The Truth About Modelling Is Horrifying
Updated: Nov 7, 2020
An industry of gorgeous people has an ugly reality.
Modelling may look and sound to most of us like The Dream Job, but there’s a darker side to the industry that would chill anyone quickly out of that assumption. The twisted reality of modelling involves eating disorders, ageism, sexual harassment, rampant racism, and constant anxiety about when exactly the industry will simply decide they’re bored of you.
In 2020 being “woke” has become the hottest new trend; however, these massive issues remain prominent in the modelling industry and a reality everyday for the thousands of girls who rely on modelling for work. Despite influential magazines, speakers and designers preaching change, we’ve actually seen very little of it.
Racism may be worse in the modelling industry than in any other global industry today. In 2016, The Fashion Spot surveyed from 236 fashion print campaigns that over 70% of the models featured were white, and this hasn’t changed in recent years as in 2018 a different survey found that less than 10% of the designers featured in New York Fashion Week 2018 were black.
Models of colour have been told that their curls aren’t “classy enough”, that “their kind’s” spot has already been filled, that they have to compete with one another because “there’s only room for one like them". In Vogue’s July 2020 interview with “9 Models on Racism & Privilege in the Modelling Industry”, models including Adut Akech, Ugbad Abdi and Adesuwa Aighewi spoke out about how modelling for them is nothing like it is for white models. They’re often made to do their own makeup and hair because the makeup artist or stylist never learnt how to. Indira Scott has also expressed how frequently she’s been asked to remove her braids for a show, and has had to refuse because her hair is a part of her that she won’t let the industry damage or white-wash or take away.
Casting agencies and designers often refuse models of colour because they perceive casting more than one diverse model to be too many, or believe that inherently a black model can’t look sexy or sophisticated. The podcast Fashion No Filter’s three-part series on racism in the industry brought to light a claim about reputable fashion magazine, InStyle, stating that they, throughout one ex-employee’s time there, refused to feature black models in their monthly street-style section as the diversity wasn’t necessary.
Compared to the past, far more models from different countries, of different races and ethnicities are now being featured on the catwalks of some of the biggest runway shows. Halima Aden, a model and Somalian refugee, has often noted how much progress it has taken for her to be featured on the covers of British and American magazines wearing a hijab. However, progress towards equality and diversity in the modelling industry is still far behind the rest of us. Many models of colour believe that their involvement in fashion is almost entirely based on the inclusivity of race on the runway as a trend in 2020.
Its often supposed that the life-time of a model’s career spans around 5-years; however, recently its begun to be speculated that this shockingly short amount of time isn’t because models become physically unappealing or incapable of working. In reality its because the mental toll that the modelling industry takes is so devastating it can only be endured by most for up to 5-years. The assumption that all models are inherently confident and narcissistic is far from true; to be scrutinised, prodded, judged, and harassed based on your looks everyday by strangers generates huge issues regarding self-esteem and mental health that often scar for life.
Model Aiden Curtiss has spoken about how at the lowest, unhealthiest point in her life she lost an immense amount of weight due to the depression she was struggling with. She also commented on how during this time her career was at its best. Models are not only expected to be skinny, but they’re forced to be. Famously, model Ali Michael was featured in an article by The Wall Street Journal in 2008 for being “sent home [from Paris Fashion Week] for being too fat”. In such a competitive industry models have little choice but to strive – at the expense of their mental and physical health – to be the slimmest girl at the casting, otherwise they'll see their career suffer as a result of their weight gain.
In an industry where the choice is always between a pay cheque and your self-esteem, its no wonder that frequently models suffer from rampant mental illnesses that they struggle with for the rest of their lives. The requirement to look a certain way and be a specific weight is a constant cycle of mental destruction, as the weeks and months before every casting are a form of torture wherein girls scrutinise their flaws and starve themselves in order to compete. Its no wonder eating-disorders are an almost entirely unavoidable, inescapable part of the modelling industry.
Modelling is one of the few industries where being a man doesn't automatically offer you a leg-up. On the contrary, men in modelling are paid 75% less than the women they work alongside. Furthermore, male models are far less likely to be cast if they're plus-sized than women. For some reason, although being a plus-sized female model is still a struggle, we're even more behind on accepting the bodies of men.
Male model discrimination is an issue in fashion that's talked about very little. Its primarily becuase of the immense revenue that women's clothing lines bring in every year, which men's clothing couldn't dream to compete with. The demand for female models is just so much higher, as the industry is so much larger.
Reducing the pay of a model who walks the same runway and poses in for the same magazines based on their gender is something we have never stood for; so why is it O.K. for the modelling industry to underpay men? Its not. Emily Rose from Premier has stated on the issue of male models being underpaid that "I think it’s the only industry where men get paid less than women. It’s unfair (and) I wouldn’t say it’s female empowerment at all."
Being a model comes with its perks. Validation from the public-eye, being revered as beautiful and desirable may seem like one of them, but there’s a sinister side to this that tends to be swept under the rug. Sexual harassment and abuse is rampant in the modelling industry, and despite hundreds of models speaking out in campaigns such as #MeToo, little has been done to indict those responsible.
One of the key reasons that sexual abuse against models is so common, is because of the fear that’s instilled in them from the moment they begin working. Fear that they’re expendable, that they’ll be replaced, that if they come forward they’ll be blacklisted and brands or designers won’t work with them again. Its an abhorrent but unsurprising fact that most modelling agencies would make a lot less money if they stood up sexual harassers in the industry. The idea that if you speak out you won’t be worked with again acts like strings on a puppet, forcing everyone into submissive silence.
Of the few models who have openly spoken about the abuse that they experienced, even less have seen their attackers receive any repercussions. In the past, models such as Patricia van der Vliet and Carolyn Murphy have come forward about the sexual abuse that was enacted upon them by photographers, but Patricia said that after the told her agency about the unrelenting harassment she was experiencing, she was merely informed, “he’s prone to doing that”. These harassers and abusers are not even operating under the radar. They are manipulating and exploiting young girls with the industry’s full awareness, and with no consequences.
In September 2020, Emily Ratajkowski published a first-person article with The Cut about the sexual abuse and subsequent exploitation she experienced over years from the same male photographer. Still today, the only damage that he’s received as a result of his actions has been mildly to his reputation; he’s still become filthy rich from selling the photos of Emily he took before he attempted to have sex with her.
Worse then even the sexual exploitation of models by their photographers, often young, naïve models who are struggling in the industry will be pushed into prostitution by their agencies. StopTheTraffik.com is one of the websites aiming to inform people of the horrors of human trafficking in the modelling industry, but it is still largely unheard-of by the general public. Not only are models sexually, physically and verbally harassed in the workplace, but many of the young girls who set out to venture into this industry never make it there in the first place, due to this horrifying alternative.
Few models have had the courage to speak out about the issues that dominate the modelling industry, because of the lack of power that they hold. Now is the time to not only recognise the racism, fat-phobia, mental health repercussions, sexual harassment and trafficking in the industry, but also to completely eradicate anyone behind it. Models already have the story to tell and a voice to tell it, they’re just so scared to speak out against the people who hold power over their careers that they won’t. As an industry, fashion needs to offer more support for these women. God knows they need it.
The future of fashion amid Coronavirus has been looking relatively dismal, but let’s hope that one of the positives to come from this break from the rush of life is that we’ve all been able to reflect and think about what’s truly wrong with this industry. So we can work towards changing it.
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