Abuse and Exploitation Rampant in the Modeling Industry

Dirty Little Secrets: Abuse and Exploitation Running Rampant in Modeling Industry

Young, naive, and unsuspecting women are lured into the trade, the underbelly of fashion, with broken promises that eventually lead to shattered dreams, and oftentimes shattered lives. Welcome to the modeling industry.

Glossy magazine covers, fat checks, bright lights, big dreams, notoriety, and fame. There’s a good chance we’ve all thought about these things at some point in our lives. After all, the picture perfect lives of supermodels and celebrities are broadcast around us every day. And if you’ve got the height, the body type, and the looks, then you may have even fantasized about gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated or becoming a lingerie-clad Angel.

Why not, you think. The idea of your name being up in lights, or at least on the roster during fashion week is a dream that’s being sold hard and fast and not very fairly. In fact, parading down that runway dressed in designer duds may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

The modeling industry doesn’t always serve as a chance to play dress up, while having someone fuss over your hair and makeup. Nor does it mean you’ll be sailing away to an exotic location to a photo shoot by the sea. And even if it did, chances are the conditions and hours would be grueling and the pay would be paltry, sometimes even nonexistent.

As an emerging face trying to make a name for yourself, these conditions may even seem alright temporarily, but from the latest revelations that have been uncovered about the modeling industry, the abuse doesn’t stop there.

In addition to the crash diets, eating disorders, drugs, criticism, and an absolutely wrecked self-esteem, these women, and oftentimes, teens, are subject to additional forms of abuse and exploitation. The Business of Fashion claims that “the two biggest problems in the global modeling industry are the sexual harassment and financial exploitation of models.” Among the various forms of sexual abuse is unwanted touching, being pressured into having sex at work, and being asked to pose nude during casting or on the job without prior notice.

The op-ed goes on to say, “Of those who had experienced sexual harassment, only 29 percent reported it to their agencies; of those who did report harassment to their agencies, the vast majority indicated that their agencies did not see the problem.” Some agents were rumored to recommend their clients sleep with someone on the job in order to further their careers.

In an expose by CNN, Carolyn Kramer, a former agency executive, was quoted as saying, “When you’re a supermodel like Giselle or Christy Turlington you’re treated like royalty, but 99 percent of models are treated like garbage.” Kramer also took it upon herself to compare the industry’s labor abuses “to those faced by young factory workers at the turn of the century.” The stories about women being promised pay are a dime a dozen, like the Jamaican model who, despite being told she’d receive a $75,000 annual salary, only ended up receiving a few thousand dollars for three years of work while in New York. And in an even darker scenario, some women in Florida were victimized as part of a fake modeling scheme, drugged, and then used for pornographic films.

Why is this happening in the modeling industry?

“Under current federal and New York State law, independent contractors are not afforded the same protection from sexual harassment in the workplace as employees (the same is true of wage and hour protection),” reveals The Business of Fashion. Even though New York City law is supposed to protect independent contractors from sexual harassment, there is sometimes little that can be done to fight back due to the complicated hiring structure, therefore allowing misogyny and objectification to run rampant. From misclassification to federal law prevailing, loopholes are often found preventing women from successfully pressing charges for sexual harassment or wage theft.

What can be done to protect models now and in the future from rampant sexual harassment and financial exploitation?

Even those models who have “made it” so to speak, earning six or seven figure salaries annually, still face issues like receiving exorbitant miscellaneous charges from their agencies, as well as the use of their image without proper compensation, not to mention the sexual harassment they’ve probably been putting up with for years. If top models are also still facing this treatment, then the outlook can seem bleak.

Although former attempts have been thwarted by agencies, continuing to fight for unionization and government intervention is so important for the protection and safety of models. Furthering the causes of labor advocacy organizations, like Model Alliance, is necessary for raising awareness and bringing victims together. 

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Image of Striped Model via Shutterstock

Jamie Duncan

After starting out in public relations, Jamie finished college with a BFA in interior design. This combination of writing and design knowledge, coupled with her fashion and lifestyle expertise, has paved the way for an exciting freelance career. Her work has been published in magazines and online, plus she’s managed PR campaigns, and is no stranger to copywriting. Jamie’s a vegetarian and cruelty-free product fanatic. Connect with her on Twitter and check out her website to learn more.