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Behind the Runway: Modeling Might Not Be As Pretty As You Think

1:16 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sheila Bapat for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

In 1990, supermodel Linda Evangelista famously said that she wouldn’t “wake up for less than $10,000 a day.” Her words have since been used to mock her mercilessly, and continue to influence public perception about what the lives of models are like: overpaid, overindulged, privileged product pushers. When New York Fashion Week took place earlier this month, with models sashaying in clothes too expensive for most people to buy, it was hard not to see past this perception.

So, it’s even harder for some of us to view models as “workers” in the way labor rights advocates understand the term, and complaints from models about, well, anything, may seem insufferable. How can someone whose physical appearance is validated by the culture and the mainstream economy possibly have it rough?

But Evangelista is far from representative of all models. This is a point The Model Alliance, a 501(c)3 nonprofit advocating for improving working standards for models, is trying to make clear. Like many sectors, we tend to see and hear about the most successful, elite few; the proverbial “one percent,” as Sara Ziff, a model of 15 years and founder of the Model Alliance points out. (She is also a graduate of Columbia University and a community organizer.)

Ziff educates both labor rights activists and the fashion industry about why working conditions for models need to improve. “Modeling seems like a privileged profession, so the general public attitude is not at all sympathetic [to organizing efforts],” she told RH Reality Check. “Most people have a hard time even understanding that it’s work.”

Since models are generally independent contractors, they are not covered by major labor laws and their organizing efforts aren’t necessarily protected. Ziff says many members of the Model Alliance join anonymously, so that their chances of getting work aren’t hindered.

Unlike actors, who can join the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) once they have fulfilled a certain amount of acting work, there is no union for models that offers health insurance and basic protections.

Yet working conditions indicate a need to organize. Even though modeling is one of the few sectors in which women out-earn men, the majority of women and girls in New York City trying to work as models are having a tough time making a buck. Between paying their agencies upwards of 20 percent of all their earnings, covering the costs of their lodging and transportation, and to pay their own rent, many models spend time working off debts they owe to their agencies.

And debt is hard to pay back when you’re not getting paid at all: often designers will pay models with clothes or other products instead of with a paycheck, something Marc Jacobs was criticized for last year. (He has since changed this practice.)  In 2011, the average model salary was $33,000 per year. One activist at the Model Alliance points out that earnings can be skewed, with some earning up to $400,000 per year and others steeped in debt to their agency. Like many other workers, it is rare for models to be paid overtime, no matter how late into the night a shoot may last, or to have employer-sponsored health insurance.

Peeling back the layers of many industries reveals a consistent truth: industry bosses earn high dollars on the backs of cheap, unprotected labor. But fair pay is far from the only workers’ rights issue models face. Ziff’s group is focused on moving the fashion industry in a number of different directions, including ending sexual harassment and assault, which some contend is widely under-reported by models fearful of losing work, and changing basic standards of beauty, which she feels have too long promoted unrealistic and unhealthy weight for women and girls.

Ziff is also focused on improving protections for minors working as models: “You see 14- or 15-year-old girls coming to New York to model, and these kids are not thinking about their rights,” Ziff said. “They might even feel lucky to have a picture in a magazine and not ask if they’re getting paid.”

So where are the “momagers” who can attend shoots to protect their kids? “Probably working themselves,” Ziff points out. “Most parents can’t afford to devote their lives to their kids’ careers.”

The Model Alliance has garnered some supporters from within the industry and secured partnerships with Fordham Law School and the Fashion Law Institute; it now plans to focus harder on payment-in-trade practices and on changing a host of other working conditions. “I don’t want to paint the career in a bad light,” Ziff says. “Modeling can be wonderful work. But hearing other models stories’ has made clear that bad experiences in the business — lack of financial security, sexual harassment — are systemic and need to change.”

The Brutal Lust of the “Jigaboo” Fantasy “Mammyfied” Through Fashion

7:03 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check


Written by Jasmine Burnett for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Cross-posted with permission from

It is my hope that at least, every Black woman who sees these “Mammy” earrings is going to say they are racist without a second thought or question in their mind. I say that because, the fact that there have been “polls” to prove how racist it is, further indicates that “Post Racial” is only real in the definition of the word, not in the lives and conditions of Black women and girls. I have no patience to tell you why this among many other structural and institutional things that society profits from is racist, nor, will I ever become immune to society’s constant disrespect of Black women and girls. What should have happened as those designs were being sketched was a simple consideration, who is harmed by this luxury product created for profit? Of course, its Black women and girls and our dignity but again, no one asked us what we thought or how we felt.

I imagine what bores black people about the racism of well-meaning white people is watching them struggle with this shroud and entangle themselves in it and blow at it and touch it and ignore it and disown it, all the while remaining rapt in the drama, the spectacle of our own anxiety, at the expense of the encounter itself.

Naomi Wolf, “The Racism of Well-Meaning White People”

Yet, I’m clear that society still only sees us in one way, those fantasies that percolates in its DNA: Hottentot, Jigaboo, Mammy, Sapphire and I could name more. How do I know this? Because I and millions of other Black women walk in the legacy of that experience every day. Due to the lessons taught by my ancestors and our collective lived experience, I am hyper-aware of what that means and represents in every setting and interaction. But, I also understand that society must be taught to acknowledge and respect the level of empowerment I embody — for that acknowledgement is certainly not something Black women and girls can simply expect from a society that has evolved little, despite what we’ve been told.

Let’s just demand what we desire and require to live healthy lives. Let’s stop expecting too much only to receive the same minimum amount from this stagnant society. Let’s stop being disappointed about something that we know this society is acutely familiar with, the ability to package our identities for its sick and barbaric consumption. When you know the idea of the thing you’re far more clear about how to handle it. Within that, we can’t expect much from an industry where many Black women still do not reflect, nor are represented our self defined standards of beauty.

Let’s stop being surprised by the ignorance of this country and challenge ourselves to be proactive about our images. The exploitation will continue if we don’t provide an alternative. I personally plan to make Dolce & Gabbana an example of the ongoing racial ignorance in society and a non factor to how I work to strengthen and empower Black women and girls.