What it’s like to be a model in one of the strictest countries in the world.

What would you do if your job required you to eat eggs, and only eggs, for 10 days straight?

We’re going to take a wild stab in the dark and guess that you’d quit after day one. But what if you didn’t have a choice?

Welcome to life as a young model in China.

Meredith Hattam, a former model, has written a piece for Fashionista exposing some of the dark secrets of the Beijing-based modelling agency she worked for.

Hattam describes how 16-year-old Lana* (not her real name) ate only eggs for 10 days and had her dismal earnings cut because she ‘broke the rules’ by going through a perfectly normal pubescent growth spurt.

“Sixteen. The age your body develops on its own accord, stunted and shamed by a simple contract. If Lana was back in high school, this change may have been unremarkable… In Beijing, it is measured, weighed, pinched, prodded, recorded, analyzed and publicly scorned.

“Why should I pay you, when you can’t pay me in return?” Alina, the agency owner, often chides.”

Hattam, now 27, says models are advised to work under illegal tourist visas thus surrendering their passports to the Chinese government and unwittingly putting themselves in the “precarious hands” of their employers.

Meredith Hattam

But it’s not all egg diets, no money, and not being able to leave the country on a whim, you can also look forward to being hospitalised for exhaustion.

“One model from my agency in Guangzhou was hospitalized from exhaustion after two months of frenzied 15-hour days. While in her hospital bed, her phone vibrated with scolding texts from the agency: she was missing her jobs and costing them money.”

If you turn down a job, you can say goodbye to your contract, your apartment and good luck getting more work when you’re technically on a tourist visa, and may not have the financial means to get home.

Such was the case for one of Hattam’s roommates who refused a job as a ‘hostess’ on an overnight boat trip attended by older Chinese gentlemen. The job was to last a couple of days and she was to attend alone. When she said no, she was promptly fired and made homeless.

However these working conditions aren’t exclusive to China, and the real issue here is not that models are being exploited, that part is obvious. It’s that underage models, with little experience, are being put in powerless situations often with dire consequences.

“Many models have committed suicide over the years. Ruslana Korshunova in 2008. Daul Kim in 2010. This year, a Brazilian model named Camila Bezerra jumped to her death in Guangzhou on New Years Day. She was 22 years old.”

Th Model Alliance in New York recently pushed for change to assist in passing the legislation that underage models are now protected under the same law as all other child performers. Hattam’s essay highlights the importance of taking a stand worldwide.

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