“How do you, the model, want to be treated?” That’s the question posed to fashion industry professionals in a recent survey by Models.com — and it has inspired an outpouring of harrowing stories from models about mistreatment in the industry.
The survey was prompted by a very public calling-out by model casting director James Scully of the industry’s abusive business practices in February, when Scully reported on Instagram the “cruel” behavior exhibited by model wranglers behind-the-scenes at Paris Fashion Week. He alleged racism and “dangerous” mistreatment on the part of casting directors and the fashion houses they represent, and didn’t shy away from naming names.
But Scully’s account appears to be the tip of the iceberg. According to those who responded to the Models.com survey, poor working conditions, discrimination, body-shaming, and sexual abuse are just par for the course in the industry.
“I felt dizzy and sick at a 90-minute static presentation,” wrote respondent Sidney Gaston about the working conditions she suffered at London Fashion Week in 2016. “I went off the stage and told the casting director that I can’t keep going because otherwise I might faint while another model was throwing up three feet away from me. She told me I have to go on-stage otherwise I’m not getting paid. I wasn’t paid anyway.”
An anonymous respondent described as a model of color “with curly hair” wrote,
Speaking about her experience as a young model, another anonymous respondent wrote, “I think one of the biggest problems with using girls under 18 on the catwalk is that they haven’t properly finished puberty and so if you’ve been modeling since then and then your body changes, the pressure that is put on you to return to your 14-year-old body is immense and I do not think it is healthy. Getting told you are ‘out of shape’ or ‘wide’ by agencies and clients because you have a 36″ hip instead of a 34” hip is ridiculous and potentially damaging to girls who are of an age when they are generally insecure.”
Perhaps most disturbing of all is model Fernanda Ly’s account of sexual abuse at the hands of a stylist.
And Ly is not alone. In 2009, designer Anand Jon was sentenced to 59 years in prison for raping models who worked for him, some as young as 14 years old. In 2014, fashion photographer Sean Colcough was jailed for sexually assaulting models in his studio. That same year, supermodel Kathy Ireland revealed that a photographer had sexually assaulted her in the early years of her career, when she was just 17.
For now, Models.com’s consciousness-raising survey provides a powerful platform for men and women to shine light on the ugly side of modeling.
According to one respondent, the answer to the survey’s singular question is simple: “We have to call on this system to change.”