From the outside, modelling looks glamorous and fun – beautiful people in beautiful places wearing beautiful clothes – what could be better? I have been modelling for 13 years and don’t regret a single minute.
But the glamour is only part of the story. There is a hidden world in which models are not treated with respect and not treated as deserving of proper working conditions and consideration. It is to change that part of the modelling world that I got involved with my trade union Equity and it is to help models take greater control of their working lives that I am speaking at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) conference on Tuesday.
So what am I talking about? What can turn a model’s working life from glamour to something closer to a nightmare?
Two years ago I was on an outdoor shoot in the UK during the autumn, modelling clothes for next year’s summer season.
As the day went on I got colder and colder, but strangely after eight hours I started to feel fine. I learnt afterwards that, as oxygen drains from the head, this sense of calm is one of the early signs of hypothermia. After nine hours I lost consciousness. Hypothermia is serious and at the most extreme it can kill, but not only were there no thermal blankets to keep me warm when I was not being photographed, after coming round I was not taken to hospital but put in a taxi and sent home. I was ill for a week and docked pay because I could not do the second day of shooting.
I am not saying I was intentionally put in harm’s way, it is simply that I was not seen as a worker deserving of the normal amounts of care and respect.
Privacy is also important. Models have to change clothes rapidly at both catwalk shows and photoshoots. Too often the changing areas are semi-public – almost anybody can walk in. The attitude seems to be “they’re models – they are used to it and don’t mind,” but I do mind – it is my body and I want the right to chose who sees me semi-clothed or naked.
Then there is the seedier side of modelling – models being taken to a shoot, usually oversees, and then expected to escort rich men to restaurants and casinos at night. The acceptance in some parts of the industry that this is normal is wrong and puts models at risk.
So what do we want to happen? Through Equity models have developed a code of conduct setting down basic standards of decency. We are calling on all major high-street clothes chains to sign up so that the models they employ to show off their clothes can be protected.
The code covers working hours and breaks, provision of meals, travel and transport, respect and dignity, change of appearance, nudity and semi-nudity, changing areas and bathroom facilities, temperature, insurance, prompt payment and use of models under 16 years of age. If the code is supported, the first-time models will get a guarantee of decent treatment.
Since Equity started representing models, things have got better. For example, in the past couple of years I have almost always had proper access to food while working. This is a new and very welcome development.
Equity is working closely with the British Fashion Council and the Association of Model Agencies, and at last the fashion industry has started to take notice.