It’s not easy to sympathize with models–poor beautiful, glamorous things. But if beauty is pain, then the modeling industry seems to be a truly unique torture device, and while the horrors and exploitation that female models experience are depressingly common knowledge, the struggles of male models go largely unnoticed.
“Men and boys are increasingly at risk in the odd, unregulated workplace that is the fashion world,” writes former model Edward Siddons in a new Newsweek exposé. “Being a man does not make you safe: Male models are often subject to sexual harassment but rarely report it. And, like their female counterparts, they are under intense pressure to have just the right kind of body.”
Along with his own story, Siddons interviews fellow models and industry insiders to reveal just what these pretty boys are up against. There are tales of models on the hook to their agencies for travel expenses to low-paying jobs, frequent unpaid work (models often have to take pro-bono jobs to build their recognition), and grueling (unpaid) casting schedules. And like their female counterparts, male models face rampant unwanted sexual advances and flagrant disregard for their health and body image.
Take this gem from Ann Demeulemeester’s creative director Sebastien Meunier: “We are not doing anything shocking: We’re making clothes that are perfectly decent and acceptable. At the end of the day, [models] are adults. There’s no problem here.”
This despite the fact that the industry has come under fire repeatedly for its use of models as young as 14 years of age.
In the LGBTQ community, particularly those of us interested in dismantling the gender binary, we tend to think of androgyny in fashion as a good thing. But that aesthetic takes a toll on models, according to Siddons: “The androgynous look pushes male models to lose muscle mass and women to lose their natural curves.”
But, he continues, muscular models like David Gandy aren’t necessarily any healthier: “Researchers and mental health experts have coined the term bigorexia to describe muscle dysmorphia, a distorted perception of the body as too weak and lacking muscle that fuels obsessive workouts even among the most toned men and bodybuilders.”
Meanwhile, Siddons points out that “the majority of the countries in the world where models work have no legislation protecting these young people.”
Of course, one problem that Siddons doesn’t address, and that no one to my knowledge is really talking about, is the insidious homophobia within the male modeling industry.
Working for menswear magazines, booking models for photo shoots, and reporting on male models for other LGBTQ sites, I’ve personally encountered that homophobia. I’ve had male models ask to have their photos taken offline months after a photo shoot was posted because their agencies have told them that being associated with a gay magazine was costing them work. I’ve had a model who I know is gay–who is out in his day-to-day life, who is a fixtures on New York’s gay scene–ask me to remove his name from feature story about his own same-sex wedding.
It’s disheartening to think that an industry as associated with gay men as the fashion industry can harbor such antiquated ideas.