On April 6, 2016, I met with Assemblymember Marc Levine at the California Capitol Office in Sacramento with a group of powerful, passionate women who aim to establish workplace protections and health standards for models. Sara Ziff, Executive Director of the Model Alliance, Madeline Hill, a former model and Model Alliance member, Dr. Bryn Austin, Director of the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders at Harvard University, attorney Cassandra Soltis and I all came together to voice our support for Assembly Bill 2539, which addresses the critical need for workplace protections and health standards within California’s modeling industry. The bill also received a great deal of support from other individuals and organizations who submitted letters explaining why they also felt the bill was needed.
We are thrilled that AB 2539 received the seal of approval from the Labor Committee and will now move on to the Appropriations Committee, where it will await further authorization. California is known for being a leader in the nation and we are hopeful that if this bill is signed into law, other states will follow.
As a model, a parent, or even a concerned citizen, you may be wondering: what exactly is Assembly Bill 2539 and how would it affect me?
What Is AB 2539?
In a nutshell, Assembly Bill 2539 addresses the critical need for workplace protection and health standards in the modeling industry. First, it states that models are employees, not independent contractors, and due all workplace protections including against sexual harassment. Second, it requires the adoption of an occupational health and safety standard to protect models from developing eating disorders. And third, it clarifies that modeling agencies must be licensed and regulated as talent agencies, to help ensure that models receive the same protections as actors and other talent. The lack of workers’ rights in the modeling industry has allowed for all sorts of abuse of models to occur, but that can end with the passage of this bill.
What AB 2539 Is Not
AB 2539 is not an “eating disorders” or a “banning skinny models” bill. The media means well, but some reports have mischaracterized the bill and how it would address the problems in the modeling industry.
As Assemblymember Marc Levine has explained, AB 2539 requires the adoption of an occupational safety and health standard for models that will be determined through a very public process involving stakeholder meetings and consulting with experts.
You cannot tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them and the goal is to ensure that models are not jeopardizing their health for their careers. To be clear, you can be thin, average or plus size and still be healthy.
Why Bill AB 2539 Is Important
Models’ rights are human rights. In many other industries, workers have protections and health standards in place. For example, in careers such as boxing and wrestling, there are measures in place to ensure that the talent is healthy enough to work. So why has it been acceptable, even encouraged, for models to work in an environment where they are subjected to abusive and psychologically damaging conditions? Thankfully, AB 2539 offers hope. It’s common sense that everyone deserves a safe and fair work environment.
This is doubly important given that the industry also impacts consumers. Almost half of young girls in grades 5th to 12th grades have reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures. If models are being treated poorly and sacrificing their health as a result, it’s not surprising that this also impacts young people who are influenced by the images that the industry produces. If models were granted healthy and fair working conditions, imagine how this could impact advertisements, and in turn, society.
There is no doubt that the introduction of AB 2539 is a major step forward towards improving the modeling industry. It will take time, but we are thrilled that we passed the first hurdle! The modeling industry is glamourized, and models’ concerns have been misunderstood and dismissed for too long, which has allowed the abuse to continue. It’s time to end this abuse and for models to enjoy workplace protections and healthy standards.