With over 22 years in the business behind us Models Directfollow is aware that the fashion industry has some very real flaws. The issue of modelling scams is just the tip of the iceberg. Stories of sexual abuse and designers’ obsessions with very young or slim models continue to blight the face of fashion…
Models Direct Report: Sara Ziff Talks To The BBC About Models’ Rights
With over 22 years in the business behind us Models Direct is aware that the fashion industry has some very real flaws. The issue of modelling scams is just the tip of the iceberg. Stories of sexual abuse and designers’ obsessions with very young or slim models continue to blight the face of fashion. Despite some positive changes in attitude in recent years they highlight a dark side to the world of modelling – one that models like Sara Ziff are determined to see stamped out.
We applaud Sara’s efforts, not only to raise awareness with her documentary Picture Me, but also for her not-for-profit labour group for models – the Model Alliance which she hopes will help to change the industry for the better in future.
Ziff recently wrote about issues of exploitation and unfairness affecting models today in a report that appears in the BBC News Magazine and it makes a very interesting and enlightening read…
“For the most part, the work itself can be really fun. So I have no reason to speak negatively about an industry that has given me so much”, Ziff writes. “Yet, a few years ago I decided I could no longer stay silent about some of the systemic abuses that my peers and I had experienced first-hand.
“In 2010, I released Picture Me, a documentary that chronicles my and other models’ experiences of the business – both the good and the bad. After five years of carrying small video cameras on location to shoots and fashion shows to document behind the scenes, we probably had 300 hours of footage. Stories of sexual abuse, unfortunately, were very common”.
She also spoke of what she describes as ‘Peter Pan syndrome’ in the fashion industry: “The prevalence of unusually thin models on the runway is well known. What’s less well known is that for a long time the industry has relied on a labour force of children, and they are valued for their adolescent physique.
“It’s this obsession not just with youth, but really with extreme youth, that’s the problem. A 13-year-old girl can be naturally skinny, in a way that a grown woman, who has hips and breasts, generally can’t – and shouldn’t aspire to be.
“I think we need to ask ourselves why that’s become the ideal. Why do we have this perverse fascination with images of such young girls who are so small and inexperienced and really quite vulnerable? As soon as we start to get older and show signs of maturity, we’re told to go on an extreme diet, or we’re discarded and replaced by a younger model. The models never grow up. And that sends a message to women – we’re not allowed to grow up.
“My friend, the model Amy Lemons, who started modelling women’s clothing when she was 12 years old, reached instant supermodel status when she graced the cover of Italian Vogue. She was 14 years old. But just three years later, as she began to fill out physically, a New York agent advised her only to eat one rice cake a day. And, if that didn’t work, half a rice cake. So Amy got the hint. She told me: “They were telling me to be anorexic – flat-out.””
Understandably Ziff’s Picture Me documentary had a real impact on those who saw it and the 30-year-old went on to tour festivals with the film – speaking at screenings and encouraging other models to come forward.
“The film marked a turning point – for the first time models were on the other side of the lens sharing our perspectives of an industry that sometimes left us feeling mute” she explains, “Models sought me out to share their stories”.
This interest and support inspired Ziff to take things further: “The models who spoke to me really did love their jobs, but not the unfair, and sometimes illegal, treatment that came with it. We realised that we could do better, and that we would be stronger collectively than as individuals. So in February 2012, with the support of other models and the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School, I formed the Model Alliance, a not-for-profit labour group for models working in the American fashion industry.
“In May, a few months after we met with editors at Vogue, all 19 international editions of the magazine agreed not to hire models under 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder. It’s a really significant step.”
So what next for the Model Alliance?
“We still have a long way to go. We’re working to get legal protections for child models in the US. We also want to make sure that there is a policy of informed consent for jobs involving nudity, and to get models access to good, affordable health care. I think that if we put more work into empowering the models themselves, we can change the kinds of imagery that we see.”