NEW YORK, NY MAY 13, 2016
When we were young, naïve and blissfully unaware of the Schedule C form’s existence, modeling seemed like a great gig. You’re gorgeous, you’re well paid, your job consists of strutting your stuff in designer fashions and occasionally jet-setting across the world to do it. As it turns out, unless you’ve reached near-Gisele status, modeling expectations vs. reality would make for a particularly tragic, unfunny meme.
A recent exposition by CNN Money delves into the injustices faced by workers in this time-consuming, demanding and highly competitive industry. Unhealthy restrictions on weight are just the tip of the iceberg. Models have none of the protections afforded to salaried workers in the U.S. — there’s no minimum wage, overtime, scheduled breaks or paydays. The main issue, however, is how much modeling agencies regularly deduct from their models’ earnings and the extreme lack of transparency within these institutions.
For example, Jamaican model Alexia Palmer told CNN how she wound up owing her agency $12,000 after three years. Her take-home salary over that period was an estimated $5,000 — that’s $70,000 shy of what she was originally promised on a work visa application. Since Alexia was asked to sign a contract agreeing to reimburse her agency, Trump Model Management, for all expenses, it’s unclear whether her proposed class-action lawsuit against Trump (we shudder to write the name) will proceed.
The horror stories continue. Models live off of advances from their agencies in between jobs, which they then have to pay back at interest rates of about 5 percent. They’re often forced to cover their own travel expenses, which can defeat the purpose of even accepting a job.
Over ten years ago, a group of five models won a class-action lawsuit challenging the exorbitant commission rates and the liberties agencies take with their deductions. The companies in question vowed to be more forthcoming with their charges (both human and monetary). Despite this precedent, little has changed: “Nothing has changed. Nobody has enforced the laws,” says Lorelei Shellist, an established model and plaintiff in the case. “What they are doing is they are double-dipping.” The CNN investigation doesn’t even touch on sexual abuse within the industry, another area in which models sorely need protecting.
While relatable issues like body image struggles tend to get a lot of press, we should broaden our focus and our fight. The industry needs to be held to a higher standard not only when it comes to diversity, but also in the realm of workers’ rights.