In 2011, long before #metoo became part of the national conversation, Harper Collins published my memoir, “Beauty Disrupted.” It was a daring move to speak out about my experiences in the modeling industry ― a world that most others believed was one of glamour and entitlement ― and it definitely wasn’t celebrated by most people working in the modeling industry. But getting a warm reception wasn’t my goal. I wanted to vocalize what had long been silenced: the truth about the pervasive problem of sexual harassment and assault of young models and the culture within the industry that normalized this behavior. I was sick of staying quiet about it.
But to my dismay, when I went on the book tour, interviewers didn’t ask me the questions that I had anticipated. The many incidents that were so challenging to relive and write—incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape were barely addressed. Instead, the focus was on petty points, or further inquiry into details about my ex-husband that had already been shared (and over-shared) in the media for years. By sensationalizing these parts of the book the media, in effect, further buried the rampant sexual harassment and abuse that I had endured while working for three decades as a top model.
Some people might think that, as a top model, I was privileged and shouldn’t complain. But it didn’t matter that I was at the top of my profession. It didn’t matter that I was on the cover of magazines and appearing in major ad campaigns. None of that protected me. On a regular basis, I still had to tolerate wildly inappropriate behavior from many of my coworkers, up and down the hierarchical ladder and in all different positions of employment within the modeling industry: agents, managers, peers and executives.
By the time I started working as a model at 15 years old, I was already deeply conditioned to ignore harassment and related behaviors. I had never been educated or taught that I could say no, that my voice mattered, or that it could be possible to work as a model without regularly enduring sexual harassment. I also knew that there were no protections for young models, and that if I were to speak up, I would likely lose my job. Frequently, the same men who were perpetrating abuse against me were the ones who signed my paycheck. While I may have been young, I understood the unfortunate truth of my job: that in order to stay employed in the modeling industry, I needed to keep my mouth shut and ‘take it.’
Over the years I have received countless calls and emails from women who endured the same abuses in the workplace, even by some of the same individuals who assaulted me. Many of these perpetrators still work within the industry, and they still work with minors . As agents, photographers and editors. They still are a threat to many young men and women striving to make names for themselves in what can be an intimidating and cutthroat business.
I often ask myself, what it will take to create change? We all need to step forward. We all need to shout out. We must create lasting protection for those in the modeling industry? . The Model Alliance is one such organization that has stepped forth to create change. They have worked hard to successfully champion the Child Model Act in 2013 in NYS, and there are new efforts in NYS and CA to introduce legal protections against sexual harassment in the work place
Many industries are in need of a major facelift when it comes to human rights and protection, and the modeling industry is next in line. It is imperative that the industry recognizes and submit itself to an independent monitor or neutral third party that works to protect the rights of all people working in the modeling industry; an industry-controlled initiative is definitely not going to be the solution. In addition to industry codes of conduct, robust awareness-raising efforts, training initiatives, regulations and compliance enforcement mechanisms are needed in order to prevent these abuses from happening in the future.
As a mother of daughters ages 9 and 11, it is my duty and goal to work to ensure their safety, both in their future workplaces and in their personal lives. In our home, they are taught to speak up and speak out. They are being taught to name indecent behavior, rather than normalize it. I strive to help them feel safe, valued, and heard in all areas of their lives — this is a basic human right which should be fought for, and of which we are all deserving.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.