If you knew that the way to get ahead at work was to eat tissues instead of Itsu for lunch, what would you do?
How about if your boss put you on a diet of cottage cheese laced with speed ahead of a major project? Clearly, you would resign, setting up a few leaving drinks and an employment tribunal on your way out.
And yet, this kind of bonkers behaviour is, if not quite the norm, then not unheard of in the modelling industry. Last week, Kirstie Clements, the ex-editor of Australian Vogue, published a beauty-spots-and-all exposé of the magazine world, full of shocking tales of models slogging through three-day shoots without a single meal, Russians surviving on drips to get “Paris thin” and the staple catwalkers’ diet of tissues and cotton-wool balls soaked in fruit juice – perfect for filling up tiny, concave tummies. This week, Joan Collins chimed in, revealing the typical regime – “Tomatoes and cottage cheese, lettuce and cottage cheese and cottage cheese and cottage cheese”, plus a prescription of “little green pills”, containing amphetamines – required to get whippet-thin and fit for work.
These are just two accounts but there are plenty more where they came from. So it is very good news indeed that Vogue has just become the first publication to sign up to Equity’s 10-point code of conduct for models’ working conditions. The code aims to protect models on photo shoots and states that they should work, at maximum, 10-hour days, be provided with adequate food and drink and be paid promptly at the end of a contract.
Basic stuff, you might think. It also stipulates that models should be treated with respect and dignity and not required to do anything which is “dangerous, degrading, unprofessional or demeaning”. They should not be forced to cut off their hair or strip off their clothes at the whim of their bosses. Elsewhere, in a list of conditions that makes the mind boggle as to how the poor gazelles have been treated up to now, it demands private changing rooms, adequate bathroom facilities (including hot running water) and a working environment kept at a comfortable temperature. In other words, all the things that we unglamorous, short-limbed office workers take for granted every day. Finally, “If a model is used who is under 16 years of age, there will be no nudity or semi-nudity required”. Glad that’s sorted.
In signing up to this code, then, Vogue has done little more than agree officially to treat models like human beings. And still it is out on a skinny limb. No other magazines have signed up yet. When contacted by the Evening Standard about the code, Elle, Wonderland, Company and Red responded with “No comment”. Surely this cannot mean they would prefer their models to be cold, hungry and underage?
More magazines will surely follow Vogue’s lead, but in the meantime, there is no clause to answer the most pernicious commandment of modelling: thou shalt be a size zero. As long as it is considered routine to send girls down catwalks on legs as thin as pins with stomachs stuffed with Kleenex; as long as Debenhams’ decision to use “normal” women for models still makes the news; and as long as a picture of a shop mannequin with the proportions of an average human being looks so weirdly grotesque it goes viral online, nothing will change. A code to protect models’ well-being is welcome, but it is just the start of a journey back to good health for the industry. There is a way to go yet.
A little mystery goes a long way
It’s one of the great wonders, and weirdnesses, of the internet that Wikipedia has a whole page dedicated to Well-Known Recluses. You can’t hide from Google, JD Salinger and Howard Hughes! I came across it while doing some high-level research for this column – into whether David Bowie and Kate Bush were recluses. They made Wiki’s list, so it must be true.
Certainly both are living proof that a lot of mystique goes a long way. Forget having the X factor: there is nothing more likely to get the chatterati excited than someone who rarely says a word. Look at Bowie, who released his first album in a decade last month without a public utterance and then lent his name and look to a retrospective at one of the country’s finest museums. The result: a No 1, a sold-out V&A show, assured adoration.
Bush spends her life in deepest, dullest Oxfordshire, emerging only every few years to present another perfect album to the world. Or to meet the Queen. The photographs of the singer proudly being made a CBE at Buckingham Palace this week – hair neatly brushed, tunic lightly gothy – were surprising. Then again, anything she does is surprising as she chooses not to chronicle her every move, thought and breakfast choice on social media. It takes quite an effort to remain truly mysterious these days. But if the reward when you do come out of hiding is a No 1 or a CBE, it must be quite nice being a famous recluse.
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