The dark side of modelling - Daily Nation
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Young girls are drawn in with promises of a successful career

Sunday September 10 2017

A model walks the runway at the Pamella Roland

A model walks the runway at the Pamella Roland Spring 2018 Collection during New York Fashion Week at Pier 59 on September 6, 2017 in New York City. PHOTO| AFP 

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If I had Sh100 for every time a pretty wisp of a girl approached to tell me they wanted to be a model, I would have used it to pay for season 25 of America’s Next Top Model.

The health of models is always nailed down to the one thing – the idea that they are too skinny. It spills over into sexploitation. Tales of Kenyan models naive and eager to break into the industry reach me frequently. Treated like chattels, there are stories describing exchanging of sex for opportunities.

Low self-esteem translates on location and runways, girls ill at ease in their bodies, unaware how to transition into the full bloom of womanhood, paying to get work, or willing to work for free. There are no standards in the modelling industry locally and not even globally.

Not until September 6 when two fashion conglomerates signed the Charter of Working Relationships with Fashion Models and Their Wellbeing. LVMH and Kering house iconic brands like Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Marc Jacobs and Givenchy. The

Charter bans the use of European size 32/US size 1 female and size 42UK male models, embracing sizes 34 and 44 respectively. It provides psychologists or therapists for models – keep in mind eating disorders and resulting deaths –, strict agreements on semi and full nudity, banning of alcohol on locations and instead supplying healthy food and drinks. Teenage bodies are expected to measure 30-22-32. Maintained only if you have gangly genes or never eat.

Models aged 16 to 18 will not work between 10 pm and 6 am. A chaperone must be provided for them, school cannot be neglected and they will be housed with their guardians/chaperones. The ideal is to phase out models under 18. A certified brand representative will be made available for the girls at all times.

Models can make direct complaints through said rep. There is a hotline should models feel pressured over their weight. A committee will also be set up to meet with designers, models and agencies every six months with the intention of checking up on the progress of the charter. It is expected to take effect immediately with the upcoming fashion week.

This Charter is inspired by years of reported abuse and mistreatment of models. Anyone who speaks out risks exile, never to work again as an unemployable troublemaker. But it was a story that could not be suppressed. Forbes addressed it in March. posts frank, candid conversations with models, some anonymously albeit verified. Sh*t Modeling Agency posts snarky memes reporting the appalling work conditions models have to deal with. Reported, everything from starvation, inhuman conditions – there were reports that more than 150 models were locked in a stairwell while their carers went out to lunch expecting them to walk the runway later in the afternoon, degrading treatment from casting directors, photographers and agencies, bullying, emotional and sexual abuse.


The world realised it was serious when a much-respected casting agent spoke out on his Instagram page in February calling out Balenciaga for Stairwell Gate, racism and the sneaking in of underage models into runways. The fashion house had to respond immediately, issuing an apology to the models and firing the agency involved. Daily Mail did an article in March about models who were forced to work to the point of fainting and continuously fat-shamed.

In May, last year, CNNMoney Investigation did a five-part expose, Runway Injustice. In it, exorbitant modelling agency fees and overdue pay checks are mentioned. Rape, drugs and porn are highlighted. Young girls are drawn in with promises of a successful career only to end up online in porn videos, some with no memory of it. Why would this happen in a place like New York, the supposed land of milk and honey? Because there is no regulatory body. Modelling sites and promoters use aliases.

You know those straight to TV Lifetime movies that make us wonder how desperate people must be to let themselves be talked into taking nudes and later getting blackmailed?

Too many true stories to count.

Luring aspiring models through social media, sometimes taking time to woo them, it is near-impossible to discern who is legitimate and who isn’t. There is no such thing as a registry where people with bad behaviour are blacklisted.
CNNMoney says in the US models pay agencies 20 per cent of their earnings. A Parisian-based model told Daily Mail her agency took 70 per cent of her earnings.

When I last dealt with a local modelling agency they charged Sh20,000, going half and half with Sh10,000 as commission and Sh10,000 as the model’s fee. Burnt models though prefer freelancing. Because we do not have a supermodel system in Kenya where brands are willing to pay for a very specific face.