It is a very interesting time to be a woman in the fashion industry. There is a real sense of ‘FINALLY’ in the air with regards to sexual abuse – what with the #metoo campaign along with the naming and shaming of some of the industries worst offenders. I say it is about time we stopped dancing around the issues and started to hold some of these people accountable.
For years now women in the fashion industry have been hesitant to speak up about the worst assaults and offenders. We have been warned about handsy photographers and editors, then sent to meet them anyway. Because, after all, they can make your career if they like you (read, if you allow them to get what they want). If you didn’t play along with these men, your agency got informed that you were ‘hard to work with’ and ‘cold’. Dealing with these people was a constant balancing act; how to come across as ‘cool’ and ‘fun’ without getting assaulted. It was being in a position where you were being worn down, where you couldn’t come out and say a hard ‘no’ because of the power imbalance. And, if the worst did happen, it was keeping quiet, bottling up the pain inside, and dealing with it in all your future relationships and endeavors.
After reading the stories on Cameron Russell’s instagram I realize I got off relatively easy. I have definitely had my bad experiences, and had to deal with the fallout emotionally after, but for the most part I am unscathed. After talking to a lot of women in the fashion industry, I believe there are a few things we can do to protect ourselves in the future. I do feel that a post like this should not ever have to be written, and I hope some day in the future that it will be irrelevant.
First off, do your research. When you receive the call sheet, talk to your friends in the industry and Google the team. See what the vibe will be on set, and make sure it is what you want, especially if you are on a location. Forewarned is forearmed. Don’t be afraid to ask your agent for extra details – it is a good agents worst nightmare to send one of their girls into a scarring experience on set. If you aren’t sure of the crew on a set, bring your agent or an adult with you. You are entirely within your rights to bring someone along. All models under the age of 18 should have an adult present on set.
Next, clearly define your boundaries with yourself and recognize how that will look on the job. If you aren’t comfortable with nudity, make sure your agent informs the client ahead of time. You don’t need to justify your reasons with the team. If they are respectful, good people (and 99.99% of my jobs have been with people like this) they will let it rest. If they will not stop pushing, tell your agent to call them and ask them to leave it alone. If they still will not stop, then walk off the set. You have all the power in this circumstance; if you aren’t happy - or present - the shoot will not go on.
Finally, if something bad does happen on set, immediately report it. Do not remain silent. Tell your agent (and if their reaction isn’t extremely concerned, fire them), tell your parents or a trusted adult, tell your partner and report it to the police. Models are coming forward and bringing lawsuits against photographers and magazines, and it is through actions like this that change can occur. And then learn the practices needed to process and deal with what happened. These will be personal to each individual. Coming to terms with assault will lessen the hold it has over you in the future. Because it is never the victims fault. Being a female in the fashion industry does not make you fair game. Silence is how the assaulters get away with their actions. We must not remain silent anymore.
I really hope that the recent movement against sexual assault is just the beginning, and that someday the points I previously mentioned will not be relevant. Because the fashion industry is about celebrating art and life. It is meant to be a safe place for people who may not fit the mold of everyday life. It is an industry based on creativity and imagination – and we should all feel safe and free to express this however it seems fit.
But most of all, regardless of the industry and occupation, women are not bait for a man with an inferiority complex. We have every right to work without fear of attack. I hope that the world my daughter grows up in is a safe one.
I hope it is an equal one.