Are you familiar with the snark-inspiring "model/actress" label? Well, I belong to that club. Guilty as charged. But in defense of all the other M/As out there, the benefits and protections afforded to actors make that SAG card look pretty darn appealing, especially since there's nothing that even remotely resembles a union for models.
We launched the 5 Resolutions network after Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston died from anorexia. As we started to connect with others in the industry, I started seriously pondering the state of models' working conditions. We released the findings from our latest survey, and I kept on pondering--mostly about my own journey from model to M/A.
I've been working as a model for my entire adult life. When I joined the Screen Actors Guild in 1994, I suddenly discovered this whole new world where workers had rights (gasp!) and companies had to follow rules (incredible!). There's a framework in place in Hollywood. It just hasn't quite made it to the fashion capital. Yet. The way I see it, models deserve benefits and protections, too. We should start demanding them.
Sure, models are financially compensated for our work. Some of us are paid very well. But even the most successful supermodels in the world (and they're a dying breed, according to Claudia Schiffer) don't come anywhere near the $70 million an actor like, say, Tom Cruise makes on the job. The truth is that most models are underage and underpaid.
SAG members get pensions and health plans that include medical, dental, vision, prescriptions, and mental health coverage (okay, so Tom is not exactly taking advantage of that one). To claim these benefits, we pay a premium (about $150 a quarter) and our dues–$116 a year plus a small sliding scale percentage based on our earnings. There's also a hotline, which members can call if they have questions about their rights, their health, or to report an unsafe work environment. Before I joined SAG, I had to fend for myself where health insurance and retirement savings were concerned. And there's no model 411, I can tell you that much.
Every time I start a movie, I have to make an appointment with a doctor, who assesses my physical ability and mental stability to do the job. While our survey shows that health and fashion professionals agree that yearly exams would be the most effective way to protect the health of models, it isn't happening because there's no organization to manage it.
As an actor, I get my own private changing room. Has anybody ever provided private changing rooms backstage at any fashion show? I remember changing in rooms with a hundred other people, rushing to cover up and avoid having the photographers' cameras invade my privacy.
When I shoot a movie or TV scene where characters are drinking, no actor is REALLY drinking anything alcoholic (though some of them might wish they were). There is no booze served on the set. How many bottles of champagne are emptied on a regular basis at fashion shows? Want to earn some extra cash from recycling? Just hang outside the Bryant Park tents and wait for the Dom Perignon bottles to pile up. Trade 'em in and you'll make a killing.
For acting jobs, I get a mandated twelve hours of rest between the time I finish work until my call time in the morning. Sounds pretty reasonable, but it's an extravagant luxury compared to midnight fittings when your first fashion show wants you there at 8 a.m. Or try flying into a city, landing at 2 a.m. and your call time is 6 a.m.
In 1933, SAG was founded by an "action-oriented, motivated, gutsy" group of actors who risked their careers because they were fed up with unfavorable working conditions and grueling hours. Hmmm, sound familiar? As much as I love fashion, I don't think there is anyone who would disagree that the industry has its own share of unfavorable working conditions and grueling hours. So what are we going to do about it?
Models march down runways for a living. What would happen if we marched for our rights? I'll admit it's a ridiculous image, but I'd be willing to bet that with enough of the old guard on board we could make some real changes for the young models who are slaving away on runways today. And we could probably manage to do it without falling on our faces. Any action-oriented, motivated, and/or gutsy takers out there? Post your ideas or email us. 5resolutions[at]insidebeauty[dot]org