Kering, which owns brands including Gucci, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen, has pledged to stop using models under the age of 18. Model Marin Daley-Hawkins writes about why she thinks that’s a step in the right direction for the fashion industry.
“Have you ever thought about modelling?”
I was just 11 when I was first asked this. Not by a school friend or a relative with an eye - but by a complete stranger on a London high street.
Sure, I was already 5ft 8in and something of a beanpole (the must-have criteria for most professional modelling agencies), but I was a child in primary school at the time.
I soon learned that scouts deliberately hung around in places where young girls (and guys, but there are far more female models than male) would be: outside Topshop on a Saturday afternoon, in local shopping centres during half term, at music festivals in the summer or events like The Clothes Show Live, where fashion loving youngsters would flock.
At 14, I cried when my mother wouldn’t let me sign with one of the bigger agencies that had approached me, and I was 17 before I signed my first contract. But even as confident older teen, born and bred in London, with English as my first language, it was new and treacherous territory.
It wasn’t long before I was being told I “needed” to lose weight for fashion week, or had test shoots (unpaid portfolio-building shoots) at photographers’ houses, often alone.
It’s also worth noting that whilst most professions that involve working directly with children require background checks, this is not the case with photographers, stylists, makeup artists or agents.
Aside from anything that could be legitimately dangerous (my BMI was already in the underweight range, and a well-known photographer who I’d previously been alone with was later convicted on attempted sexual assault charges, although thankfully I was not a victim), the modelling industry is generally immensely stressful, and not something anyone who isn’t yet fully developed psychologically or physically should be chucked into at the deep end.
From knowing how to decline to shoot swimwear or lingerie if you don’t feel comfortable or rightly demanding a private changing area, to how to go about leaving set if the client is trying to make you do unpaid overtime or what action to take if a company is late paying — there aren’t really skills you’re born with or taught at school, making young models especially vulnerable to being taken advantage of.
Agents and clients are in a position of power and if you don’t comply, you don’t get bookings, meaning you’re not only without an income, but are left feeling like you just aren’t good enough: pressure that even most adults would struggle to deal with. Add to that the insecurities which come with constantly having the way you look evaluated, and it’s a recipe for a bad self image if not more serious mental health issues.
When news broke this week of Kering’s decision to stop using under 18s from 2020, I saw it as nothing but good news - I’m all for positive steps in the right direction. The real test, however, will be how this is enforced.
Almost every model I know has put down a fake age on a form at a casting at some point in their career — either pretending to be younger for a high fashion job or older for a skincare brief. Even if the girls themselves aren’t complicit, it would not surprise me if agents fudged the numbers slightly — after all, opening a show like Saint Laurent or Gucci could make a model’s career and mean a huge income for both her and the agency.
Hopefully Kering takes more of an official route — requiring ID before confirming any bookings — and more brands follow suit.
Currently, most model agencies look to put girls into development (where they build up a book and do odd jobs and go-sees on their school holidays) from as young as 13, partly for experience, partly so that other competing agencies can’t sign someone who is potentially the next big new face. Whilst they won’t really ever start working full time until they’re 16, that’s still extremely young. Although everyone is different, I think as an adult with a bit more life experience you are likely better equipped to deal with what the industry throws your way.
The less demand there is for young models, the less need there will be from agents to sign girls at such an early age. That means models will have far more time to get started in the industry if it’s something they do want to pursue, hopefully after much more research having gone into the decision than they’ve had been able to do if an agreement and promises of potential success were waved in front of them as a minor.
I’m well into my 20s now, and would probably have enough for a short novel if I were to note down all of the situations I’ve had to navigate my way out of — ranging from the slightly awkward to downright out-of-order. But I’ve had many positive experiences too, and modelling has brought fantastic opportunities my way and despite its difficulties is still something I’d recommend to those considering it — as long as they’re given the correct guidance.
Modelling can be a great career, let’s just stop hiring kids to do adults’ jobs.
Image: Peter Pedonomu for FeelUnique