exudes attitude or because I represent the diversity the industry needs, that in itself gets me declined jobs and should frankly be the opposite. Naomi [Campbell] mentioned in 2012 that the industry is only moving backwards. Change needs to happen and models should be treated fairly, as human beings. Having walked for brands that James has casted before, I see a sense of diversity and inclusivity in his castings. In other castings where models are judged based on their weight or race or skin tone or religion, we are divided and diversity is barely present. I wish representation was a reality for all girls, not just white ones, tall ones, thin ones, and women of color with European features.
The discussion of how models are treated often omits a very important point: the financial transparency and security of models. I work in the European market, and most of the agencies take high fees and make models pay for every bit of communication they are supposed to do in order to promote their models (comp cards for example). Let alone travel, accommodation, and other fees that a model has usually to cover. Could anyone think of a situation like that in other fields of work—imagine, you are working for some big company and your job requires traveling and staying in hotels in different cities. If your boss were to tell you several months later, “You know, you have to cover it all yourself.” Oh, and the materials the company has been printing out for your meetings, this too is on you—there would already be strikes everywhere and every newspaper would have pronounced on the topic. This situation is precarious and I consider that either agencies or clients should take on more financial responsibility. It is not OK to get into debt in order to work (especially if we keep in mind an amount of unpaid jobs like editorials). The ground rules seem to be the following: even if most of the contracts signed with agencies are not exclusive, models cannot really take on freelance projects. It means that models could not access work in the field without their agency chaperoning it, otherwise they risk being expelled from the agency.
I was at that Balenciaga casting that has brought up the recent conversations, and it definitely wasn’t nice, but I didn’t think it was that exceptionally bad because it’s a fact that it’s pretty normal to wait for a very long time for bigger brands. For the first big show I walked, I waited about 17 hours for the fitting. I had an extremely bad experience with my first agency, which I left last year in autumn after having an awful season. My first “big thing” was having an exclusive during Fall/Winter 2016 for one of the biggest brands, and I started to work a little after that while still being in school. My mother agency is a small boutique agency in Germany, only having 5 working girls or so, but the person who runs it has very good relationships with some of the biggest casting directors and agencies that he signs his girls with. After working off my debt that my foreign agency had built up, many times without asking me before making unnecessary high expenses, I started to earn a bit money. Even four to five months [after signing], I didn’t get paid, hearing things like “you need to trust me” and “you are going to make so much money one day” from my mother agent while being completely broke, living between agency pocket money and my parents; I became suspicious. My agency in London that I was mainly making money with knew that my mother agency was doing this and I eventually got my money from them, but that was 6 months after earning it.
I don’t feel the model experience is always fair, sometimes models are not treated like real people, but just like bodies, like meat, like a shape, like mannequins and at the same time they’re expected to be always positive, happy, cool and full of energy. Sometimes we’re tired, pissed off and sick, because we are humans, too. I feel like all the respect you receive depends on the quality of the jobs you book, but I guess that’s quite common in the world of work. What is not that common in the real world is that your career totally depends on your agency and casting directors, you can do your best to be ready for big opportunities, but you need to be lucky. I know some beautiful girls with wonderful bodies and good personalities who are not doing top jobs because their agencies don’t believe in them for some reason.
The fashion industry is fickle and only luck is on your side, or perhaps it is not. The determining factors of your success are predisposed before you are even born; your height, body type, facial structure, etc. It’s all a genetics game before you can even call yourself a ‘model’. After that, only luck comes into play whether your look is ‘in’ and you receive work. Success arrives exponentially as a model, however once your time is up, you are thrown away like used goods as another model comes to take your place instantly. There are models who are trapped in very long, slave-like contract periods with very little to show of it. I personally know of many who receive almost no money after tax, agency commission, and conversion rates: These girls were fed dreams that instead became nightmares as agency debt piled up; who else is the pay for constant travel, accommodation, food, language classes, comp cards building up, but the model? These girls that I know of have, not surprisingly, disappeared from the industry only to return to their remote village without their promised success. I personally am of the lucky few who are blessed with a great team of bookers and agencies working alongside myself for the betterment of my career. However even despite this, there have been numerous occasions where not even my agencies could help, it is the people of the other end whom are the problem: There are too many who take advantage of a model’s young age and use this to their self satisfaction. A regular, normal minded human should not be attempting to prey on a girl who is there to work and is afraid of speaking up (as being someone ‘hard to work with’ may cost you a job). I was once shooting a lookbook where the stylist, helping me dress, used this chance to feel my body up much more than necessary and continued to do so throughout the entire shoot. Countless times have I had to undress in undesirable public situations, but even now I can remember the disgusting feel of this man’s hands tracing my body. Most of us start when underaged, we develop and mature as women under all this as the norm. What has already happened has happened, but please do not let this continue to be so.
The reality of a proper, agency signed model is far from what anyone may imagine. Your body is essentially your product to sell. The maintaining of your appearance, dealing with the aftermath of heavy make-up and hair, going to an endless amount of castings, holding unnatural poses for hours, shooting winter clothing in summer, and summer clothing in the winter, fashion month, is hard. This is a physically demanding job that is also very mentally draining, especially when you do not speak the language of whatever country you are in.
I am positive that all models have cried trying to untangle glued in extension or very, very tightly curled hair (and failing) very late at night thinking the only way is to cut it all off. It is ridiculous to think that @shitmodelmanagement posts are possibly every model’s reality, but it is definitely mine. We’re dancing in the palms of the industry’s whims and the dreaded measuring tape (but that’s a completely different story that expands endlessly).
The modeling experience is a really complicated one: On the one hand, I believe that everyone who supports you genuinely really wants you to succeed and the clients and casting directors who meet you also genuinely want to find a girl they are really excited about; however, it’s such a fast-paced industry that I think a lot of girls get forgotten about in favor of the next hot-thing in the space of a season, which is not good for the models’ personal experience, especially as it’s generally due to factors that they have no control over. One of the things I think would massively make a difference would be preventing girls under the age of 18 on the catwalk as it would mean that you would probably have a stronger relationship with agency as well a stronger sense of who you are by the time you’re in the facet of the industry, which is the toughest and most mentally demanding and requires the most trust between you and your bookers.
I think one of the biggest problems with using girls under 18 on the catwalk is that they haven’t properly finished puberty and so if you’ve been modeling since then and then your body changes, the pressure that is put on you to return to your 14 year-old body is immense and I do not think it is healthy. Getting told you are “out of shape” or “wide” by agencies and clients because you have a 36″ hip instead of a 34″ hip is ridiculous and potentially damaging to girls who of an age when they are generally insecure.
With regard to having control of your own career and having the respect you deserve, I think that is something you have to take. If you let agencies tell you what to do with your entire life, all of the time, then you will end up working and flying every day, exhausted, and burnt out. It’s not something they think about because they are sitting behind a desk, booking the flights, not actually making the trips themselves. So you have to make the decisions and know where your limits are and not allow yourself to get pressured into doing something you’re not comfortable. Although it’s taken me a few years to actually be able to do that. It can be very daunting to say no to people who are a lot older than you and in a position where they are supposed to be looking after you when you’ve just left school.
Modeling is great and I think you’re in a position where you get to see the world, travel and work with amazing people who are creatively driven and super talented. Also, the financial grounding it gives you cannot be ignored; I know girls in their twenties who own their own flats—I’ve just funded my first film—from that perspective it’s amazing.
I wish that boundaries would be respected. I wish that girls who aren’t comfortable with doing provocative gestures and who aren’t okay with exposing their bodies, would be respected and not criticized.
I’m happy to see more street castings happening in the fashion industry—times have changed. We’re ready to see a more racially diverse selection of models and body types, but I can’t help but think brands are profiting off these new crop of models unfairly: With zero experience in the fashion industry and no agency behind them, these models don’t know their own value. A job that would go to an agency model for $1500 can go to a ‘street cast’ model for a couple hundred bucks, cash-in-hand. How many times have I seen street cast models being held on set for 12, 15, 18hr days for $150 or the exposure of working with a good brand or photographer. In the long run, not only do I see this driving down the rates for agency models, I see it as the exploitation of these diverse new faces. We say we want fashion to be more inclusive, but hitting up a kid on Instagram and offering a couple sweatshirts instead of payment is fucking BS.
When it comes to modeling, I’m extremely lucky. I decided after high school to pursue this instead of college, because so many people and my agents were really pushing for me saying I had something extremely special. All of this praise mixed with my being a dancer and theatre kid caused me to become extremely unhealthy: I was the lead in my school’s musical and was simultaneously trying to get signed by a top agency. The agency said that they loved me but wanted me to lose a little weight, and they gave me a month to do it and then resend digitals. And so I lost a lot of weight in a short time and just got obsessed with it after that. I became anorexic and was extremely underweight, passing out in rehearsals. After the month they never got back to me and my mother agent. Since then, my weight has fluctuated so much because of how poorly I treated my body. The way my career was launched was extremely lucky and I’m very blessed with agents who support me and want the best for me; there is no mistreatment at all in that department. But while trying to never fall into anorexic tendencies again, I’ve been called “too big” by so many people in the industry. My first New York agent, who is no longer an agent, caused me to relapse into anorexia and extreme exercise last year by measuring me every single day and forcing me to go on juice cleanses. I think people outside of the industry think that things are changing for the better, but I’m not sure I agree. 15 year-old girls are being casted because they haven’t hit puberty yet and can fit the clothes. It’s insane to me these poor girls may never have their high school prom and are being exposed to all of these horrible things so young.
The way clients can treat [models] is disgusting at times, but you do need to take into consideration these people are paying you a decent sum of money, putting you in fancy hotels in exotic countries just solely based on your appearance. A lot of us come into this industry from backgrounds that a majority of clients will never understand, at an age where we are still growing as people. For some people, this is their first experience of a working environment and for others this is a million miles away from their last job. Stop letting such petty things upset you. Don’t just disregard someone due to something they did once, give them another chance and understand these people are still becoming who they’re destined to be and some may not be the person they were when they first started out.
I’ve grown up in an area where you are respected until you do something to lose that respect, and if you do, you can earn it back. In this industry they don’t even want you to earn your respect; you are disposable to them, you are a mere image that won’t even be wanted in years to come. I feel like we’re the bottom rung of the ladder. On three occasions in my career I’ve have clients refuse to shake my hand. If you can turn a blind eye to the pettiness, then believe me, you’re in for the best experience of your life! You can live a celebrity lifestyle without all the hassle, make great money, travel the world and meet some of your best friends. I’ve come across clients in my times that have looked out for me as a person and not just as a model: Jonathan Shia, Jason Rider, Sarah Bunter, Ben Grimes, Alber Elbaz…
During London Fashion Week 2016, I felt dizzy and sick at a 90 minute static presentation: I went off the stage and told the casting director that I can’t keep going because otherwise I might faint while another model was throwing up three feet away from me. She told me I have to go on-stage otherwise I’m not getting paid. I wasn’t paid anyway. They soak every little bit of energy out of you to have the best result for their product but don’t care about you. This whole industry suggests glamour and perfection, which is very one-sided if you consider who is fundamental for this whole thing. I am personally very happy with my agency and they give me a lot of opportunities, but I hear a lot from models who are mistreated by their agencies and even by the brands. I think this whole thing could change if models would take their confidence back and show everyone in the industry who has the power.
I believe the biggest question that pertains to me would have to be the question regarding my career, and whether or not it is in my own hands: I think around the world, models can agree that it’s not. We are penalized by our bookers if we choose not to do a certain job, and by doing so they deprive potential jobs of us. At the end of each year we pay taxes and are considered an independent contractor, but I feel we are far from independent.
I started modeling when I was 13 years-old. Since the beginning, I was always told that I have too big hips and thighs and that I should lose weight. I was never fat. I just have a larger pelvis and different bone structure from the other typical models. Since, I’ve always hated my body. I’ve never had anorexia or bulimia but I was starving myself from time to time. I guess I’ve developed body dysmorphia. I’ve realized this is a common problem which models have; I was chatting with other models who seemed to be even skinnier than me and they thought about themselves [as] how fat they were. I even had problems in my romantic relationship because I was insecure about my body shape and I didn’t love myself. Now at 18, I’m considering to quit [modeling]. Modeling psychically destroyed me, I’ve also experienced hair loss and heart arrhythmia caused by stress. I’ve decided that I’ve had enough. I’ve wasted so much time thinking about my weight that I’ve lost the person who I was before.
Fashion as a general industry, demands your 24 hour attention, and you, as a model, have to be readily available, for work, digitals, travel, at any moment, and if you are not willing to oblige, then forget about it….There has been such a huge increase of Instagram models in the past few years, that yes, it has opened up many new doors for us as individuals to be able to take control of our own careers, but for me as a signed model with plenty of experience and an amazing background of work, it has made things more difficult, because now I am having to compete with the girls that have the online presence that I was not so quick to jump onboard with. It’s hard to have a real conversation with my agent about what I want, because being realistic, it’s not about what I want. It’s about their goals for you, whether you agree with it or not, you have to give in to what they demand, or you can kiss any work good bye. And unfortunately, because of my visa for the US, I have to take everything to heart because I can’t work for any other company here. I think a lot of models at the notoriously difficult agencies would agree with me when I say that fear is a huge motivation when it comes to how things work. As much as I have tried, I have never felt like I could demand respect out of fear of being demeaned and my worth being questioned. I think the change stems from the agents. We have recently heard quite a few stories coming forward about casting directors, but let’s keep in mind that every single agent in New York knew exactly what Maida & Rami were doing, but they weren’t going to say a damn thing. Why? Because they want their precious new face to book Calvin Klein. I think agents (well, my agent at least) need to do a better job educating young girls about the pressures and the people that they are going to have to face and how to cope with it. They also need to be compassionate, and understanding.
…Sometimes there is very little communication and guidance for newcomers. There are politics and favoritism within the fashion industry and those factors can affect a model’s career if they are not aware and acquainted. Yes this is unfair but it is not unheard of as a majority of creative industries are built on this foundation. It is important to find the right people to represent you, the ones that believe in you and will take the time to make you grow. Being mindful comes with time and experience and you learn your personality and confidence trumps politics. Most importantly your career and voice within the industry is as much of your responsibility as your agents. There are not enough rules and regulation. Even the ones that are there are constantly being bent. That is why there are so many cases of mistreatment because what are the consequences? I can’t tell you because I don’t believe there are any. A few published articles about an unfortunate event are not going to hinder a big fashion house or agency. They will carry on and pretend like it was just another misunderstanding. There should be some sort of overseeing of various aspects of employment such as compliance with labour law and employment standards.
There were many times I felt extremely mistreated. Being told your nose is too big at a young age you develop deep insecurities but eventually you learn to play with the cards you’re dealt. I have always been vocal with what I want or need. There have been many times I have felt misrepresented but I just kept quiet and would hope things would change. I learned if someone’s is not willing to communicate with you they will not represent you properly. The people that represent you have a huge impact on the direction of your career. This could be problematic because we now have access to everyone’s personal opinions. The new Saint Laurent campaign recently made headlines as “degrading to women and inciting rape”. This campaign being blown out of proportion caused a rise in conversation about women’s rights. I had wrote a piece about equality and feminism that Anthony Vaccarello liked. We are now inevitably connected and if we use this tool for the greater good we can start conversations about things that have been left in the dark for far too long. If we don’t have it we need more people like James Scully to stand up for the ones that are not being heard. Scully’s quest towards a more civil modeling atmosphere took a lot of bravery and could have resulted in repercussions but instead it shed light and created awareness that was applauded by many in the industry.
I’ve experienced clients who think it’s appropriate to make comments on your body: that makes me uneasy. I’ve experienced verbal and physical abuse from hair and makeup artists in the past. Agents should let models have more say in their careers, especially if they already have a following, if a model wants to take a more creative role in their life I think they should have the right to do so. Agents should also always let models know every detail of castings and jobs. A lot of the time I feel unprepared because of the lack of information and then get scrutinized against for not being on point.
I think [the industry] could be better if everyone starts acting humanly. Unfortunately some clients think we are disposable dolls: At one casting, I remember 50 girls having to stand in nude thongs waiting for two little black dresses to come. I literally felt like a cow on a farm. “They treat us like dogs” is something I hear often. I really appreciate movements like The Model Alliance, but my wish is for girls that are actually working could talk without being blacklisted.
The hours need to change. And the only way this can happen is if the rest of the industry hold us at a higher priority by getting more organized to accommodate us. Don’t leave girls waiting in a small room (often without enough seating for everyone) without explaining whats going on on the other side of the wall. It has gotten to the point where I feel like I have the same relationship with food that a dog does. I’m stuck backstage or at a casting or fitting, virtually unable to leave so if no one is “feeding” me I don’t get fed. And when food is finally in front of me chemicals in my brain are triggered causing that moment to give me so much joy and I’ll eat whatever it is.
A lot of work and expense come directly from the models and their pocket. I would say my experience as a model has been hard work with little pay off. Being confirmed for three months then dropped the day before without compensation is annoying, stressful, and a bit unprofessional—We have to eat and live, too! A huge improvement in the industry would be if casting directors and clients recognized that [models] are humans, too. Proper communication is key; being honest from the start is very crucial to everyone being happy.
In 2016, I became obsessive with my measurements and clothing sizes. I exercised daily and I would never even look at any carbs, let alone eat them. It started making me physically sick, dizzy and exhausted; I ended up getting to a point where I’d have daily panic attacks. We have to call on this system to change. We need diversity; all bodies, differently abled, shaped, coloured, sized, gendered and aged. Diversity is so important. Representation is so important. I am sick and tired of seeing amazing, talented, beautiful women hate themselves because they don’t look like that Victoria’s Secret model. Too many young women suffer from mental health issues, which may stem from the pressure of today’s media.