This week The Model Alliance published an open letter to the members of the Fashion Industry, putting forward a solution to provide safer work environments for fashion models who have long been subjected to sexual harassment, body shame and bullying on the job. The letter outlined The RESPECT Program, which has been designed by models and their allies to protect models and their colleagues from harassment. The plan is to go beyond the “half measures” that have been taken in the past, which were never really enforced to begin with and never really empowered the models themselves. The open letter was signed by me and 99 models in solidarity, to support the new program.
Sometimes,when I tell my story, or when I advocate for models, what I say isn't always well received. Looking through a non-model lens, I understand where the eye-rolling comes from, because fashion models live in the bodies that are in the advertisements that continuously oppress larger bodies, trans bodies, and pretty much all other bodies out there. I think this reaction comes from a place of misunderstanding, because it's easy to assume models are too hashtag blessed to be suffering. And if models are actually suffering or mistreated, there's a pitiful amount of empathy to go around, because they have been born with swanky genetics and unfathomable privilege anyway.
However, these sorts of thoughts have oppressed working fashion models for decades, and have formed a culture of mistreatment, abuse and bullying within the industry. In the fashion world, it is acceptable to exploit model bodies, shame model bodies, and abuse model bodies. Unfortunately, some people seem to forget there is an actual human being with a heart, a brain, feelings, opinions, and a personality, attached to that body! In the fashion industry and also in general, when people forget about other people's humanness in the work environment, it becomes a hell-hole. And this is what has happened in fashion.
I’ve been detached from the fashion industry since I quit modeling in 2010 to recover from an insidious eating disorder that was supported and nurtured by the fashion world. The eating disorder, the constant pressure to be photographed nude, the fake personalities, the lack of privacy and respect on set, the creepy photographers and the relentless body shaming burned me out pretty quickly. Like an electric fence, a few painful shocks from the industry taught me to stay far, far away.
Unfortunately, my involvement in the fashion industry launched me into years of anorexia and bulimia, forged by the pressures to lose weight and fit into sample sized clothing. Fat phobia and diet culture is so deeply woven into industry standards that even the slightest increase in my body size impacted my job stability and how I was treated at work by those in powerful positions.
As a new face I felt a constant fear of speaking up or asking for help due to the harsh reality that I’d immediately be replaced. It took years to unlearn my disordered food behaviors and the incorrect belief that my value- as a human- is related to my size or the number on the scale.
When I left the fashion industry, my eating disorder started to dissolve away like magic. While I take responsibility for my actions and my previous eating disorder, I cannot ignore how closely connected my eating disorder was to my involvement in the fashion industry. I know of other models who also fully recovered after leaving the industry behind.
Among other things, the RESPECT program will call for a workplace code of dignity and respect, education to models and staff on sexual harassment, eating disorders and substance abuse, and protect a model's right to speak up. It will hold companies, stakeholders and others in power accountable through the use of a binding agreement.
I am proud to support the RESPECT program as it protects models from vulnerable working conditions and it empowers models with education and the ability to speak up without retaliation.
Please read the open letter below.