It seems like every week, there's a new model horror story hitting the news, which is exactly why the new legislation championed by the Model Alliance is needed. The bill, which passed both the New York House and Senate and is currently sitting on Governor Andrew Cuomo's desk awaiting his signature, promises to extend existing child labor laws to cover under-18 models.
Of course, as with any new law, the proposed changes can be confusing for both sides of the industry. The Model Alliance already held a meeting with the CFDA explaining how the bill would change how they do business. But last night, they held an open meeting for models--and their parents!--to discuss how these changes would impact their careers.
Model Alliance founder Sara Ziff was joined by advising board member and lawyer Doreen Small and supermodel Anne V for the information session. Attendees were given an incredibly helpful packet, including mock ups of the paperwork that would become necessary for them to work, before the panel discussion started.
"It feels long overdue," Ziff told me after the discussion, of the bill. "And it's exciting that we've been able to introduce a piece of legislation that's been passed unanimously in the senate and the house and that most people in the industry seem to support."
Anne V (full last name: Vyalitsyna) was on hand to share her personal story with the audience: A straight-A student who always wanted to model, she finally convinced her parents to let her do it. At the tender age of 15, she moved from a small village in Russia to New York City without her parents (it was "difficult enough" to get one Russian visa, she says, let alone three), just one week before 9/11 happened.
All alone as a teenager in one of the world's biggest cities in the aftermath of one of the worst terrorist attacks, unable to speak one single word of English--it's hardly surprising that Anne had a rough time.
"It's really easy [for young models] to go the wrong way," she said.
"I went from being 16 and never been kissed to men paying attention to me when I started modeling," she admitted, adding that she was offered access to clubs and alcohol. And when her body started changing--as most women experience--she felt pressure to lose weight. "Being told to lose weight at 16 was so tough for me. No child should ever experience that."
It was these challenges and obstacles that have lead to many hopeful models having to pack up and return home. "There are so many girls that I started out with, that I lived with and was friends with, that I have no idea where they are now," she confessed.
I asked Anne why she told the audience that now is "finally the time" to share her story. "I think once you get older, your priorities change," she said. "It's always been important to me, but now it's extra important to me. I want to share my knowledge, I want to make a difference."
"You need to have a brain to be a model," she explained, emphasizing why it's important for models to speak up for themselves. "You need to have a voice because you're not going to last in this business just being stupid."
And before the session ended, the panel opened the floor for questions, which ranged from the logistical to the personal. It's clear that the Model Alliance is committed to helping every individual young model navigate the currently-murky waters of the industry to emerge on the other side unscathed--and with a successful career.
"In a way, I feel like I've lived the American dream," Anne told the audience. "This is an amazing industry."