The Modelling Industry Is Unethical – But These Agencies Are Changing That

By Noa Ben-Moshe

It may seem super glamorous – dating movie and sports stars; seeing your face on billboards; being invited to the best parties in the world’s fashion capitals; wearing some of the world’s most incredible clothing. But in reality, there are some very dark sides to it, too, and many dangers that young hopefuls aren’t aware of.

For example? There are countless stories about the unreal body measurements required for models to maintain. Even naturally thin 16-year-olds can struggle with keeping the ‘ideal’ measurements, and so their agencies encourage them to lose weight, sometimes in very unhealthy ways.  There are even stories of models who ate cotton balls to make themselves feel more full without the calories! No wonder anorexia and bulimia are so common in this industry.

And weight isn’t the only issue: some agencies encourage models to change their physical features, too. It’s not uncommon for models to get plastic surgery to perfect their look – just do an image search for ‘Bella Hadid before surgery’ or ‘Gisele nose job’ and you’ll see what I mean.

Young and vulnerable

Signed models are often very young – in fact, it’s common to see models as young as 13 or 14 on the runways, and kids that age are easily exploited. For example, they’re told that they will be modelling in Paris or Milan, which is true. But what they’re not told is that the agency deducts flights, taxis, and hotels from the model’s fees, leaving her with next to nothing once those bills are paid.

It can be very hard for these young girls to be on their own, away from home for long periods of time, and the stress of modelling is far worse than you can imagine. During Fashion Week, for example, models can be booked for several shows, one after the next, in New York, Milan, London and Paris. This means rushing to catch trains, taxis and planes; running from one show to another to get your hair pulled, brushed and sprayed into different styles and your makeup plastered on and scraped off repeatedly in just a few hours.

While it is quite an experience, it can be exhausting, and in some cases, models don’t get enough rest. “After Fashion Week has ended, I’m absolutely exhausted. I would love to take a holiday but I hate the idea of getting on another plane!” says Lena, a 22 year old Croatian model who has walked for Elie Saab, Dior, Zuhair Murad and other big designers.

But before a model is even cast for a show or a shoot, there are the many, many cattle calls, in which she, and several other models, are paraded in front of a panel of strangers who will literally talk about her as though she’s not even in the room, before deciding whether or not they want to hire her. “It can be humiliating,” says Lena. “But I guess it’s just part of the job.”

With all this stress and pressure, some models feel like they’ve simply lost control over their lives. Depression, stress and emotional instability can result. To manage this (and to help them lose weight, in some cases), models may turn to smoking, drinking and taking drugs. Which, of course, only leads to more problems.

Modelling Industry Is Unethical

The darkest side of the industry

Perhaps the worst thing that can happen to models is that they are pressured into sex or prostitution. And this doesn’t happen only to the models who are youngest and most desperate for money – even supermodel Karen Mulder said her agency, Elite Models, tried to pimp her out as an elite prostitute. 

In fact, Mulder’s confessions of the horrifying stories she faced as a top model made headlines several years ago. She claims that men at Elite had raped her, that she had been coerced into having sex to garner better contracts, that Elite had used her and other models as sex slaves in a ring that extended through the top echelons of French society, implicating politicians, members of the police, and other top officials. It doesn’t get much worse than that!

Sound impossible? Not really, when you consider the founder of Elite Models, John Casablancas, took advantage of his power and place in the industry and used it to date some of his very youngest models.

But don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of models out there – the majority – who are healthy, emotionally stable and happy in their work. But not all of them.

Modelling Industry Is Unethical

Voices of change

Fortunately, there are voices of change in this industry.

For example, model Anne Marie Van Dijk founded Cleanse, an initiative that aims to welcome new models to the fashion industry. Cleanse seeks to provide models with individually tailored nutritional and emotional support, to ensure their physical and mental health whilst they’re working – and beyond.

In terms of agencies, Role Models Management and Shine are also making a difference. Role Model only works with brands that are ethical, socially and ecologically responsible, and cruelty-free. Their goal is to showcase models who promote these values, making them more attractive to the general public.

Shine, on the other hand, is more focused on the models themselves. The agency promises to never charge models to join them (sadly, a common practice) or to exploit young talent in their quest for success. They also represent models of all sizes, shapes, colours and backgrounds, and treat them all with respect.

I also discovered Finda, a platform that was developed with the recognition for a need for positive change in the modelling industry. While most modelling agencies take a whopping 25-40% commission from whatever a model earns, Finda only takes 10%.

“I founded Finda because of the many stories filled with unfairness, mistreatment and absolute lack of transparency told by my model friends,” says Mariya, one of the founders of Finda. “Those experiences pointed me in the direction of a great need for positive change. With a background in journalism and a passion for research, I found that the modeling industry is crying for a radically different and fresh solution to resolve the issues I came across.”

“We believe in individuality and diversity,” she continues. “What is important, is that we keep diversifying our talent board, being open to any professional model applicant, regardless of their gender, size, age or ethnicity.”


There can be little doubt that the modelling industry is unethical, and there are many dangers within it: it’s fraught with pressures, stress and preditors. But I’m really glad to see there are increasing numbers of ethical modeling agencies on the scene to help mitigate those problems.

Hope you enjoyed this article- let me know what you think in the comments below!

xx Noa

All images courtesy Finda.

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Noa Ben-Moshe
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