Fashion models accused their industry of rampant sexism and making demands to stay dangerously thin as they advocated on Wednesday for a California bill that would give models more employee rights.
The health of fashion models has become an international issue for policymakers. A new French law prohibits models from working if their body mass index falls below a certain level and authorizes penalties for violators in fashion houses and modeling agencies.
In a similar vein, Assembly Bill 2539 would impose licensing requirements on modeling agencies to bring them under the jurisdiction of the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board. Regulators would then have to establish workplace health standards that include treating and preventing eating disorders.
“There is no excuse for requiring a model to have a diet of only one rice cake per day as a prerequisite to getting a job,” Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, said at a news conference. “It is unconscionable to look the other way as models swallow cotton balls soaked in orange juice to deal with hunger pains.”
By classifying models as employees of the brands they work for, rather than independent contractors, the bill would equip them to fight the type of sexual harassment they call ubiquitous in the fashion industry. They would gain new rights under the labor code to seek wages they are owed and be guaranteed a minimum wage.
“For many models, just getting paid can be a major issue,” said Sara Ziff, a former model who founded the Model Alliance.
Levine and backers argued that his bill would help young women who absorb unhealthy body image expectations from advertising. Former model Nikki DuBose relayed her struggles with eating disorders and referenced research in which around half of the girls surveyed said they felt moved to lose weight by magazine images.
“If the models’ mental, emotional and physical health are taken care of, if they are employees of the brands they represent and they are educated on becoming role models, imagine the profound effect that this can have on children and adults,” DuBose said.
Several talent agencies have registered opposition to the bill. A letter from the Association of Talent Agents warned that the bill “creates major disruption and legal confusion” for talent agencies by misclassifying models and “discourages diversity among body shapes within the industry.”
“Because a ‘healthy’ model could still be slender, the bill does not – and cannot – achieve its stated purpose of promoting more healthful and diverse body images,” the letter said.