Recently I found myself engaged in a passionate conversation with Sara Ziff, fellow model, founder and director of the Model Alliance. With great relief and enthusiasm, I learned that the Model Alliance was organizing and working against the sexual harassment and abuse I’ve been trying to expose. For decades the industry seemed silent and deeply guarded about what goes on behind the camera and during my crusade of educating others, I was often met with disbelief that models might receive anything but “star” treatment. The outside perception was that most models lived a glamorous, protected life.
Looking back through my own career I recognize there was pattern of suppression. I was a young model traveling across the world from booking to booking and it was a challenge just to keep my head above water. Drug use, and sexual exploitation were (and still are!) unfortunately all too common. Many of us were underage, often times thousands of miles away from home, disconnected from parents or a safe chaperone. The demands were exhausting, and the consequences of not meeting those demands could threaten a fledgling career.
“The modeling industry is rife with tales of minors fending off the sexual advances of employers, photographers and agents.”
The simple fact is I was “hired” because someone approved of my face and body. When I went to work, I was rarely asked how I was that day, how I felt or what was going on underneath my skin that was for hire. This alone was a hard concept for me to fathom. To be so young, in desperate need of approval and to be constantly praised or rejected because of my body was a bitter and isolating pill to swallow. Early on in my career I realized that I wasn’t there for my intellect, my well-being or any other non-physical thing that made me who I am.
I was also hired for jobs that I was not necessarily comfortable with and typical as it is for many young models, I didn’t voice my concerns. The jobs were more often than not age-inappropriate and as was the norm photo shoots for some of the most impressive publications were often shot semi nude. I was well aware that if I did not comply with industry standards I was at risk of losing the job. I was constantly reminded that there was a surplus of beautiful young women who could replace me.
The modeling industry is rife with tales of minors fending off the sexual advances of employers, photographers and agents. The blurry line between adults and children still seems hard for many to decipher. In my early career sexual harassment was something most girls I worked with simply endured. If someone had told me then it was not something I had to comply with, I would have listened.
“For too long, models have been uniquely vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse. I can’t imagine how different my life and career might have been if Model Alliance Support had been in place when I was starting out.”
By providing industry professionals a confidential grievance reporting system, the Model Alliance is taking a much-needed step to give models a support system their workplace deserves. There should be a culture of zero tolerance for sexual abuse, as well as a safe and anonymous haven where misconduct can be documented and reported. Young models need to be educated, empowered and encouraged to speak up. Employees in every other industry, especially teens, are protected by strict health and safety regulations. For too long, models have been uniquely vulnerable. I can’t imagine how different my life and career might have been if this had been in place when I was starting out.
I fully support the Model Alliance and their efforts to create fair and ethical labor standards for models as it is afforded to employees in other industries.