photo: Corbis

Today's modeling industry is nothing if not incredibly competitive. As catwalks grow to represent more and more emerging fashion brands, models often go through great lengths to pursue new opportunities. As exciting and lucrative as these ventures can be, sometimes landing a gig comes with strings attached that are unethical and even illegal. Beyond the glitz and glamour, there’s a whirlwind of shocking accounts that have been revealed over the years by up-and-comers as well as the biggest names in the industry. Below, seven scary things aspiring models have put up with in the name of fashion. 

1

Body-shaming

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Magazine last year, Cara Delevingne opened up about her experience, admitting that she’s been threatened with being dropped from modeling jobs if she didn’t maintain a lean figure. Similarly, Gigi Hadid revealed to The Daily Mail that early in her career she was told by multiple modeling agencies in New York that she had to lose weight in order to land a job. However, in spite of the criticism Gigi stood her ground and went on to land some of the biggest high-fashion campaigns for brands like Tom Ford.

But that body-shaming can have dire consequences beyond losing jobs. Model Sessilee Lopez opened up about her experiences watching her friends in the industry struggle with eating disorders in her mother’s book, Making a Supermodel. In one chapter, Lopez’s mother, Janice Celeste, shares the story of one model who swallowed cotton balls dipped in orange juice to feel full. 

2

Racism

Fashion Weeks may come and go, but discrimination in the industry still reportedly runs rampant. For example, according to The Fashion Spot, in a study of 151 fashion shows around the globe during Fashion Week Spring 2015 showed that only 1.7 percent of models were Latina. Another recurring issue is lack of diversity in casting calls. Model Ajak Deng responded to this issue and recently announced early retirement on Instagram, noting “fakes and lies” as the reason behind her decision. Later, she recanted her retirement and said that she wanted to return to the industry again to fight against the racism she's encountered.

Other models like Victoria's Secret Angel Chanel Iman have been met with discrimination in their modeling careers when it comes to castings. In an interview with The Times, Iman recalled being sent home from modeling gigs due to the color of her skin. "A few times I got excused by designers who told me, 'We already found one black girl. We don't need you any more.' I felt very discouraged," she said.

3

Starting too young

In 2012, the independent film Girl Model shed light on the fact that young models, who often start working as early as 13, are exploited and thrown into unsavory situations as they try to make their way in the largely unregulated industry. The film follows girls who come from impoverished homes and are often sent unsupervised to other countries for gigs. 

Former model and actress Rebecca Romijn has also called out the lack of regulation in the industry, drawing on her own experience as a young model. “I think that models should be 18 or older because there are child labor laws in this country and having been a model I have witnessed enough to know," Romijn told Fashionista. "I think some models are too young when they start working. And I think that a lot of parents trust that they’ll be in really good hands and sometimes they aren’t." 

Similarly, film director and former model Meredith Wright shared on Refinery 29 her experience as a teen model and the horrifying truth behind children and their budding modeling careers. She filmed the documentary Agency where she followed models like 13-year-old Holly Angus. The agency Angus was signed with encouraged parents to allow their children to go on modeling trips alone and assured them that they would be chaperoned overseas. The movie shows the reality: Angus, among other models, ended up living by herself in an apartment, became physically ill, and was homesick. “I’m 13 and I’m doing this on my own? Well, I guess this is what I signed up for,” she says in the film.

4

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a well-documented and pervasive problem in the industry. In 2014, photographer Terry Richardson was accused of a number of sexual harassment allegations against models that he worked with. In 2014, New York Magazine released a profile on Richardson, who's been dubbed a "proud pervert," and model Jamie Peck has spoken out on the Gloss about early modeling days with Richardson, saying that she was invited to his apartment after a photo shoot where he sought sexual favors. Since 2005, Romanian model Gabriela Johansson and others have filed a number of lawsuits against Richardson

Men are no exception and have encountered the dark underbelly of this industry, too. Suit models like Eli Hall have openly talked of their experience with photographers inappropriately requesting that they strip down to their underwear for no apparent reason. “I have a very high tolerance for verbal sexual flirtation from either men or women, but I draw the line at touching,” Hall told Yahoo! Style.

5

Dangerous working conditions

Everyone deserves to feel safe in the working conditions they are placed in. However, in recent years models like Kate Upton have spoken out about the insane things they’ve had to do for photo shoots, like pose in a biking in freezing -49 degree Antarctica weather for the 2013 cover of Sports Illustrated. After the shoot, Upton revealed to the Today Show that she experienced a temporary loss of vision and hearing thanks to frostbite. Similarly, model Sara Ziff brought to light her experience posing for Air France Magazine, arguing that at a shoot that her agency set up she suffered six cell layers of burns in her eyes thanks to the intense UV flash used by the photographer. 

6

Limited Privacy

Often, models who are new to the industry opt to live with others to cut costs. In Janice Celeste's book Making a Supermodel, she writes that models often try to fit 12 girls in a tiny apartment, which often leaves them susceptible to theft. 

One ex-model's story on Who What Wear echoes this issue of limited privacy. In her account, the model recalls the lack of boundaries she found when living in close quarters with other models. "Aside from being ridiculously overpriced and oftentimes filthy, the apartments were also a breeding ground for sex and drugs. Just thinking about it makes me shiver. One that I stayed in was co-ed, had five rooms, and housed way too many models for the space. I moved into a room while two couples were having sex. So I moved to another room, but it had bed bugs."

7

Human Trafficking

Perhaps one of the scariest aspects of all is modeling's link to human trafficking. To combat this, Katie Ford, the former CEO of Ford Models, founded Freedom for All, a nonprofit that fights back against human trafficking in the modeling industry and throughout the world. 

On Freedom for All's website, Ford writes, “As CEO of Ford Models, I brought models from over 50 countries to the United States. Because most were foreign and young, they were potentially vulnerable. Ford Models had a history of protecting young women and men by providing housing, shelter, food, and medical care if needed. The work I do to fight human trafficking and forced labor is informed by my previous work.”

And in an interview with xoJane, Jillian Mourning, founder of the nonprofit organization All We Want Is Love, highlighted how common it is for men to pose as agents during major events such as the Olympics to lure young girls into modeling. "So many of the stories I’ve heard from survivors of sex trafficking start with, 'I was hired for a modeling job,'" she said.