Modeling: An Exposé Part II

By Anna Robertson

Frances Coombe has walked for Oscar de la Renta, Marc Jacobs, Kenneth Cole, and several other well-known fashion designers in her four years modeling, a career she began at just 16. Though still young at 20, Coombe had much to share about her experience in the industry when I interviewed her at a show we both happened to be in. Like many models I later talked to, Coombe was familiar with facing pressures in the industry.

“A couple years ago I was a bit heavier, and I was booking work, but it was more commercial,” Coombe said, explaining how maintaining a low weight had been a pressure early on for her. “Once I lost the weight I started doing more high fashion so it did help me, and I was encouraged positively, it wasn’t a negative thing.”

Being encouraged to lose weight is a fairly common experience as a model. In fact, it’s so commonplace that many models don’t consider it an extreme request. Rather, they accept it as a part of becoming successful in the industry.

“I’ve never actually gotten pressured to lose weight, but I actually lost weight just because I feel like it’s necessary,” Shelby Israel, a 21-year-old model from Florida, said as she waited for hair and makeup to begin at a show.

With that begin said, however, there is a misconception about the way models eat. Though some do shed pounds in order to fit into the extremely small clothing that designers favor, it is not obsessive enough to be classified as a psychological disorder that would warrant medical attention. In fact, one of the things I noticed most was that models more than anything complain about not getting to eat enough. I too experienced this when I would be given a schedule that simply didn’t make any time for a lunch break. After just a couple of cranky days of eating late lunches, I began packing one. Other models, however, would simply just wait, or not eat at all.

When asked about whether she’d ever been at a job where they didn’t provide food, Israel laughed and said, “Um, yes. Like right now?”

“I feel like [the fact that clients don’t always provide food] is unprofessional because we’re doing a job,” Israel said. “It’s like it’s not considered a real job, but we’re still working hard and we deserve food.”

One of the reasons the industry has been able to get away with this kind of disregard for its workers is that most of who it employs are young and inexperienced, often from other countries. Though these girls realize that they’re being treated differently than other workers in the entertainment industry, there is little they can accomplish when their voices get lost in the enormousness of the business.

“This year they have been quite strict on using girls under 18, which is good,” said model Jemma Baines, who has walked for everyone from Chanel to Marchesa. “But you know, as long as there are big [fashion] houses, they’re going to be using younger models because they don’t have to pay them a lot.”

Though supermodels like Kate Upton and Karlie Kloss make it appear that models are indeed compensated for their work, in reality, making money in the modeling world is not so easy. During fashion week especially, many designers choose to pay their models in “trade”, a less blunt way of saying that they’ll be paid not in money, but in clothing. However, most models want to survive off their income, and last time I checked clothes weren’t edible.

“You get paid when the client decides to pay you, which can be up to 90 days,” Israel said. “I feel like that’s really unfair. Something needs to be done about that because how are we supposed to making a survival off of our income if we’re not getting paid?”

After having a successful first fashion week, I couldn’t help but think about how my experience wasn’t the one some models had. Though most people I met were content in their roles in the industry, I met just enough who weren’t to know that something needs to be done. I’m so lucky to have had the opportunity to experience modeling with the support of my parents, and I hope to continue to be involved in it. Next time I visit, however, I hope to see change.