It's New York Fashion Week right now, which seems like a fitting time to be reminded that as much as we love fashion, clothes, and all things designer, the fahion industry still promotes rather unrealistic images of women. Case in point: Model Madeline Hill, who was considered "plus size" at size 6.
Hill chronicles being told she's too big to model in fashion week in an essay for Fashionista, recalling how at age 19, she was told her 135 pound form was too bulky. Instead, designers wanted her to slim down to her 120 pound size—the weight she'd been when she was just 16 years-old.
"At 17, I’d gone from practically starving myself—essentially trying to prevent my body from developing into adulthood – to being called the modeling industry’s version of “fat” in a matter of months," she writes. Hill thankfully understood that what her modeling agency wanted wasn't a super-thin adult woman's body, but actually a pre-pubescent body, the body of a girl. A body she no longer had and could never have again. it made it easier to turn away from the pressure to drop the weight. But a lot of other models aren't so lucky. They spend years fighting their body's natural desire for curves, developing eating disorders, starving themselves or subjecting themselves to extreme exercise regimens to maintain an unrealistic shape.
Meredith Hattam also modeled and was told to lose weight or lose her contract. As she explains it, the lack of industry regulation is part of what allows girls to continue to be exploited. "There is no regulatory body for agencies because models are independent contractors, yet they are booked for jobs exclusively by an agency who takes commission. Basically, you’re a freelancer who can’t actually freelance. Not to mention, models are usually insurance-less, making mental health resources hard to come by. Models can’t even sue employers for sexual harassment, because they are not technically employees," she wrote in a recent piece for Vice. "This environment breeds a sense of instability perpetuated by agencies who act as employers but refuse to take responsibility for basic labor rights, such as timely payment, health insurance, and protection from sexually abusive clients."
There is one bright spot: In 2012, the Model Alliance was founded to help lobby on behalf of models and protect the rights of young women and girls who are modeling. In 2013, they were able to help pass legislation to protect child models.
Madeline Hill believes the alliance will help prevent other girls from experiencing a fate similar to hers. "Sometimes it is hard to defy agencies in fear that they will drop you, but girls need to realize that they have rights too," she says. "If you don't feel comfortable, say something. If an agent is pressuring you to lose weight, they are not looking out for your best interests."