Tag Archives: Cameron Russell

Something’s Not Right: Runway Models Plea for Cash

model alliance

Amy Lemons, Sara Ziff, Linda Vojtova & Jeisa Chiminazzo

A reader posted a comment on Style by Fire today, and so I moseyed on over to her blog to check it out. I read an article she linked  from Buzzfeed which was real eye-opening but enraging. It was an article titled, “Fashion Models Finally Earn Money After Plea For Cash,” and it made my gut wrench.

Wannabe models sacrifice so much to become the next Giselle or Kate: they’re away from their families, live in model dorms, eat next to nothing (ok so some of it is self-imposed). And for what? The article talked about how even big names like Marc Jacobs had not paid their models until recently. Worse yet, fashion designers recognized even to those not in-the-know are holding back from compensating models: Anna Sui, Proenza Schouler, Narciso Rodriguez…

Some models get paid $100 for a high-end runway show… if they’re lucky. Most get clothes. And a lot of them are in debt with their agencies too, even the semi-successful ones.

I, too, have endured experiences where I was paid in clothes (not working as a model but in the industry). Although my co-workers and I were adamant we get paid in real wages, we ended up keeping quiet because we decided an extra weekend’s worth of work was not worth losing a job over. Thinking about it now, I don’t even know why we held on so tightly to those jobs, as there was much abuse similar to the ones models face, except for the image. I had often wished that in fashion and retail, there was some sort of union or collective voice to speak up for all our inequities. Lucky for models, as of February 2012 there is one.

Sara Ziff, a 30-year old model who has been the face of Stella McCartney, started The Model Alliance, an organization dedicated to improving the working conditions of the American fashion industry. This smart cookie also put herself through a Bachelor’s at Columbia and produced Picture Me, a documentary behind the scenes in fashion.

Initiatives for 2013 include…

  • Backstage Privacy Policy (to prevent invasive photography behind the scenes when models change)
  • Child Labour (Vogue has agreed to not hire models under 16)
  • Model Alliance Suport (to prevent sexual harassment)

On the other hand, some readers weren’t as supportive of this movement. One reader called Draconis wrote on November 29th, 2012 in response to Sara Ziff’s article on the BBC, “If you join a superficial industry where looks and body shape count for everything, you can’t really complain once you’re in it. that’s a bit like a soldier complaining he has to shoot at the enemy.” Although I understand where s/he’s coming from, it’s also like saying that because you willingly sign up to be a waiter, you should take all the customer abuse in the world.

“There is something deeply unsettling about some of fashion’s wealthiest, most powerful brands hiring minors and not compensating them financially,” says Ziff. And I agree. In terms of what we’re learning in sustainability class, the social aspect is just as important as the environmental piece. You’ve got to be treating your workers fairly so that they may support themselves in a healthy manner. In turn, when they have a standard quality of life, you’ll also benefit from what they can bring to the world.

While child labour in overseas countries may get some companies in trouble, treating workers in North America does not get anyone to blink an eye. The trouble is that most people don’t know about this, myself included until I read Ziff’s article. So please, the next time you watch a Narciso or Proenza Schouler show, remember that these designers are forcing others to sacrifice while they profit.

I’m seeing a lot of models stand up for rights like Cameron Russell who spoke out about deconstructing images, Sara Ziff who formed The Model Alliance, Coco Rocha for not having her photos airbrushed, and Summer Rayne Oakes who stood up for plus size models. Kudos to you girls.

“I think that if we put more work into empowering the models themselves, we can change the kinds of imagery that we see.” – Sara Ziff

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Deconstructing Images: The Perspectives of a Fashion Model & a Vancouver Girl

I came across this video through a former high school teacher’s post on Facebook, and it made me cry. Then it got me painfully reflecting on my own journey and struggles in fashion.

In this Ted Talk, fashion model Cameron Russell answers questions often received by models. She talks honestly about how she got into the industry, and not simply by being scouted. Cameron identifies that it’s because she inherited a legacy of good looks highly valued in society: she’s pretty, tall, and white. Then she also points out how she’s also milked it by being a model.

Cameron goes on to deconstruct a typical fashion image for the audience. For example, if a photographer wanted a walking shot she would extend her left leg, tilt her head 3/4, fling one arm forward, one to the back, look backwards… and repeat the motion hundreds of times until they get the shot right. And not only are the photographs retouched, there are “hair stylists, make-up artists and photographers and stylists and all their assistants and pre-production and post-production and they build this,” says Cameron.

She also answers the typical, “Do you get free stuff?” with a twist. She doesn’t respond in terms of designer dresses, which is what we’d expect her to say. Instead Cameron talks about the things she gets away with in life because of her good looks, such as free passes on parking tickets. “I got these free things because of how I look, not who I am. And there are people paying a cost of how they look and not who they are.”

Cameron Russell TED Talk

Then she brings up the stats of girls and their self-esteem: 53% of 13-year old American girls are unhappy with their bodies.

I couldn’t help but feel a sharp pain in my heart, and the water works commenced. The funny thing about fashion is that sometimes I think a big part of it stems from insecurity. Cameron bravely admits it on camera for the first time during the TED talk, “I’m insecure because I have to think about what I look like every day,” and subsequently how people judge her. In 2009, I watched former Fashion Television personality, Jeanne Beker, speak in Vancouver. She also mentioned how at the heart of so many designers she’d interviewed, she saw right through to their insecurities.

Yesterday in a sustainability class, we went through an exercise of free writing, where we write non-stop until the ideas flow through us. I had little success, as I contrived my responses. But I did have a moment of insight when I was “free talking” with a friend afterwards. I blatantly said aloud in the car, “Sometimes I feel so stupid that I went for fashion. I tried so hard to get in the industry/ make it big/ make a name for myself… when all along, I never considered asking WHY.”

Or maybe it was that if I had bothered to stop, I wouldn’t like what I’d see. Somewhere deep down, I had an inkling that the reason was because I couldn’t let go of the image. I wanted you and everyone else in the world to see me as fashionable, perfect, in with the latest styles, and someone important just because I had association with this industry, and not because of what I actually did.

I had blindly bought into the image of fashion. Wanting so badly to be a part of it, I organized fashion shows, volunteered for New York fashion week, insisted that the managing director to let me stay for an internship, blogged with the first wave of fashion bloggers in Vancouver, worked in and out of retail management, and traded in my blog for a ‘real’ job in fashion. I did anything and everything I could to be a part of this image.


“These pictures are not pictures of me, they are constructions.” – Cameron Russell, TED Talk

At a yoga event yesterday, one thing we learned was the difference between desire and craving. Renowned Buddhist zen teacher, Michael Stone, demonstrated that desire was like having something you wanted on your palm, while craving was like gripping it tightly into your fist. In terms of my own internal language, I saw “craving” as “addiction.” Yes, I was addicted to fashion. I was addicted to the “high” it would give me every time someone commented on what I was wearing or from people’s fascination with my involvement in the industry, something that seems so ethereal and mysterious to an outsider. This only fueled my need to consume to keep up with this image I’d created.

Watching Cameron speak about the stat on young girls also made me think about my own struggles with self-esteem. I can barely remember much of my late high school and university days because I’ve been very successful at blocking out a very sad time of my life. Only when I have the courage to think back, I remember the months of eating bacon, eggs, and drinking LOTS of water to adhere to the Atkins low-carb diet. Going to see a school psychologist every 2 weeks, to the point that a psychiatrist recommended that I take anti-depressants. Reading up on any self-help literature I could get my hands on, which included some pretty crazy shit. Having the fear that I’d be “found out” that I wasn’t the trendy person who you thought I was. Binge eating. Every time I’d feel stressed, depressed or insecure, I couldn’t express my feelings so I’d eat them away. On the flipside, after gaining a few pounds I’d tirelessly exercise. That way, no one would notice, right? It saddens me that over half of young American girls likely go through a similar process… just to achieve an ideal image.

When we talk about sustainable fashion, a big part of the social aspect is the working conditions of those supporting the system, whether it’s humanitarian efforts in overseas factories or improving working conditions in retail stores. But we forget to deal with the social aspect of the young women who engage in buying fashion; we need to educate young girls about the construction of the fashion image. If they continue to crave being model-esque – shinier hair, thinner legs, poutier lips – there’s something very unsustainable about the way we promote ideal looks.  These beliefs in an ideal impact society, where tax dollars are used to medicate symptoms of low self-worth: anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, depression, stress, personal sick days, and other mental ‘disorders.’

So this is the Coles Notes version of my ‘glamorous’ life, and I don’t regret this journey at all. I still love fashion, shopping, stores, consumer behaviour, and retail marketing, which are the reasons why I still blog. And I’ll continue to creatively express myself through fashion, but definitely at a slower rate of consumption. This is partly the reason why I enrolled in a Sustainability program at BCIT – to come to terms with the good and the bad things behind the image.

Similar to the way Cameron answered questions with such fearless honesty, in this arms race to the latest trends, we need to be honest with ourselves too. If those 4-inch heels aren’t comfortable, don’t pretend like they are. If you are dieting because of body image insecurities, honour how you’re feeling, and don’t judge yourself. If you’re making close to nothing, be financially responsible and don’t buy that Prada wallet because you feel like you have to show for something.

There. I’ve said it. It may not reflect everyone who’s been through the grind in this industry, but it’s definitely my 100% honest opinion.

Thanks for listening.



“If there’s a takeaway to this talk, it’s that I hope we all feel more comfortable acknowledging the power of image in our perceived successes and our perceived failures.” – Cameron Russell


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