The modelling agency withheld her pay... until she lost inches off her already-tiny waist.

“It was either diet, or go broke.” NB: This is not the model referenced in the story below.


There are plenty of young women who dream of becoming models.

The stuff of those dreams probably includes strolling a runway for big name designers, appearing in campaigns wearing dresses of the value of a small house and gracing the cover of Anna Wintour’s Vogue (although maybe not actually meeting Anna, that be scary).

What those dreams probably don’t include?

Being swindled by their ‘agency’ and forced to choose between starvation and money. But in an industry that values thinness, fame and dollars above health and happiness – that’s exactly what’s happening…

Founder of the Model Alliance (a not-for-profit labour group for models, based in New York City), Sara Ziff, has written a piece for The Guardian, where she revealed some of the shocking truths about what really goes on in the ‘glamorous’ world of modelling.

Ziff describes an event the Model Alliance held recently to welcome the fresh faces in the New York modelling industry. She says one woman, who was quiet throughout most of the lunch, began to speak of the mistreatment she was suffering at the hands of the agency.

Ziff writes:

Her modelling agency was withholding her earnings, she said, until she lost inches from her hips. She just wanted to get paid the money that she was owed and move to another, better agency, but she’d signed an exclusive, multi-year contract to the agency and they were sponsoring her work visa. It was either diet, or go broke.

According to Ziff, some agencies classify models as independent contractors, not employees, which means they don’t even get minimum wage protection and they can’t sue for sexual harassment.

Sara Ziff, founder of the Model Alliance.

“Most working models… have no leverage to negotiate a contract or make demands of the agency, so contracts are almost always one-sided, giving the agencies a huge amount of control over models’ careers – and, in some cases, even their diets,” Ziff wrote.

This isn’t the first time shocking stories of the treatment of models have entered the public consciousness.

A few years ago, a model named Hailey Hasbrook claimed she was paid in clothes rather than cash when she worked for Marc Jacobs as a model. Before that, stories of models who were starving and exhausted from being flown in and out of countries for fashion weeks around the globe surfaced in the news.

Sara Ziff says it’s easy for the public to criticise the models – a young, beautiful woman who seems to ‘have it all’ is an easy target – but really, it’s the industry that’s to blame. She says the modelling industry relies on exploiting young – mostly foreign – girls who start their careers already in debt to their agency.

Thankfully, the Model Alliance have fought for new laws that will protect models under the age of 18 in the United States. As of last November, child models now have working papers, maximum working hours, lunch breaks, trust accounts and educational requirements. For those under 16, they will also be given a chaperone.


Despite this legal advance, change comes slowly and painfully in the crazy arena that is high fashion combat. According to Ziff, many shows at Fashion Week events around the world still pay their models in clothes – perhaps this sort of unfair trading was even going on in Australia at Melbourne Fashion Week last week.

Designer Alex Perry speaks to Today about a previous ‘skinny model scandal’ in Australia last year.

It seems as if everyone has an opinion on the weight of a model; some, like Mamamia Publisher Mia Freedman, say they’re too thin and we need to address the issue. Others, like British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, say thin models are needed because “nobody wants a ‘real’ person on the cover of Vogue”.

But the mood seems to be changing and with it? The voices. For the first time, we’re starting to hear from those who are truly in the know, and sadly, those who have the most to lose. And that is the models themselves.

Here are some of the catwalk models who have been labelled as ‘too thin’ by the media and experts in the past:


How do you feel when you see ultra-thin models on the catwalk? Does it make you want to buy clothes? Have you ever heard negative stories about how models are treated?