Photographer: Milly-Anne Kellner
It reminds me of comparable stories about the world of rock and roll - the sex, the drugs, the rampant exploitation of un-savvy musicians.
I have no experience of the rock scene, apart from being a fan of a few bands who occasionally goes to their gigs - more rarely, however, as gigs have become an extremely commercial enterprise, see the palaver about Glastonbury 2013 where the only band I would care to see this year is The Rolling Stones, but am not willing to fork out hundreds of pounds for the privilege. Therefore I will refrain here from commenting further on drugs, sex and rock and roll.
I do not have much experience of high end fashion modelling either, apart from a foray into fashion films, so maybe I am not quite qualified to comment. I can't help thinking that yes, exploitation does go on, but there are many good agencies and many perfectly sane models. Sure, a great number of fashion models are very skinny, naturally so, and very young, thus a bit naive - many adolescent girls are extremely thin, like bean poles, and metamorphose into curvy women as they grow up. They are not necessarily all anorexic. And yes, as they are young, they need to be advised and protected.
Photographer: Milly-Anne Kellner
What bugs me is this idea that models are not real women, because they are, albeit adolescent women, and full blown women when they get past their teens. The obverse of this is the belief that if you look like a real woman you are not a real model. I can assure you that there are many models who look very much like ordinary women. And who is an ordinary woman, anyway? How do you define that 'ordinariness'?
This misconception is all to do with the "Dove campaign syndrome", as I call it, a misinterpretation of the Dove campaign - I have talked about it in earlier posts. When Dove launched their Pro-age range they searched for women who had not modelled for a campaign before and were not represented by a model agency. There were stringent criteria for the casting, however, and being photogenic and comfortable in front of the camera were among those criteria - these are, after all, a modelling pre-requisite. The other criteria were a range of sizes, of heights, and ages of 30 upwards.The product was aimed at an older section of the market, why would teenagers want to use a pro-age cream?
Photographer: David J. Green (from The Guardian)
This was very commendable, as it stimulated wider discussion about the need for greater diversity in the modelling industry. Organisations such as AllWalksBeyondTheCatwalk and Models of Diversity have embraced this idea and have been campaigning for it, sustainedly, over the past six or seven years.
However, this is not to say that the models that MoD and AllWalks champion are not real models. They are women who represent the diversity of our society. But the models are still disciplined professionals. It is disrespectful to them to say that they are not real models, just as it is somewhat disrespectful to say that models are not real women- or men, for that matter.
As for modelling not preparing you for anything, as Rodriguez maintains in her book, well, that is questionable. As a model you learn many skills, which are transferable. Modelling should be seen as a profession not as a quick ticket to celebrity status. In my view this is an important shift that needs to take place and I am grateful to Equity, the union for professional performers, for having a models network, precisely to make this point.
(All photos modelled by Alex B)