As people in fashion are wont to say, no matter how much we diet we’ll never be models, because models are simply born that way. What they don’t like to mention quite as readily is that thanks to the insane standards of runway shows, the genetically skinny are still starving themselves to get even thinner. In an essay for Vice, former model Meredith Hattam details her nightmarish stint as an aspiring model.
At 19, the five foot, nine inch-tall Hattam signed with an agency in San Diego and was promptly told to lose 15 pounds. After two weeks on a starvation diet—800 calories per day, plus a two-hour workout—Hattam weighed 115 pounds. She was “miserable and frail” but her agency was pleased and sent her to New York City to pursue fame and fortune. Like most would-be models who move here, she never got a big break. (To give you a sense of the competition, out of 300 to 400 women who came to the casting for the Fall 2014 BCBG and Hervé Legér runway shows, less than 40 were chosen.)
Hattam subsisted for a few years on the money she made doing prom catalogs and book covers, and then returned home defeated. Only with the help of a therapist did she eventually get over the mental toll that years of an eating disorder and a punishing work environment had taken on her sense of herself.
One reason agents and designers can treat models pretty much however they want is that the modeling industry is almost completely unregulated. Models have no union to establish guidelines about a healthy work environment and they don’t get health insurance or other benefits typically afforded to employees because they’re considered independent contractors. However, unlike, say, freelance writers, models can only get work through an agency, which gives agencies absolute power, and models absolutely none. “You’re a freelancer who can’t actually freelance,” says Hattam.
But why should models—many of them vulnerable young people—be so completely unprotected? This is the question that led model and filmmaker Sara Ziff to found the Model Alliance, where Hattam now works. This organization aims to bring basic protections to the young men and women who carry the fashion industry on their tiny backs. They’ve only been around for a little over a year, but the Alliance has already made some big changes. Their main achievement has been the passage of a New York law that gives models under the age of 18 the same protections as child actors and dancers. This fashion week is the first time this law is in effect. Being a model is a job, and it shouldn’t be treated like a gift just because it looks from the outside like a fantasy.
Do you want a shot at going backstage at a fashion show? Enter the Allure Beauty Blogger Awards now! One winner will get to come to New York City and go backstage (past winners went to Oscar de la Renta and J.Mendel), and more. You have until 11:59 PM ET on February 25, 2014 to enter. Don’t miss your chance!
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