The Dark Side of Being Beautiful

Modelling appears to be all glitz and glamour, but the reality is something different all together. A number of models are shedding light on the horrifying treatment they receive from their agents…

Several models are bringing a lawsuit against their agencies seeking damages for wage theft, breach of contract and delayed payments, among others. This suit is a reboot of a lawsuit brought against agencies in 2012, which suffered due to legal technicalities.

The case began in 2012 when model Louisa Raske noticed her face on the cover of a L’Oreal hair dye which she had never been paid for. The image had been re-licensed without her knowledge, and upon discovering other models had similar stories, a lawsuit began.

Louisa Raske. Photo credit: Instagram @louraske

A lawyer for Click Model Management, one of the agencies named in the suit, has dismissed the claims, saying that it is just coming from jealous wannabe supermodels. More and more models, however, are revealing the truth behind the industry, and Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Peter Sherwood has directed the Attorney general to look into the claims.

This lawsuit isn’t the first to be brought against modelling agencies. In 2005, six models brought an anti-trust lawsuit against major agencies including Ford Models and Wilhelmina Model Agency. The agencies settled for over $20 million, and the result demanded there was to be more transparency when agents negotiated contracts with models.

This new lawsuit suggests that this is still not the case, and it aims to shed light on some of the ways models are being exploited. “There’s nothing beautiful about the way the modelling industry in New York City treats its models,” former J. Crew model Alex Shanklin said in the suit against the major agencies.

Ex-Vogue Australia Editor in Chief Kirstie Clements even wrote a tell-all book a few years ago called The Vogue Factor, where she ruffled a few feathers exposing the behind-the-scenes world of the mistreatment of models. Clements quotes an unnamed Russian model who told her over lunch that her roommate was a fit model (the body used by designers and around which the clothes are designed), “so she is in hospital on a drip a lot of the time.”

Here are some of the claims that the lawsuit is making and the ways in which models are being exploited:

Agencies withhold information about the models wages
The suit claims that agencies do not inform the models about how much the agencies will make from the models’ work. In the US, agencies can claim up to 20% of every dollar that the model earns. Without the models knowing how much these agents are taking, they can withhold money that should be going to the models.

Photo credit: Lady Clever

Models are misclassified as freelancers
Models sign contracts ensuring that the agencies have exclusive rights to the jobs their models undertake, which binds them to one agency. By classifying them as freelancers, the agencies can avoid providing them with benefits afforded full-time employees. Often, they are also expected to check in with their agencies on all aspects of their life, including diet, hair and weight. This doesn’t sound like freelance work to us!

Agencies will deduct expenses from models’ wages without providing proof
Model Vanessa Perron claims that her agency deducted huge amounts of money from her wages just to keep her photo on the website and was charged shipping costs for items not solely for her use. When asked for receipts of deductions, agencies would refuse to show these to the models.

Models are paid in clothing or accessories instead of money
This means models are working without knowing exactly how much they will be earning in return, and in some cases, the clothes and other items that were meant to be used in exchange for their work have never actually made it into the models’ hands.

Models are told to get plastic surgery
Agencies suggest models get plastic surgery to increase their chances of getting selected for jobs and either pay for it themselves, which then puts the models in debt to them, or they refer them to specific surgeons. Referrals often involve a commission for the agent, so the models are basically paying their agents for plastic surgery.

Rachel Blais claimed, “When I was 19 my agency asked me to have liposuction. That’s how they also get you into big debts. They pay for it but then you owe them. ”

Photo credit: Vita Khorzhevska/ ShutterStock

Models are denied food on shoots and told not to eat
Carré Otis, a former model, has come out and shed light on the brutal world of modelling in her memoir, Beauty Disrupted. In an interview she stated,

“I said I ate oatmeal for breakfast, chicken and veggies for lunch, and fish and salad for dinner, along with a healthy snack like yoghurt. But in reality, my big diet staple was four to six cups of black coffee per day, avoiding even a splash of skim milk since I was terrified of extra calories. And to stave off hunger, I went through a few packs of cigarettes daily.”

Agencies force girls to rent beds in cramped apartments at exorbitant rates
Many models are underage, freelancers without steady incomes, or expected to move or travel for jobs. This makes it difficult for the girls to rent an apartment of their own or be able to sign a lease for extended periods of time. Agencies take advantage of these circumstances and will put the girls up in apartments they own, where they often charge the models huge rates and cram up to ten of girls into two bedroom apartments.

“There would be eight to ten girls and they’d charge each person $1,200 to $1,500 per month. They might be paying $3,500 on the apartment if that. There would be one or two bedrooms and tons of bunk beds. They’re not glamorous, they don’t stay super clean.” Louisa Raske.

Photo credit: flickr? Magalie L’Abbe

Agents control models personal lives
Surely the models can pick their own boyfriends, right? Not according to Melissa Baker, who said her agency ordered that she leave her boyfriend and “replace him with an A-list celebrity or professional athlete.”

Melissa Barker. Photo credit: The Fashion Model Directory

So perhaps the industry isn’t quite as glamorous as we thought! The lawsuit is just the tip of the iceberg, and in an industry that is full of competition and made up of young girls and boys who may not be aware of their rights, it is more important than ever to have total transparency when negotiating contracts. Hopefully this most recent lawsuit will start a change for the better.