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Why Fashion Models Need to Lawyer Up

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You may think of fashion modeling as a dazzling and enviable career. Models appear to enjoy a glamorous lifestyle. Awash in the chicest clothing and rubbing shoulders with the fashion world’s elite, they sashay down the runways of European capitals in those risqué high heels and that gorgeous white dress under that stunning trench coat, all designed by the biggest names in haute couture. Coiffed and powdered and stoic, they can even seem beyond mere mortals. Yet just like most regular folk, they suffer for their work, physically, financially and emotionally.

This has come to light in recent lawsuits brought against top agencies, aside from deceptive financial practices, models claimed they were forced to undergo surgery, endure humiliating weekly weigh-ins, and were even required to dump their romantic partners in favor of more high-profile lovers. This is not to mention freezing cold shoot conditions and day-long jobs where no food is provided or simply available.

We focus here on two aspects of the fashion-model gauntlet endured by aspiring models: runway injuries, because they are overlooked and not taken seriously, and eating disorders, which are the most frequent and significant problem.

Falls on the runway appear amusing. It’s easy to find posts with a collection of the worst wipeouts, and it’s easy to chuckle. But if Naomi Campbell can take a tumble, as she famously did in 1993, any model can. And it can be serious, as it was for Lindsey Wixson, who quit in 2017 due to injuries from some of her four recorded falls since 2012. In 2015 she sprained her ankle at the Jean Paul Gaultier show in Paris and in her Instagram post blamed the costumed bee-keeper headgear, which obscured her vision. But women’s shoes that have always been more about lengthening looks and style than function and comfort. Not only can injuries from falls end a career, but it’s a well-known secret in the fashion industry that models who fall get fired. While this may seem frivolous or the cost that comes with being a model, consider that it is indicative of the suffering for fashion that women throughout history have had to endure.

Eating Disorders

The enormous pressure to perform and remain at a particular weight means that fashion models are at high risk of being underweight. A recent study conducted by researchers at Harvard and Northeastern Universities found that more than 80 percent of the models they surveyed had a dangerously underweight body mass index. Many of them had also developed eating disorders in an attempt to stay competitive. Being so underweight, especially when combined with an eating disorder, can easily lead to malnutrition and serious health problems, including increased risk of infection and disruption of the body’s normal hormone regulation system.   

 

Representation for Models

As long as the public, lead by cultural gatekeepers, continues to see extreme thinness as a beauty ideal, and so long as things like dangerously towering high-heeled shoes sell at premium prices, the fashion industry has little motivation to change. With entrenched interests in the fashion world and related businesses, changing the perspective of the people is a daunting task and will take time. Thus models must seek their own redress in the form of personal injury claims. More models are trying this route and hiring an injury lawyer to seek compensation for loss and injury, and against photographers as well. The #MeToo movement may help the trend continue. Academia has caught on as well: Modeling law is now being taught by ex fashion models.

 

Models are suffering career-ending injuries, being forced out for their refusal to engage in risky behavior and enduring significant health problems for the sake of job security. Many of these situations, especially where minors are involved, are potential labor law violations. But mostly they are injuries caused by the negligence of another party. These are clear personal injury claims, and perhaps it’s time more lawyers get into the modeling game.

Fashion Models
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