We know that some models pursue dangerous measures in the hopes they will join the cadre of elites. We know that being a top model means million-dollar contracts and the key that unzips Leonardo DiCaprio’s pants. And we also know that many modeling agencies are all too happy to exploit preteen and teen girls, putting their sexual, mental and physical health at risk in pursuit of big bucks and prestige. Agencies get a cut of the money, after all. The 2012 documentary “Girl Model” (which is screening on Netflix now — go watch it!) pulled back the curtain on the lack of protections for underage models, especially ones who have traveled from faraway foreign countries, alone, don’t speak English or know their rights — like, say, you shouldn’t have to suck anyone’s dick to get a gig.
This week, New York’s state legislature took a step in the right direction by passing a bill that will give models under age 18 the same legal protections as child actors and other young performers. The laws would apply to both print and runway models.
Pending a signature of New York’s governor, the bill will mandate consent forms for nude modeling; mandated access to food; models under age 16 must be accompanied by a chaperone while working; minors will require a permit to work; employers have to fill out paperwork to stipulate the dates, times and locations of jobs; child models can’t work after midnight or return to work less than 12 hours after they’ve left; child models require tutors on set if they miss more than three days of school; and 15 percent of the child model’s income must be placed into an account he or she can only access at age 18. The bill exists thanks, in part, to advocacy by The Model Alliance, a nonprofit which gives models a voice in the modeling industry, spearheaded by former models Sara Ziff and Jenna Sauers.
So far, the fashion industry has only faced public opprobrium for sketchy behavior with underage models, like when Prada featured then-13-year-old Ondria Hardin “caressing herself” in a print ad. Or, for instance, when French Vogue shot then 10-year-old Thylane Lena-Rose Blondeau (at left) dolled up in makeup and dark lipstick. British Vogue seems more serious about the welfare of its child models, signing a “1o-point code” protecting them. Conde Nast debuted a Health Initiative in 2012 allegedly banning models under age 16 from working in the pages of its magazines, but in just three short months Vogue China violated the toothless rules by photographing a 15-year-old. (After getting called out by the blog Fashionista, the CEO of Conde Nast International insisted in a statement, “The Health Initiative banning underage models is very serious, and we will reinforce it.”)
Runway models have been looked after slightly better. For the past half dozen years, the Council of Fashion Designers For America has requested designers not use models under the age of 16 for runway work during Fashion Week and send models under 18 home from work before midnight. But some designers have ignored the guidelines — which were just that, guidelines, with no legal teeth. For example, in 2012, Marc Jacobs sent two models age 14 and 15 down the runway, huffing and puffing to the press about how no one should get to tell him what to do. But if the child model bill becomes law, employers face fines up to $3,000 for breaking the rules.
Of course, some photographers and companies that employ models under 18 won’t be thrilled about all these new regulations. But, if enforced, it’s easy to see how they have the ability to protect teen girls, especially, from sexually predatory photographers and agents, as well as overall prioritize a youngster’s health and well-being. I wouldn’t be surprised if some employers, wary of doing extra paperwork, just hire models over 18 who look like they’re teen girls. But one hopes that models over 18 are more knowledgable, experienced and assertive when it comes to standing up for their rights.
Fingers crossed; we’ll see how it goes.
Contact me at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter.
[Image of a young model via Shutterstock]