I was a teen model. This statement does not generally inspire compassion. It's a thought that one attaches to lucky breaks and glamorous lifestyles. No one associates being a young fashion model with trauma.
At age 14, I left home for Japan, Italy, France, Mexico, New York. The modeling agency promised my parents chaperones and supervision. But the reality was foreign languages I couldn't understand, career decisions without proper guidance, and inappropriate sexual situations. Surrounded by adults, I was put in environments no 14-year-old is prepared to handle. I worked long hours, many times late into the night, once being made to stand in a pool of freezing water until I literally turned blue.
Eventually, my naturally outgoing personality changed. I became withdrawn and startled easily. It became hard for me to travel new routes or to eat at new restaurants or even shop at the corner store. I became so timid, I no longer spoke.
It took me 20 years to understand the symptoms I was experiencing. What I called, "disappearing into my model suit," was in fact post-traumatic stress disorder.
My experience was in the early nineties, yet it's shocking how little fashion has changed. The global clothing and textiles industry now generates upwards of 2.5 trillion dollars a year. It remains largely unregulated. 54 percent of models begin working on or before the age of 16. Agencies start recruiting at age 13. Many of the pictures in your favorite fashion magazines are little girls dressed up to look like women.
Provocation is the language of fashion, and with trillions of dollars of revenue, why should the industry change? Because children are being harmed.
We are pushing back. A trailblazing New York state law has just been passed, granting child models the same protection as other child workers. Protections now include school night curfews and on the set hour limits, but we want to see a federal law requiring chaperones, tutors, and mandatory financial trusts, protecting children across all 50 states. We hope to create a union specifically for fashion models.
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These children need advocates because we can't trust the for-profit companies to do what's best for them. It is up to us to make the changes we want to see. Please join me in helping stem the tide of this ongoing abuse.