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The Impact of Harmful Behavior in the Modeling Industry

The foundations of the modeling and fashion industries are built on unrealistic beauty standards. While the societal standards are achievable for some, it’s caused a great deal of harm to participants and onlookers that don’t have “ideal” measurements or “conventional” beauty. As a result of these standards, one of the motivators behind bringing Called to Create to fruition was creating a safe and inviting space for all creatives, models, and partakers in the fashion industry. Cultivating a safe environment for artists is key to allowing them to tap into their potential and test their creative limits.

At our studio, we’re a vessel for young creatives to learn about the industry and what it has to offer. Between our modeling workshops, networking events, and advice on social media, we try to emphasize to young artists that they shouldn’t feel pressured by authority figures on sets or projects to enter a harmful situation. Even though advice and tips can’t always protect creatives from negative circumstances, giving them the proper tools to recognize signs of harassment or inappropriate behavior can be extremely helpful.

While harmful situations can happen to any artist, an alarming amount of them affect models. Whether they’re being told to lose an unnerving amount of weight, inappropriately touched, or assaulted, models receive a great deal of harassment. For example, in 2017, a large group of models at a Balenciaga casting were left in a dark stairwell for three hours with no access to food or water while the casting directors went out for lunch. Many higher-ups from the French fashion house were quick to deny these claims, perpetuating a long-standing tradition of sweeping abuse within the industry under the rug. While Balenciaga may have tried to cover up the situation, James Scully, a casting director, helped to bring the story to light after posting it on his Instagram. Even though Scully was not directly involved in the disturbing incident, he has become an advocate for the safety and well-being of models and other industry talents.

Having advocates that can be a voice of reason for models is so important because there are so many people in this industry that are willing to take advantage of creatives. While whistleblowers like James Scully are good spokespeople to spread information, the fashion industry also needs advocates that address the payment, working conditions, and overall treatment of models and artists. A good starting point for models to look into is unions; while the law is unclear on whether or not models can legally unionize, there are groups such as The Model Alliance that operate with similar guidelines. The Model Alliance is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that works to advance equal opportunity and fair treatment for fashion industry workers.

Although there are amazing organizations like The Model Alliance that advocate for fair treatment, the mental health and overall emotional well-being of models and creatives are often overlooked. When combining the poor working conditions, high probabilities of harassment, and unequal opportunities, models are bound to suffer from mental health issues. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, or PTSD, there’s a lack of care being provided to industry workers to deal with these factors. In a report from The Model Alliance that was discussed in Psychology Today, “nearly 30% of models report being sexually harassed, while twenty-eight percent have been pressured into sex with someone in the industry.” To add another disturbing layer to this statistic, two-thirds of the models that participated in the survey reported that they came forward to their agencies and were ignored. Agencies are supposed to bridge the gap between models and clients and advocate for their models, yet they’re doing nothing to prevent harassment and mistreatment, and are often times the culprit in these inappropriate situations.

Predatory behavior has become too common within the fashion industry, and unless more sustainable practices and regulations are adopted, this harmful cycle of abuse will continue. In a similar report to the aforementioned documents, The Model Alliance disclosed that “sixty-eight percent of the models surveyed suffer from anorexia, depression, or a combination of both.” The luxurious lifestyle and great success that is portrayed by film and television when referring to models and the industry is just a facade. The immense success and big paychecks often come with the cost of depleting one’s mental health and adopting unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the pressures of the industry.

While *some* improvements have been made to create a safe space for models and creatives, there’s still a long way to go. As of today, the SAG-AFTRA strike for fair compensation is still going on, and it proves that the entertainment and fashion industries are still suffering from unjust treatment and improper compensation for employees. The strike's outcome will create waves within both industries and determine what higher-ups can get away with now and in the future.


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