What It’s Truly Like to Be a Fashion Model – New York Times

Diandra Forrest, 27, Bronx

I became a model about 10 years ago. I was scouted by a photographer named Shameer Khan. I was walking on a street shopping, and he just approached me and told me I had a great look and asked me if I ever considered modeling. Fast-forward a month after we did some photo shoots and he brought me into a top modeling agency, and I got signed on the spot.

When I first started modeling, there was only about one spot for a black girl in a fashion week show. And now there are about two spots in a show for black girls out of maybe 50. Some shows don’t even use black girls at all. I feel like they didn’t even see black girls at the castings. Especially when I was in Paris, I would speak to other models and I would have about 13 castings or 20 castings and the white girl would have like almost 40.

Sometimes agencies are charging you for every little thing, and they’re charging you an arm and a leg for it too. Especially when you’re traveling abroad, they’re ordering you fancy cars and drivers. That’s coming out of your pay at the end of the day.

I’ve walked for a designer in February and didn’t see the check until next September or even the next February when they’re having another show. So sometimes the payments are just not there or really delayed. Sometimes designers don’t pay at all.

The Issues

UNDERAGE MODELS: Some states offer protections for child models, and New York extended the protections given to child entertainers to underage models only in 2013, which was accomplished in large part through the activism of the Model Alliance, a labor advocacy organization founded by Sara Ziff.

Federally, a law similar to New York’s, which would establish limits on working hours, salary requirements and a course of action in cases of sexual harassment, was introduced in Congress in 2015 but has not made much headway. Representative Grace Meng, Democrat of New York, who brought it to Congress, plans to reintroduce it in the next session.

Since 2007, The Council of Fashion Designers of America has asked casting directors and designers not to hire models under the age of 16 for runway shows. It’s hard to know how many are complying with this recommendation, but Steven Kolb, the president and chief executive of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, said: “It really did change. Every season there would be one or two designers that fell through the cracks. Often it wasn’t intentional.”

The British Fashion Council banned the practice.

RACIAL DIVERSITY: Only 27.9 percent of the models who walked the spring 2017 runways were nonwhite, according to a report from The Fashion Spot. In an assessment of the fall 2017 ad campaigns, The Fashion Spot found that 30.4 percent of the models were nonwhite, and of the seven models who booked the most campaigns, just one was of a minority background.

BODY DIVERSITY: Plus-size models appeared in 2.2 percent of the castings for fall 2017 campaigns, and they made up less than 1 percent of the total in the fall 2017 runway shows, according to The Fashion Spot.

HEALTH: This year, a measure in France that requires models to provide a medical certificate confirming that they are healthy and not excessively underweight went into effect. In a study conducted by the Model Alliance in conjunction with researchers from Harvard University and Northeastern University that was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, 81 percent of the models surveyed reported a body mass index of less than 18.5, which is considered underweight by the World Health Organization.

PAY: A model working in New York earned, on average, $48,130 in 2016, while one working elsewhere in the United States earned $36,560, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Models are often offered payment in the form of clothes.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT: Because models are considered independent contractors, they lack many of the protections reserved for full-time employees. The industry’s demographic — young, often female, sometimes foreign and non-English-speaking — makes models particularly vulnerable to exploitation. In 2012, a Model Alliance study found that 29.7 percent of female models had experienced inappropriate touching at work, and 28 percent had been pressured to have sex at work.

Elizabeth Cooper, an associate professor of law at Fordham University and the director of the Feerick Center for Social Justice, said that full-time employees who have experienced sexual harassment have a chain of reporting they can follow, and if the company they work for does not pursue some sort of action, they can sue the company itself.

Independent contractors have no such rights. “The only thing you can do is complain to the agency, but because of the fierce competition, if you become a ‘problem’ person, you’re more likely to not be hired and sent out on new jobs,” Ms. Cooper said. “It’s like fighting with one or both hands tied behind your back.”

Correction: September 5, 2017

An earlier version of this article misstated the age of the model Diandra Forrest. She is 27, not 28.


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