Lauren Sharkey | Contributing Writer | Monday, 28 December 2015

Meet The Models Who Took On The Fashion Industry In 2015

Meet The Models Who Took On The Fashion Industry In 2015

The Debrief: We speak to the models who want health to be fashion’s number one priority

Defying the industry that pays you is never an easy task. Especially when the one you work for is worth billions and could shut down your career with the click of a finger. I’m talking about the huge, influential and sometimes morally dubious business that is fashion.

We’re all used to seeing whitewashed photoshoots full of tall thin models. After all, it’s fashion’s modus operandi: pick the youngest girls with Amazonian heights who fall somewhere on the lower end of the BMI scale. And don’t forget to add a ‘normal woman’ every now and then to keep the critics happy. 

To be one of these models, however, isn’t a walk in the park. Size 6 girls are often given an ultimatum: lose inches off their hips or lose their job. Some have had enough and are risking all to speak out against the industry that refuses to budge from a singular view of beauty. As a UK inquiry into body image takes place, we talk to the models who want health to be fashion’s top priority.

Rosie Nelson

Two years ago, size 8 Australian model Rosie Nelson was told to slim ‘down to the bone’ by her agent. Still unhappy with the industry in 2015, she set up a Change.org petition calling for a law that would protect models from these weight loss pressures. It has since been signed by over 100,000 people and was presented to the government last week. Nelson also gave her story at the aforementioned parliamentary inquiry into issues within the UK modelling industry.

Your campaign has received national coverage and sparked a well-needed debate about the health of models. What has the reaction been like for you?

As with any sensitive issue, there will always be people who have strong opinions and feel the need to speak up about them. Fortunately, most of the people who have contacted me have been giving their support for the campaign and telling me about how their own lives have been affected by the pressures of the industry. 

How was your experience of the inquiry?

It was incredible being able to speak in front of MPs and fashion industry workers. However, the agency directors who spoke at the inquiry left before the model segment was about to begin. It's possible that they were too busy or simply didn't care to hear what the models had to say but either way, I think it's unfortunate that they weren't there to hear about our personal experiences and what we think needs to be improved upon in the industry. From what they told the MPs, it seems they really don't understand what it's like to be pressured or what it's like to struggle to feel beautiful when told you're ‘too big’ at a size 8. 

Were you scared of openly criticising such a huge and influential industry?

I wasn't scared about speaking out because I knew it was the right thing to do. I was already aware of other girls having a similar experience to me and, knowing that there's power in numbers, I was willing to be the first to speak up about the issues publicly. 

What changes would you like to see in the fashion industry? And do you think these changes will realistically happen?

I would like to see models receive greater support and protection in their workplace, to know their rights as employees and to not fall victims to the harsh pressures of the industry. At the moment, a model’s health means almost nothing to the agencies. In some cases, models are afraid to go into their agencies in fear of being told they're too big because they've gained 2-3 pounds or because they're essentially becoming a woman. 

In terms of how this can be achieved, I think the fashion industry needs to be regulated with health checks. Models in the industry are perceived as the epitome of glamour and style, but there is nothing glamorous about being medically underweight. The industry has a responsibility to make sure that models are maintaining a healthy lifestyle and are acting as positive role models - especially to young and impressionable girls and boys. 

Rebecca Pearson

Rebecca Pearson isn’t short of modelling experience. Scouted at the age of 16, she has dealt with her fair share of weight jibes having been in front of the camera for 14 years. She regularly calls out the industry in pieces for the Telegraph and started up Modeltypeface, an advice site aimed at giving young models the knowledge she never had.

Are you ever scared of speaking out against the fashion industry? 

Not at all, because I'm not calling out the entire fashion industry. I love modelling and often praise the fun, inspiring aspects and great people out there. However, I also confront the industry’s many issues. I'm not scared as to whether this will have an affect on my career because I can't remain silent on those problems.

Trolls say things like: ‘If you don’t like it, why model?’ They’re missing my point. Modelling is a job I’m grateful to have but it needs regulation to protect the vulnerable. Many models are very young and far away from home. I have the privilege of a great education, family and agency so I want to exploit that to help empower others.  

Have you ever been pressured to lose weight as a model?

Over the years, various agencies have told me to lose inches. It's usually been a welcome kick up the bum when I was uncomfortable with weight gain. However, I was once subjected to being measured every day for seven weeks by an agency in Tokyo until I lost weight. It was really hard to deal with, especially as I didn't have my family or friends nearby.  

Do you have any advice for young models who aren’t happy with the way they’ve been treated? 

Yes, check out Modeltypeface. I put my heart into creating a website that I wish I'd had when I started modelling. I cover everything from how to say you're uncomfortable on a shoot to how to take care of your diet when travelling extensively. It's like your modelling big sister. But my main advice is: if you’re not happy, speak up. 

What changes would you like to see in the industry? 

The main areas that need to be tackled are: child labour laws, protection from sexual harassment, regulation in pay, a more responsible approach to issues surrounding weight and more diversity on the catwalk and in magazines. The Model Alliance are making great strides over the pond, addressing most of these issues, which will hopefully be echoed here.

I hope the UK don't follow in the footsteps of other countries and ban models under a BMI of 18. It’s a hateful body-shaming approach that won't help in the slightest. I'd also like to see designers forced to make sample sizes a minimum UK 6 - so that girls don't have to slim down to ridiculously thin measurements in order to work - and for nutritionists to come into agencies once a month to educate their models. 

Valeriya Tyurina

‘In-between’ models - that’s women that fall between the regular and plus categories - are on the rise. And Valeriya Tyurina is one of them. Signed to TRUE Model Management, she posts hard-hitting Instagram captions along with un-retouched photos and has recently written an article exposing industry tactics while starting a conversation about the true purpose of a model.

Are you ever scared of speaking out against the fashion industry? 

The first time this fear really hit me was when my article was published. I'm nobody in the fashion industry yet, and I've never had such a personal story published before. However, when I do feel this fear of criticism, I always go back to my true motives. Because I know in my heart that I'm doing the right thing.

Is it hard to be healthy as a model with the pressures you face? 

It's not so much about weight as it is about measurements. If you have a fitting client, your measurements are very important because it is then your job to maintain that size for that particular client. However, I personally try not to put pressure on myself because my happiness comes first. If I am healthy, I am happy and I work better. 

What changes would you like to see in the industry? 

Well isn't this the question of the year! I’d rather use the word acceptance instead of change. Overall, I'd like to see the fashion industry humble itself by starting to accept others in order to empower - not exclude in order to construct a sense of control and power. 

Do you think these changes will realistically happen? 

We are always aiming to progress as a society. We are evolving from our destructive traditions - one of those being constantly putting people into boxes. I think anything is possible but it's going to take time and hard work to educate people who only know of one perspective.

Like this? Then you might also be interested in:

Pirelli Has Unveiled It’s 2016 Calendar. And It’s A Bit Different.

6 Models Making Catwalks A Tiny Bit More Diverse

7 Things You Only Know If You’re A Model During Fashion Week

Follow Lauren on Twitter: @laurensharkey_