Along with new fashion, something else emerged at Paris Fashion Week this year. The working conditions of models has long gone overlooked by the glamour presented on the catwalk and in photoshoots, but poor conditions, sexual harassment and discrimination can’t go overlooked in any industry, no matter how desirable the job.
The issue was raised by James Scully, casting director, who shone a harsh light on the reality the models were enduring backstage, behind the experience of the front row. Scully was a whistle blower to one brand in particular, Balenciaga, who kept 150 models waiting for hours in a dark stairwell, with only the light from their phones.
With the controversy exposed, Models.com caught on to the emerging issue by publishing a survey, asking models themselves one simple question: “How do you, the model, want to be treated?”
The submitted answers exposed the real working conditions of models, who could choose to leave their name or remain anonymous. Despite the lifestyle models can be perceived to lead, there are underlying problems that models had been afraid to vocalise before, knowing that many would love to take their place, travelling the world, working with famous or up-and-coming brands.
One anonymous testimony explained,
“I feel like we all are supposed to deal with the mistreatment: We have a job that millions of girls would kill for, so we should be happy with what we’re doing even if it has a dark and sadistic side to it.”
Male and female models endure sexual harassment that has been normalised by the industry, as stripping in front of casting directors, or in public places to change during a shoot, become just a part of the job. Model Fernanda Ly recalled one of her experiences to Models.com:
“I was once shooting a look book where the stylist, helping me dress, used this chance to feel my body up much more than necessary and continued to do so throughout the entire shoot.”
Another prominent issue that emerged through James Scully and the Models.com survey, was the ever present, and still engrained, discrimination against race, size and gender. One transgendered model spoke out, saying:
“When [the designer] found out I was transgender, something no one knows about to this day, they cancelled my booking”.
Even as a society moving forward towards better representation in media and the fashion world, there are some who are moving backwards, relying on fixed ideas of what beauty should be.
What are your thoughts on models working conditions?
Text: Jessica Saunders
Images: Vogue, Business of Fashion, The New York Times, The Guardian, Haythem Lafhaj Photography