Soldiers returning from combat get diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. So do people who live in violent war zones. And, apparently, models. At least according to former model Jennifer Sky, who says her years as teen model led to panic attacks and an anxiety disorder.
Sky started her modeling career young — at 15 — and was thrust into a strange and unfamiliar place when her modeling agency sent her to Japan unchaperoned and unaided. She lived a similar life in New York, where she was sent next, sharing a loft apartment with five other teenage girls, who were all expected to book jobs, feed and care for themselves without any adult supervision. After two years of this, Sky booked the cover of Sassy magazine’s 1994 prom issue. It would be her last modeling gig. She quit because, she told New York mag’s The Cut, she no longer recognized herself:
“Countless questionable things happened to me during my time as a model. From neglect to molestation to topless photo shoots to men exposing themselves to being made to stand in a freezing pool until I turned blue, I would be abused for the entirety of my career. Eventually, the highs of the photo shoots began to dull. I started to show signs that things weren’t right; feeling disconnected, hollow, having nightmares. My naturally outgoing personality changed: I became withdrawn and startled easily. It became hard for me to travel new routes, to eat at new restaurants, or even shop at the corner store. I became so timid I no longer spoke. I eventually did not leave my room unless I had a job or a casting.”
Sky left the industry at just 17, fed up with the lifestyle and the living conditions, and scarred by the abuse she experienced. She worked as an actress, appearing on ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Xena,” before starring in her own short-lived series in 2000. But even today, she says, she still feels the aftereffects of her modeling years and regularly attends therapy to deal with it.
In June, the New York State Legislature passed a law that requires agencies and clients to treat models as “child performers,” protected under state labor laws. If put into law, the legislation would require that clients apply for permits to employ underage girls; that their working hours were carefully documented; and that the number of hours the could work would be limited.
The new legislation follows a call from Council of Fashion Designers of America president Diane von Furstenberg to increase the minimum age of models during fashion week to 16. New York Fashion Week put the requirement into place in 2011, though some models — including Croatian model Valerija Sestac — skirted the underage ban. Still, von Furstenberg is hopeful that the industry will begin following the 16-and-over trend.
But that hasn’t done much to help Jennifer Sky, who says she regularly does therapy to treat her PTSD. But she hopes that the new New York law may help save others from her fate. “It has been 20 years since I have been a model. While my mattress comes with multiple warning labels threatening legal action if removed, fashion has remained free of necessary regulations — until now.”