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Fashion models organize to improve employment protections

South Florida has more than its share of beautiful people and beautiful locations for fashion photo shoots. For these and many other reasons, our state has a strong connection to the modeling industry.

But few people outside the industry realize that being a model is not nearly as glamorous as the finished product that we see in magazines. In fact, modeling is very often a cut-throat business where young women and men (including minors) are subjected to sexual harassment, wage law violations, unreasonable employer demands and a host of other employment-law-related issues.

Recently, a 29-year-old industry veteran named Sara Ziff decided she wanted to change things for the better. She started working as a model around age 14, and she is well aware of the abuses and pressures young models face.

That's why she is founding "The Model Alliance." It is not a model union, but rather a formalized call to action for improving the working conditions and treatment of models, especially those who are still minors.

Ziff and others are calling for or have instituted several specific changes, including an anonymous reporting system during New York Fashion Week where models can blow the whistle on inappropriate conduct from designers, photographers, etc.

A Models' Bill of Rights is also being drafted. Some provisions include:

  • The requirement of informed consent for all jobs that involve nudity
  • A request for agents and parents of school-age models to work together to draft an education plan that can be implemented on the job
  • A call for honesty from booking agents to accurately report the ages of the models they represent
  • A call for photographer-prohibited changing areas for models at fashion shows

The general public thinks of modeling as glitzy and glamorous, but there is a dark side to this industry. Sara Ziff emphasizes this message, saying, "Modeling is precarious freelance labor. We have very little job security. It's also a winner-takes-all market . . . Basically, it's a labor force of children who are working in a very grown-up business."

Therefore, we need to implement workplace standards that protect the rights of these young women and men.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, "Fashion models organize to fend off abuses," Leanne Italie, Feb. 8, 2012

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