The fashion industry has a long history of using underage models to sell clothes to adult women. It’s a trend that’s never made much sense to us – the majority of women that can afford designer clothes are usually forty something professional women – wouldn’t they prefer to see the clothes modelled by actual women and not girls their teenage daughter’s age? Nonetheless, season after season designers are found to be using girls as young as thirteen to showcase their designs. When Marc Jacobs was questioned on his hiring of two fourteen year old girls to walk his autumn/winter 2012 catwalk, he defended his choice, stating,
“I do the show the way I think it should be and not the way somebody tells me it should be.”
While the use of child models to sell adult clothing is disturbing in itself, the idea that many of these models have no formal legal protection in the same manner as other child performers such as actors, is deeply troubling. Sadly, in many countries including the UK and much of the United States, this is true. While the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the UK Trade Union Equity have issued guidelines to help protect young models, these are not binding and many designers, like Jacobs, choose to ignore them.
Now the tide is finally turning for underage models in New York. Last night Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed in legislation in the state of New York that extends the protection currently covering child performers to underage models. The legislation will provide under-age models with on-set chaperones, tutors, and trust accounts, just like the requirements for other child performers.
The change in law comes after much work by The Model Alliance, a not-for-profit organisation, set up to combat exploitation in the modelling industry. The Model Alliance was set up by former model Sara Ziff with the help of The Fordham Fashion Law Institute and has campaigned for the improvement of working conditions in the American fashion industry including the proper treatment of models under the age of 18. There’s a common misconception that the life of a model is one long glamorous party with trips to exotic islands on private jets and champagne on ice. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. According to Model Alliance statistics, most models begin working between the ages of 13 and 16, with 76.5 percent being exposed to drugs and alcohol on the job and 68.3 percent suffering from depression and/or anxiety. We recently reported that an eating disorder clinic in Sweden had become a preferred hunting ground for model scouts.
Child models featured in the powerful movie ‘Girl Model’
Further pressure has been put on both the industry and lawmakers since the release of the harrowing documentary Girl Model. Directed by the talented Ashley Sabin and David Redmon, the film followed a 13-year-old Siberian girl’s foray into the murky world of modeling. The child is sent alone to Japan without a chaperone and with promises of fame and fortune. Instead, she is left to starve, receives no work and is ultimately sent home with $2000 worth of debt to her already impoverished family. The film highlights the physical, emotional and sexual abuse suffered by young models and the desperate need for regulation in the industry.
We salute The Model Alliance for their tireless work in fighting for models’ rights. Let’s continue to fight for change here in the UK to give models the protection they deserve.