“It took tremendous will for me to say, ‘No, I’m not going to walk down the runway naked, even though it’s my first time doing a show for you, and you’re threatening to cancel me, and you’re this huge designer I’ve seen on TV my whole life, and I’m standing up to you and I’m 16 years old.’”
This is what model Shalom Harlow had to say at this week’s launch party for the Model Alliance, a new workers’ rights organization for fashion models in the U.S. It’s the brainchild of 29-year-old model-activist Sara Ziff – who started her career at age 14 and has personally been “put on the spot to take age-inappropriate photos” – with support from some of the industry’s biggest names (Coco Rocha, Karlie Kloss, Doutzen Kroes and Chanel Iman among them). At the big event, Harlow was one of many famous faces bringing to light some serious issues in the modeling world: “The issue of an underage girl working without any kind of mentoring or chaperoning is really critical, because at that age you’re still learning boundaries, you’re still learning how to stand in your right and say no.”
Ziff shares similar sentiments on the Alliance website, where she writes: “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.”
Here at Mommyish, we’ve written many times before about the perils of modeling, where girls as young as 4 years old are being sexualized like never before, and where 17-year-olds pose at “seductive, yet sweet” 12-year-old Lolitas. Of course, this is just one half of the picture. There are also countless successful models out there who have managed to avoid the seedy underbelly that the media – ourselves included – are so often obsessed with.
But the truth remains that it’s an industry filled with with hopeful, wide-eyed girls working long hours – often with little or no pay – and without any type of mentoring. We’ve all heard the tales about stick-thin models who are encouraged to drop 10 pounds, or those who quietly put up with sexual harassment or abuse from photographers, agents – really anyone in a position of power.
And while there are many wonderful things about the industry, it’s stories like these that stick out in our minds and pray that our own daughters won’t one day aspire to walk the runway or grace the pages of Vogue. Which is why we’re loving this new initiative by Ziff and Co. It’s about time models were treated with the respect – and working conditions – they deserve.