The Fashion Industry: So You Want to Be a Model?

Ok, kittens.  Let’s talk Fashion.

I’ve wanted to write about the harmful effects of the fashion industry for some time now, but it seemed so obvious.  What is there to write about that people don’t already know?  Well, I sat down and made a list of seriously messed up things that I wanted to address, and it was long.  I hope you’re sitting somewhere comfortable, because there’s going to be a lot here.  Before we start, I do want to say that I love fashion.  I love the idea of expressing yourself in a fluid way through clothing, hair, makeup, and everything else.  You can dress a certain way and feel temporarily like a different person (note: Hollywood often portrays this horribly wrong, showing women needing to change in order to get the popular guy).  This is about the completely screwed up advertising complex known as the Fashion Industry.

Whenever models are brought up, one of the first things mentioned is inevitably anorexia.  Eating disorders are on the rise in the United States and affecting girls of younger ages every year.  For decades, models have worked in an environment where disordered eating is encouraged, but now they are being selected precisely because of their anorexia.  Swedish anorexia clinics have reported that modeling agents have begun showing up and scouting patients, effectively destroying their recovery.  Why should they get better when someone wants to make them rich and famous?  This is a disgusting practice, but not one completely out of the ordinary when you look at the industry’s prior offenses.

Kate Moss: Heroin Chic

Kate Moss: Heroin Chic

The idea of a model with an eating disorder has become a joke in our society.  When Kate Moss was asked about her motto, she famously said that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”  Immediately, this was picked up by pro-ana (anorexia positive) sites as a rallying cry.  Even before that, models were known to stay thin by living on a diet consisting of cocaine, cigarettes, and yes, cotton balls dipped in orange juice.  Besides the early 1990s fashion obsession with heroin chic, models have generally been required to stay thin for a multitude of reasons.  Thinner models means less fabric, so runway shows are cheaper for designers.  Designers like the idea of “walking hangers” and no longer want the supermodels of the 1980s who took attention away from the clothes via their vibrant personalities.  I think primarily, however, it is to replicate the look of early adolescent girls who until the early 20th century were able to give sexual consent as young as ten.

Why pay an adult woman to look like a thirteen year old when you can get actual preteens for free?   Most models begin working in their early teens for little to no pay.  Because many models are from impoverished backgrounds, they are willing to work for companies that egregiously flout child labor laws and practices.  Sometimes they do it for the exposure or the fashion, but generally it’s to feed their families.  Unfortunately, models are often not even paid in cash so there is little for the families to take home.  Their agencies place them in housing with other young girls and they are paid in trade (ie. clothing and accessories) for runway shows.  Marc Jacobs made headlines last year for refusing to pay his models for print campaigns as well, tweeting “Models are paid in trade [clothes]. If they don’t want to work w/ us, they don’t have to.”

Ironically, the only models who can consistently count on a paycheck are not models at all.  Actresses, who are accustomed to having clothes and jewelry donated by designers, can now being paid handsomely for wearing a designer’s garment on the red carpet.  This is why celebrities like Jessica Alba and Kate Bosworth, who have had less than successful acting careers, are constantly appearing in fashion blogs and magazines at red carpet events.  The move from paying models to paying actress should be unsurprising, considering how few models have graced the covers of fashion magazines in the last decade or so.  Magazine aisles are overwhelmed with actresses and reality tv stars.

Even if a model is actually paid for a shoot or campaign, the likelihood runs high that she will be sexually abused.  One of the most famous fashion photographers working today is Terry Richardson, who is as infamous for his “candid” style of photography as he is for assaulting female models.  Remember, most of these girls are teenagers without parental supervision.  Often, they don’t speak up because they want to continue working in the industry.  Instead of shaming him, it has merely become a commonly accepted fact that if you are hired for a Terry Richardson shoot, he will almost certainly pull out his penis.


Banned ad

Another man in the public eye for sexually harassing and assaulting women is Dov Charney, CEO of American Apparel.  American Apparel made their name stating that they do not hire actual models, but instead all of the girls doing their modeling merely happen to work there.  Apart from this being patently false, this kind of statement makes things even more difficult on young girls.  While the media is hard to ignore, the idea that these beautiful young women are not even airbrushed professionals could easily set young women into depression.  “Why don’t I look like that?  She’s not even a model, she’s normal!”  when of course, most of these non-models are either models or pornographic actresses.  American Apparel’s exploitative and pornographic pictures have gotten their ads banned across the UK, which of course, only serves to get the label more attention.  On a related note, they are the only retailer that I know of who has appearance standards for their store employees.  Not just hair color and piercing rules, but body type and skin color as well.

Also discouraging is that American Apparel is one of the only mainstream clothing designers that refuses to carry anything over a Large for women, and their Large is the same as a Medium at other retailers.  They did attempt a hilariously awful endeavor into the average sized world to find “the next BIG thing!” and failed miserably.  Their national campaign to find a plus-sized model via an online vote ended in an epic joke.  Instead of rethinking their business policy, they merely decided to drop the idea of size XL entirely.

It’s what sells

Let’s say you know all of this and you still want to be a model.  Obviously young women do, or Tyra Banks wouldn’t have had 20 seasons of America’s Next Top Model.  So you’re thin enough for American Apparel, but no matter how many tissues you eat, you’re not “Paris thin.”  If you’re lucky, you might get a Victoria’s Secret contract, home of nearly every supermodel working today.  Unlike the major fashion houses, VS encourages their models to have breasts and some semblance of a curve.  If you’re even luckier, you’ll get a VS contract as well as one with Sports Illustrated, like Kate Upton.  Hopefully the internet will be kinder to you than they were to Ms. Upton and not lambast your “portly” body.

Fat, apparently

Fat, apparently

On the opposite side, you have gorgeous Crystal Renn, supermodel and author of “Hungry.”  Ms. Renn attempted to be a straight-size model for years, developed an eating disorder, and made a name for herself as a plus sized model.  She was the first plus sized model to walk in a Karl Lagerfeld show, and has gathered a huge following.  Now comes the backlash.  Crystal is no longer plus-sized, nor is she straight-sized.  Initially, she blamed photoshop for making her look heavier for plus-size shoots and thinner for straight shoots, but now she has obviously lost weight.  Her former fans decry her as a traitor and accuse her of destroying her own message.  While her book promoted beauty at any size, apparently there is only one size where fans find her beautiful.

Still want to model?  Fine.  Are you a woman of color?  Good luck.  Fashion powerhouses like Vogue who never shrink from featuringwhite models in blackface (or redface, or yellowface) generally refuse to hire models of color.  Even Chanel Iman, one of the most famous models working today reports being told that she isn’t needed, since they already have one black girl.  Famous actress of color?  Good for you!    Get ready for photoshop, because your skin needs to be lightened significantly to appear on a magazine cover or in an advertisement.  Just ask Gabourey Sidibe, BeyoncéFrieda Pinto, and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.  Considering that of the top selling skin care products in India is facial lightening cream, lightening Ms. Bachchan is not only offensive, it is damaging on a national level.


Frieda Pinto, lightened up

So here we have The Fashion Industry: land of starvation, body shaming, rape, and racism.  Honestly, I don’t know why we put up with it.  The reason that this happens is because it sells, and money is what drives any huge endeavor.  It will only end when we stop accepting it and demand better treatment for models and for ourselves.  Wouldn’t it be nice if young girls wanted to grow up to be Hillary Clinton or Condoleeza Rice instead?  Oh wait, we make fun of them for being fat and ugly, too.

“I didn’t eat yesterday / And I’m not gonna eat today / And I’m not gonna eat tomorrow /

‘Cause I’m gonna be a Supermodel”

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