A Model Dilemma

A model’s life may seem to consist of champagne and designer labels but there is a harsh reality to the seemingly glamorous job. A few weeks ago British Vogue became the first fashion publication to sign the Models Equity Committee’s code of conduct. The code outlines the terms and conditions of a models work environment and the expectations of how a model should be treated.

Typically there are no formal laws are governed by a Union to protect Models rights .Former model, Dunja Knezevic, initiated this movement to safeguard the working rights of models. Dunja was definitely impressed with the step British Vogue has taken as she hopes “other magazines and publishing houses, retailers and designers will also understand the importance of protecting models in the workplace,”. The 10 point code includes: the respectful treatment of models; reasonable hours and temperatures to work in; the approval nudity; privacy for models and (the best point) no models under 16 will represent older women.

And so a new path is being paved for a healthier fashion industry. In 2007 The CFDA implemented the Health Initiative. Last year 20 Vogue publications signed and pledged its allegiance to the implementation of the Health Initiative’s code. But t there is clearly reluctance when it comes to the promotion of the ‘healthier look’, as there is this ingrained notion of size zero beauty. The poster-girl of this notion, Kate Moss, has her words, “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” turned into a mantra amongst women who are hungry to be skinny.

Vogue publications stated that, “We will not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder. We will work with models who, in our view, are healthy and help to promote a healthy body image” as one of the many points to the initiative. I somehow feel this is too vague. I have reservations of how the industry will create a healthy benchmark for comparison.

Mark Fast is renowned for his provocative collections and use of small models particularly noted for his models used in 2011 at London A/W Fashion Week. In comparison, with his latest A/W collection at London Fashion Week, he hadn’t seemed to change the waifs he is known for. So will there be any repercussions towards those who don’t follow the Health Initiative and the Equity Committee code, besides not being featured in Vogue (which is an impact itself)?

And back home in South Africa? Due to our diversity of cultures and body types, one could say that as a whole our fashion industry is more accepting of the healthier sized models. But recently I have come to notice that the modeling industry is brutal, no matter where the models work.

In an interview (via Facebook) Jessica van Wyk (age 19) who has recently discovered the world of modeling and asked expressed how she is treated and how she feels being part of this alluring and yet fierce industry. This young model expressed that overall her experiences have been positive but clearly there are discrepancies compared to the new Equity Committee goals: her travelling costs aren’t covered and she has been subjected to low temperatures when modeling swimwear. Interestingly she points out that, “The international companies are much more hospitable”. She told me about an experience when a shoot went 5 hours over the scheduled time and all they provided her was a croissant!

The South African fashion industry serves as a good space to introduce these Codes of Conduct. Obviously we don’t have a South African Vogue to pioneer such a task, but surely other magazines could adhere to these guidelines. However the cynical view of an unchanging industry is at the back of my mind. After all the clothes make the model…..or do they?

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