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Danger on the runway: Models face harassment, bad work conditions

Models are certainly considered to be beautiful in the fashion industry, but many claim that the conditions models are encouraged to work in and sometimes forced to work in are anything but the sort. They face significant pressures throughout their working careers, like maintaining precariously low weights, working long hours and keeping quiet when they experience professional misconduct for fear of losing their income. Many of the models are no more than teenagers recruited from impoverished countries. And they are generally unfamiliar with their rights in the workplace, allowing egregious violations such as sexual harassment to occur unchallenged, a recent initiative claims.

The initiative called The Model Alliance is striving to change these difficult and hostile working conditions. The Alliance was launched last week after a former model wanted to improve work conditions for other models. The founder of The Model Alliance says she wants to educate others about the fact that most models are children working in a very grown-up industry. Many of these young women develop eating disorders and other health problems that can significantly affect their emotional and physical well-being.

The Model Alliance is designed to convince models to take more control of their professional lives. Its founder says the women are often treated like a commodity; one beautiful woman can be substituted for another without hesitation from agency representatives.

Although this group is not a union, the founder says she is trying to provide some solidarity and protection for models experiencing workplace harassment or other violations. The group is attempting to draft a Models' Bill of Rights that includes requirements for informed consent for modeling situations that involve nudity. The document would also prohibit any nude or semi-nude modeling by those younger than 17 and would provide for private dressing areas that photographers would not have access to.

Furthermore, young models would be provided with educational opportunities throughout their early careers, which would also involve the models' parents. This comprehensive plan has yet to be approved, but The Model Alliance and its associated groups fully support the initiative in order to create a safer, healthier and more respectful work environment.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, "Fashion models organize to fend off abuses," Leanne Italie, Feb. 8, 2012