Catwalk Revolution: Protecting the Faces of the Fashion Industry

Fashion sometimes is seen as frivolous and silly, an expensive business for the sake of glamour, but it is this idea that encourages a dismissive attitude towards the models, allowing the abuse of vulnerable young people to persist. In the fashion industry one day you’re in and the next day you’re out. It is this reality that keeps the models quiet in an industry that is tainted with dirty little secrets. Even more than eating disorders, which often takes the forefront in issues having to do with fashion models, is the sexual abuse at castings, photo shoots, and runway shows that is the industry’s real secret. I am not apart of the fashion industry, but I respect it and have a love for it that makes this issue relevant to me and my life.


Sexual harassment and abuse are problems in every industry, and sadly, modeling is no exception. Any young model who is the subject of unwanted and/or unlawful attention in the workplace should have somewhere to turn for safe, private, and helpful advice

Sara Ziff,  model, founder, and director of the Model Alliance has said for too long, there has been a myopic disregard for the modeling industry’s systemic abuses of it’s workforce.  While I have been very fortunate in my modeling career, I have also seen firsthand how the industry often disregards child labor law, lacks financial transparency, encourages eating disorders, and blindly tolerates sexual abuse in the workplace. The lucrative careers of high-profile supermodels misrepresent the reality for most working models, who are young, mostly female, and uniquely vulnerable.” [3]


This chart represents the ages in which girls begin their modeling careers. Ages which should be protected by guardians and child labor laws, but in most cases are not.

Ziff accounts “in an industry where the majority of models start their careers before age 16, most working un-chaperoned and far from home, the incentive to say nothing in order to keep your job creates an unconscionable environment of coercion” [3]

  • 29.7% of models have experienced inappropriate touching on the job
  • 28% of models have felt pressure to have sex with someone at work
  • 29% who have been sexually harassed at work felt they could tell their agency, but only 2/3 of that 29% found their agents did not see the problem
  • 60.5% of the models say their lack of privacy while changing clothes is a major concern
  • 86.8% of models have been asked to change nude at a job or casting without notice
  • of that 86.8% 46.4% posed nude anyway because they were okay with it and 27.5% of that 86.8% posed nude because they felt they had to even though they didn’t want to [2]

Sexual abuse in the business occur at both end of the modeling spectrum, the lowest and the highest levels of the industry, but because models are considered to be “independent contractors”, the rule of law in terms of workplace standards does not exist. [3]

Kate Moss photographed in 1992

Kate Moss was only sixteen when she did her first topless shoot. Moss in an interview with Vanity Fair said of the people on set “they were like: If you don’t do it, then we’re not going to book you again. So I’d lock myself in the toilet and cry and then come out and do it. I never felt very comfortable about it”[1]

In 2008, fashion designer Anand Jon was found guilty of rape and multiple counts of assault on models, whose ages ranged from 14 to 21 years old. In November 2010, an aspiring male model sued a noted stylist for alleged sexual harassment.

Last year, models began to speak out in numbers against Terry Richardson, one of the industries most successful and powerful photographers, who has been accused of pressuring models to disrobe at castings and conducting shoots that involve what he claims are consensual sex acts performed on him by models. (Among Richardson’s regular clients are H&M, Vogue, and GQ.) [3]




A few of Richardson’s most controversial potographs

In an effort to stop the abuse of models in the fashion industry, Sara Ziff created the Model Alliance,  she states that “to combat this systemic abuse, I recently formed the Model Alliance, a nonprofit organization that aims to give models in the American fashion business a voice. With the support of other top models (Coco Rocha, Doutzen Kroes, Crystal Renn, Shalom Harlow), industry leaders, and the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School to demand fair treatment from modeling agencies and clients.” [2]


The five contributors and organizers of the organization:

  • Sara Ziff
  • Coco Rocha
  • Susan Scafidi
  • Dorian Warren
  • Doreen Small

The Model Alliance is working hard to protect the rights of the models in the fashion business. As a result the Model Alliance has formed a 2013 initiative concerning child labor, backstage privacy, Model Alliance support, and finally the Models’ Bill of Rights, a Bill of Rights to empower models to demand fair treatment from modeling agencies and clients. [2]

With the help of Ziff and her organization models voices are being heard. Models deserve fair treatment in their workplace, and the Model Alliance aims to establish ethical standards that bring real and lasting change to the fashion industry as a whole, encouraging a safe and healthy work environment that protects models’ mental and physical wellbeing. [2]

happy models yo





[1] Saner, Emine. “Was Kate Moss Exploited as a Young Model?” The Guardian. Guardian News and  Media, 01 Nov. 2012. Web. 30 June 2014.

[2] “Unwelcome Sexual Advances, Requests for Sexual Favors, and Other Verbal or Physical Conduct of a Sexual Nature…” The Model Alliance.

[3] Ziff, Sara. “The Ugly Truth of Fashion’s Model Behaviour.” Guardian News and   Media, 13 Feb. 2012.







Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s