The Dark Truth Behind the Modeling Industry

The current state of the modeling industry causes negative effects on both the models it employs, as they face sexual assault and mental health issues,...

Reading Time: 4 minutes

When the word “model” comes to mind, many may think of the beautiful faces in magazines, on television, and even on social media. Most do not think of the daily struggles and harassment that the people to whom those faces belong experience. The public only sees an image of perfection—an ideal face or body depicted in the media. They do not see the pain that goes on behind the scenes, a pain that results from constant pressure on models to live up to this ideal of perfection. When people see an image of a model, a common thought is “I wish I looked like that” or “I wish I could be them.”

If they only knew the hardships that these people have to face; the modeling industry is plagued with secrets and scandals that need to be brought to light in order for models to receive better treatment.

One of the main issues in the modeling industry is sexual assault. Because models are independent contractors, agents and other staff often think that workplace laws don’t apply to them. As a result, around 30 percent of models report experiencing inappropriate touching on the job, 60 percent cite a lack of privacy while changing clothes, and 28 percent have been pressured to have sex with someone at work, according to statistics from the Model Alliance. Besides sexual assault, the Model Alliance also describes major health issues that models face because of their jobs. 31 percent of models have had eating disorders; 68 percent suffer from anxiety, depression, or both; and 76 percent have been exposed to drugs for recreational purposes. These statistics are likely caused by the extreme pressure models face to look a certain way and the stress that they face from the standards that this industry holds them to. If you think that’s horrible, the Model Alliance also says that 93 percent of models start working before the age of 21, with 55 percent starting work at ages 13-16. The people developing these severe health issues and confronting assault are children and teenagers. From a young age, these people have to deal with a variety of struggles that a person of this age should not have to face, some of these struggles staying with them for the rest of their lives.

Poor conditions and harassment are rampant inside the modeling industry; yet there is another issue that affects both those inside and outside of the industry. The modeling industry lacks a crucial component: diversity in race, body type, height, gender, and many more demographic groups. When people are constantly bombarded with the idea that perfection and beauty is a thin, tall white girl, their self-esteem and self-image can be severely affected. This ideal is unachievable for most, leading to the majority of people feeling excluded and not represented. When the only people being represented in advertising fit such a narrow cliché, others may go out of their way to fit it. And people trying to change their appearance to look like the standard of beauty represented in the media can lead to them developing eating disorders and other detrimental behavior. In fact, according to an analysis of a collection of different studies on the media, children, and eating disorders, “exposure to unrealistic and often unhealthy body images can influence young people’s perceptions of their own body shape and size as well as their own sense of body satisfaction. The effect of the media may also extend to the development of specific, and possibly harmful, weight losing behaviours.”

Though recent efforts have been made to diversify the modeling industry, there is still a long way to go. Recently, modeling companies have been more open to hiring models of different races and sizes. For example, companies like Lorde Inc. and JAG Models have been advocates for this movement and they themselves hire models of all different backgrounds. Even so, there is still so much more that needs to be done in terms of making the industry completely open and accepting of all different people. This would make many more people feel included and that they are beautiful too; when people see traits of themselves being represented as beautiful, they too feel beautiful.

It is quite clear that the modeling industry needs reform. But how do we make these changes? A start would be to make the minimum age for modeling 18. This would prevent a lot of young people from experiencing the hardships of the industry. In addition, it is up to us as the public to urge these companies to enact stricter regulations on preventing sexual assault and ensure that models have a voice when it comes to harrassment and mental health. We need to encourage models who have faced assault to speak out about their experiences, and having companies be more open to listening to models about these issues would help. Companies need to strive toward increasing their inclusivity and diversity. Now, of course, we cannot force companies to hire more diverse models, but we can still push for these reforms to be made and encourage these companies to do so; for instance, we can make sure to buy more from companies that adopted more diverse hiring practices. If these changes were implemented, not only would the models in the industry thrive, but all those affected by the media models appear in would be happier too.