5 Ways The Modeling Industry Enables Predators
The Debrief: Edie Campbell spells out the insidious behaviour that’s rampant in fashion
As far as the modelling world is concerned, Edie Campbell has had a successful career. She’s walked for Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton and Burberry Prorsum, starred in campaigns for Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent and nabbed a slew of magazine covers, including countless Vogues, W Magazine and i-D. Today the 27-year-old Brit has done something genuinely admirable as she has used her position of privilege to shine a light on rampant sexual assault and predatory behaviour within the industry.
Writing an open letter for Women’s Wear Daily - the fashion industry’s newspaper of record - Campbell clearly lays out the five areas where the support for models falls short and leaves them open to untethered abuse. Though she makes it clear this is something she hasn’t experienced first-hand, she realises there is a problem with the culture and rituals of modelling.
In the wake of photographer Terry Richardson being blacklisted from major magazine publisher Condé Nast and brands like Valentino and Bulgari, the model said she felt compelled to explain this a problem bigger than a single perpetrator.
First, she clarifies that is a genderless issue, that those abused in her line of work are more likely to be male models and yet their stories are most likely to go unreported. 'The language doesn’t exist, and the conversation is currently weighted heavily in support of young female victims. The shame felt is probably greater as there is a stigma involved. The abuse can be perceived as emasculating, and then there is the delicate subject of homophobia.’ She writes.
Behaviour, Campbell perceives, is one of the cornerstones that let abuse manifest. ‘This can be the ritual humiliation of models, belittling of assistants, power plays and screaming fits. We have come to see this as simply a part of the job. Although we may not all, as individuals, have actively contributed to this culture, every time we turn a blind eye, our silence perpetuates that culture.’
As a model is paid to undress in front of people the distinction between professional and personal is blurred. This informal environment makes it harder, Campbell says, for people to draw a line between what’s acceptable and inappropriate. She explains, ‘Pranks, sexually explicit jokes, suggestive comments — these all slide under the radar in a “fun” and “creative” industry like fashion. Please note the irony of tone.’
‘[F]ashion hates boring or uncool people’, Campbell adds before asking for her industry to reassess the meaning of ‘uncool’. This is especially needed when models are barely 15 and are asked to ‘strip naked’ or be risk being called ‘prudish’.
The allure of the ‘diva’ is another fundamental problem in fashion. Extrapolating, she writes, ‘The problem with fashion’s celebration of extreme behaviour is that it becomes a game of one-upmanship, with no one ever calling out: “Too far!”’
Similarly, Campbell wants the concept of the ‘artist-genius’ to be reconsidered. She says this title allows you to ‘behave in any way you see fit, and you inspire total fear and devotion from your followers. If you are creative, and if your work is good, you will be forgiven anything. You are given carte blanche to express that creativity, whatever your means of expression may be. And if that creativity only flows after midnight, and if it only responds to semi-nude young men or women, then so be it.’
At the centre of the problem is the fact that models are coerced into an ‘unspoken contract’. ‘[W]e surrender our bodies and our faces to the photographer, stylist, hairdresser and makeup artist. We relinquish ownership of ourselves. To state the obvious: We sell our desirability. That is the job description — be as desirable as possible.’ Campbell eloquently writes. When financial stability is dependent on others providing, as she calls it, ‘a duty of care’ then the industry needs to reevaluate its codes of conduct.
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Before asking for a ‘period of reflection’, she skewers the one person who is meant to be a model’s care-taker, the agent. ’It comes down to responsibility, and this falls to agents to do their job. Some of them are, but many aren’t. They are responsible for the physical and mental wellbeing of the models they represent. Don’t sell your model out to protect your relationship with a photographer or stylist. When a model comes to you, listen. Lastly, there should be no tolerance of abuse. Isolated incidents are often not isolated. Question your working practice. Question the situations that have been normalized.’
Campbell found herself embroiled in a public face-off with the Instagram account @diet_prada who are self-appointed industry invigilators (or vigilantes, depending on where you’re sitting). Previously Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler who run the social media juggernaut took aim at Richardson and created an international storm that led to the current boycott. Campbell then commented on one of their posts that the reporters were too narrow in how they covered the photographer’s misdeeds. To which, the Instagrammers made a valid point that Campbell has the power to make the news and that if she led the charge, then journalists would cover it. So here we are, Campbell has done just that.
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