Ever wonder why the models stomping down the runway at Fashion Week look nothing like you? Like, you’re so much bigger that one of those girls could easily wear you as a skin suit?
Well, many of the models you see in Fashion Week, in print catalogs, and on billboards are actually teenage girls. Sure, there are models like Agyness Deyn, Kate Moss, and Kate Upton who are in their 20s and 30s, but a lot of the models we are exposed to as representative as adult women’s bodies are tall, skinny, 15-year-olds. The fashion industry’s reason for hiring these young women? It’s partly a worship of youth and partly the problem that barely-pubescent girls are the only ones who can fit into sample sizes.
The Model Alliance is spearheading a petition asking the New York Department Of Labor to grant child models the same legal protections as all other child performers, like child actors. Fashion models aren’t included in the existing labor protections for children who dance, sing or act professionally, which is extremely problematic given that most models begin their career before age 16. They are protected, weirdly, under Department of Education laws, which are not as strong as the labor laws and have zero provisions for on-set chaperones, who can protect girls from “surprise” nude shoots.
The petition, which you can sign on the Model Alliances web site, reads:
For most models who start as children in this profession, this issue is personal. At the age of 14, when many professional print and runway models start their careers, a model is unprepared to deal with inappropriate demands from adults in positions of authority, like photographers, agents and clients, who may pressure them to pose nude or semi-nude, give in to sexual demands or engage in risky behavior including, starvation dieting, working long hours without pay and forfeiting high school. For many young models working today, bowing to these pressures often feels less like a choice than a prerequisite for employment. And without regulations mandating the completion of at least some level of education and the provision of on-set tutors, many young models will forego their education entirely to pursue short-lived careers, only to wind up earning little or no money and incurring substantial start-up costs often amounting to tens of thousands of dollars of debt to their modeling agencies.
Most models begin their careers as children, but they do not receive the same legal protections as other child performers who are covered by regulations providing for chaperones, tutors and trust accounts. It’s time for that to change.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) has recommended that designers not employ models younger than age 16, but the org is toothless in regards to enforcing those recommendations. You can see how damaging these lack of protections are industry-wide in the PBS documentary “Girl Model,” which is screening online for free until April 23. The documentary by A. Sabin and David Redmon follows a 13-year-old girl named Nadya who is scouted from a quiet Siberian village by an American named Ashley and sent, all by herself, to an apartment in Japan in order to launch her career. Nadya doesn’t speak Japanese or English and has no grownups keeping an eye on her, either to dry her tears when she’s homesick, make sure she does simple stuff like eat food, or help fend off exploitative photographers. Nadya’s story is extremely troubling — yet all too common for tween girls, often plucked from poverty, to work in the modeling industry without adult oversight or labor protections. Ami, Amelia and I recommend watching “Girl Model” — we all loved it.
Designers should heed the CFDA’s advice and not hire models who are under age 16, but intervention by the state of New York is truly essential. Please consider signing Model Alliance’s petition and let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Email me at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter.