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February 26, 2015

The Underage Modelling Industry: Not So Glamorous

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Many young women dream of becoming models - they aspire to the glamour and the beauty and the supposed chic lifestyle that comes with being a model. But what they don't know is that American labour law contains a loophole that sees print and runway models classified differently to other protected underage workers. So, where some workers under the age of 18, such as film stars, are protected by laws that require chaperones, basic schooling, and even medical monitoring, fashion models do not have the same benefits.

In fact, many of them are left entirely unaccompanied by any responsible adults in an industry that is not only new to them but filled with adult nuances, and with people who are only too willing to exploit the youth for their campaigns under the guise of what is 'best' for these children and their futures. Sometimes these adults persuade the underage models to forego their educations entirely, take control of their pay and steal from them, and even make sexual advances on them. Sexual abuse is also rampant.

It is ironic that these models are used to permeate the sexual objectification of women, but as the photographers and fashion houses create their brand, the girls themselves are objectified, their labour used as nothing more than a means to an end, a means to promulgate a certain style, look, or collection.

The plight of the young model was recently highlighted by Jennifer Sky. Though I haven't read her book 'Queen of the Tokyo Ballroom', yet, it is on my reading list, she has launched a worthy campaign recently attempting to put the treatment of young models in the spotlight.

She says as the introduction to her petition:
As someone who was abused as a child model, I am calling for the Department of Labor to define and enforce labor protections in the fashion industry. 54% of models begin working on or before the age of sixteen. Agencies start recruiting at age thirteen. Many of the pictures in your favorite fashion magazines are little girls dressed up to look like women. Indentured to their agencies, young models often return home from far away locales traumatized and with little to no compensation. The global clothing and textiles industry now generates upward of 2.5 trillion dollars a year. Fashion can afford to offer positive work environments for ALL employees. 
This past fall, New York State passed the Child Model Law, granting protections for minors working as models in the fashion industry. Protections such as school-night curfews and on-set hour limits, chaperones, tutors and mandatory financial trusts are now law. But models need nationwide protections.


As another example, AlterNet talks about Ziff, who is now 31 but started modelling when she was 14. She tells stories about high fashion work being lonely, with long hours accompanied by few rests or meal breaks, and sometimes only being paid with an outfit from one of the designers' collections from the day. Sound like something you would like to do? Something you would like your child to be involved in? I didn't think so.

Please leave a comment!

{Image source: Wikimedia Commons\Aurelien Conty}