Young girls are easily swayed by the allure of swanky entertainment jobs. It’s regarded as fun and lavish work, and promoted as an easy way to make large sums of money for simply being photogenic.
It’s no secret that regulations for underage models in the industry are lacking, if not entirely nonexistent. It was just last year that Vogue lay down some new ground rules for its models in an attempt to create a healthier atmosphere without extorting underweight teens. Unlike other young entertainers, young models don’t enjoy the same basic privileges with education and labor laws. Shady business practices often take advantage of the unsuspecting youths’ eagerness to succeed, resulting in overworked, underpaid, and under-educated boys and girls with little legal assistance or adult guidance.
The Model Alliance has been actively working toward a solution to this problem. The group helped to draft bill A7787-2013, which passed almost unanimously in New York. And why not? The bill will allow young models the same legal protection granted to all workers in the state. Soon, modelling jobs will be uniformly regulated by the Department of Labor. Some notable guidelines set by the bill enforce stricter curfews and higher education standards. Until the age 18, models will only be allowed to work eight hours per day during school hours, and only with the school’s permission. For every day of school missed, they need three hours of tutoring on site. Models under 16 must have be chaperoned and have to be home before midnight.
So what’s the big deal? And what exactly is this bill going to do?
Lisa Davis, a model from the age of 16, told Model Alliance, “These young girls are placed into scenarios with predatory types of people and are made to work for very long hours without somebody asking if they need water or food or if they need to take a break. And there’s nowhere to go to report any of these injustices – and sometimes actually illegal things – that are happening.”
We tend to equate the entertainment industry to being glamorous and luxurious, so it’s no surprise that people who have never been on the set of a creative project might imagine it as a fun gig with plenty of action behind the scenes. Who wouldn’t like to get paid to look pretty in front of a camera? It’s like playing the grown-up version of dress-up, right?
The reality is often different. Models might sit in hair and makeup for hours only to stand in front of a camera for several more. Runway shows are no less stressful; if you’ve ever watched America’s Next Top Model, you’ve seen girls frantically running around half-naked trying to squeeze into a new elaborate costume so they can continue looping the catwalk without a hitch. It’s not entirely unheard of for shooting to last all day and for models to walk away with a lot less than you’d imagine. Not to mention agency fees and everything else that goes into maintaining a photo-worthy physique. The work is physically and emotionally taxing. With such high-demand work, models are often pulled from school to pursue their careers.
If these regulations provide a safe environment for aspiring models to thrive, it has the potential to influence some long-standing cultural issues as well.
Belinda Luscombe, editor-at-large at TIME, speculates that this bill could be the catalyst for changing our culture’s body image issues. Unscrupulous companies won’t be able to turn to the underage market for cheap labor; they’ll be forced to provide basic amenities and look after their well-being. If they’re unwilling to pony up for the additional expenses — which in most cases will be too expensive and the demands a little unreasonable for the level of work — they’ll be forced to pick older models, ones who have transitioned from lanky, androgynous teen and blossomed into womanhood with curves. Luscombe writes:
“If the industry is nudged toward using older models, who have developed hips and breasts, it may move the needle on the impossible body ideal that has reigned on the runway and in the magazines these long years.”
But even if our standards remain unaffected, it’s about time young women in the industry get the assistance they deserve.