Groundbreaking Legislation Is Set To Protect The Rights Of Underage Models

runway models

It’s been a long time coming and it took the efforts of a tireless crusader to make it happen. Just this week, the state of New York passed legislation that recognizes models as child performers, affording them the same protections actors, dancers, and musicians under the age of 18 have had for ages. New York City is the fashion capital of the world so it is only fitting that it starts at the hub, with voters using their conscience to unanimously agree that this is something that is necessary!

Proposed by Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein and State Senate Labor Committee Chairwoman Diane Savino, the law adds “print and runway models” to the list of child performers protected by strict Department of Labor regulations. Under these laws, designers who hire print and runway models under the age of 18 will now have to put a portion of the model’s earnings into a trust, and hire chaperones and tutors for the girls on set.

It was all helped by Sara Ziff, a former model who also heads up the Model Alliance, an as-yet non-union organization which seeks to protect the rights of underage models and improve conditions across the board in the fashion industry. One of the alliance members includes supermodel Coco Rocha who was also at the ground-breaking bill-signing this week in New York.

“I could not be happier,” she said. “If the Model Alliance never achieves anything else, this was monumental.”

“I will never forget being 15 years old, alone on a set as a photographer tried to harass, heckle and even threaten me into taking a semi-nude photo,” said Rocha in an event to introduce the new bill at New York City’s Lincoln Center (where a lot of fashion shows are held).  “I recall with sickening clarity the first time I was told (in no uncertain terms) to lose weight that I definitely couldn’t afford to lose because, as this person said, ‘the look this year is anorexia.’ ”

Sara has been working tirelessly the past few years to bring recognition to lawmakers and the media about the awful conditions young models are subjected to all in the name of fashion. As a model who started young herself, she knows there are people who take advantage of the fact some young girls (and guys) will believe anything and DO anything just to book a job and get on the good side of a photographer or art director.

“There is tremendous pressure on girls who are still in high school,” said Sara Ziff, “I know firsthand how models can be pressured to forgo their education and sometimes are put on the spot to take photos that may be age inappropriate.”

Sara Ziff & Coco Rocha

Kate Moss famously spoke out about how she was treated as a young model in the early days of her career, saying she was taken advantage of. It’s fantastic that someone as well-known as her decided to speak up as it means people become aware this is happening behind closed doors and something needs to be done about it. Just because it is for the fashion industry, doesn’t make it any less illegal to be exploited for the sake of a career!

The new legislation has captured the attention of other supermodels who also started out young, such as Tyra Banks who tweeted this when she heard about it being passed:

Tyra Banks tweet

The bill means more paperwork for fashion houses wanting to hire young models. They’ll now have to apply for a certificate to work with print or runway models younger than 18 and keep careful records of all minors they work with should the Department of Labor check in to make sure they’re following the rules. They won’t be able to hire underage models last minute for shows or shoots, as the new law will force them to prepare days in advance to clear the minor for work. This will possibly force the industry to use models age 18 and older, and that’s ok. Because young girls and boys should be allowed that time to grow up, get an education, become smarter about the world and develop healthy bodies.

Among other things, this means models under the age of 18 would only be allowed to work eight hours a day during school hours, for no more than two days in a row and then only with school permission. The girls would also need on-site tutors since they are obliged to get at least three hours of instruction for every day they miss school. If they’re under 16, there has to be a chaperone. They’d have to be home before midnight and, they’d need to get 12 hours of rest between work days.

“This is the day that modeling moved from being a girls’ profession to a women’s profession,” said Susan Scafidi, the academic director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University. “There is no doubt models who have started at 14 have gone on to great careers, but it’s just too young to be subjected to this industry. I really feel like the easy solution is going to be, fine, bring me an 18-year-old,” Ms. Scafidi said. “It is true that the aesthetic is going to change a lot.”

Time magazine is predicting this new law will possibly do a great service in the way of promoting more healthy body image ideals for women everywhere.

“If the industry is nudged towards 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.”

Just like the film and TV industry have strict laws for underage performers, the same rights will now be afforded for models. Let’s hope the rest of the United States and the greater fashion community around the world will follow suit and recognize the need to protect minors from being exploited.

“People have a hard time seeing modeling as a job,” Sara Ziff says. “It may not be the most important job in the world, but these people have rights too.”

New model Law

What do you think about this new bill being passed into legislation? Is it a long time coming or will the fashion industry just find more clever ways to exploit underage models?

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