10 Startling Facts About the Modeling Industry

7 min read

With all of its glitz and glamour, there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes in high-fashion modeling. Here are ten startling facts you need to know about the modeling industry.

10. Models Face Abuse

Source: Pexels

Believe it or not, abuse in the modeling industry is very widespread. The horror stories are quite cruel, and unfortunately, very plentiful. Here are just a few examples:

-A model permanently lost feeling in her toes after she was made to stand all day in shoes that were too small.
-A model was made to run around in stilettos until she collapsed.
-A group of models were kept in a room for ten hours with nothing to eat or drink.
-Some models have had their hair chopped off without their consent.
-More than 150 models were told they had to stay in an unlit stairwell for over three hours.
-London-based model Rosalie Nelson had her skin cut and pulled by clips. She’s also been stabbed with pins and needles.
-Model Roswell Ivory was subjected to lewd personal questions from a photographer, who then proceeded to push her repeatedly before putting his crotch in her face.
-Model Renee Peters had her nipples grabbed by a guy who told her they needed to be hard for a photo shoot.
-Last year, 30 percent of models reported being touched inappropriately at work. Twenty-eight percent said they were pressured into having sex with someone at work.

9. Models Face Discrimination

Source: Pixabay

Diversity is one of the main challenges in the modeling industry. According to TheFashionSpot.com, less than 30 percent of the models who graced the runways last spring were non-white. The Fall 2018 season saw a slight increase, with 32.5 percent of castings going to women of color. Plus-sized models and those in their 50s and beyond were also few and far between on the runways this fall.

Another group that’s widely underrepresented is transgender/non-binary models. “I got a semi-exclusive for an A-list show with an opening guarantee during my first season in Paris. When [the designer] found out I was transgender, something no one knows about to this day, they cancelled my booking; they somehow considered it a risk—that it would draw too much attention, something they thought would affect the brand negatively,” an anonymous person told fashion industry news website Fashionista.com.

8. Models are Victims of Body Shaming

Body Shaming
Source: Pixabay

What if you were a size 8–at 5’10” mind you–and you were told that you needed to lose weight? Or what if you were drawn on with a permanent marker to show which parts of your body were fat? What if you were called a pig for ordering pizza after going several hours with nothing to eat or drink? That’s what actually happened to some of the models interviewed by The New York Times and Daily Mail.

Model Julia Geier told The New York Times that her client would complain if she had a snack. “They would talk about my body in front of me: ‘Julia’s very wide and her hips are very big. Everyone keep that in mind’,” she said.

And, when she was 21 years old, model Renee Peters developed anorexia and bulimia. “The girls at castings that were getting selected were all very, very skinny. And so I put a lot of pressure on myself to be that girl because I wanted to succeed,” she told The New York Times.

7. Models Suffer from Insecurity

Source: Pixabay

The people we regard as beautiful, perfect and flawless are oftentimes some of the most insecure people–and rightly so. You would be too if you were always being told you needed to lose weight or that your skin color isn’t considered pretty.

Paloma Elsesser, a model from Los Angeles, admits that it’s hard not being insecure when you’re a model. She told The New York Times that she has to constantly remind herself that she is “worthy.” Miranda Kerr offered similar advice in an interview with Cosmopolitan: “You’ve really got to practice loving yourself.”

6. Underage Models are Used in Provocative Ads

X Rated
Source: Wikimedia Commons by Brandonweaver1 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

California native Stella Duval told The New York Times that when she was first got signed with a modeling agency, she saw 14-year-old girls modeling lingerie. Kelly Mittendorf had a similar story, except she was the one who was doing the modeling. At age 16, she had to pose wearing an S&M-inspired get-up, complete with dominatrix-style stilettos, whips, handcuffs, and other unmentionables.

In November 2011, an advertisement for Marc Jacobs’s Oh Lola! perfume was banned in the UK after then-17-year-old Dakota Fanning was seen posing in a sexually provocative way. The Advertising Standards Authority, the UK’s regulator of advertising, said the ad was irresponsible and offensive.

5. Models Don’t Make Much Money

Source: Pexels

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for models in 2017 was $22,900. Unfortunately, some models don’t even make that. In fact, models can go a whole year or more before getting paid for a job. Others get paid with clothes. Some don’t get paid at all.

And then there’s the issue of agency charges. They’ll charge you an arm and a leg for everything, model Diandra Forrest told The New York Times. “Especially when you’re traveling abroad, they’re ordering you fancy cars and drivers. That’s coming out of your pay at the end of the day,” she said.

Sometimes models have to deal with manipulative designers and agencies. Model Charli Howard told Daily Mail that her agency would take 70 percent of her earnings. “I was charged hundreds of euros to stay in a model’s apartment, in a cramped room with a 15-year-old girl, with no indication of how much that would cost,” she said. “Things would be charged to my account with no receipt or explanation. When clients were months late paying me for a job, I was charged for the solicitor’s letter that had to be sent. You’d be surprised how many people use underhand tactics when they can.”

Models who are independent contractors struggle financially as well. Mittendorf told The New York Times that she was seriously in debt–five figures to be exact. Since she was an independent contractor she was responsible for paying for all of her expenses: photographers, portfolios, plane tickets, photo printing, clothing to go on castings with, etc.

4. Male Models are Paid Less Than Female Models

Male Model
Source: Pexels

Believe it or not, this is the one arena where women actually make more money than men. According to MSN, female models make almost 150 percent more than their male counterparts. In fact, an article in Forbes a few years ago showed that the combined annual wages of the ten top-earning males models–which was $8 million–was a drop in the bucket compared to what female models made during the same period–a whopping $83 million!

“I cannot understand how male models continue to be paid a fraction of what their female counterparts are doing for the exact same job. If the situation was reversed there would be an outcry. It’s entirely unnecessary and offensive,” Angus Munro, co-founder of New York-based agency AM Casting, told CNN.

3. Twenty-One is Too Old to Start Modeling

Source: Pixabay

Maria Eriksson, a three-time international Playboy centerfold, was told at age 21 years that she was too old for a lot of the modeling work agencies could supply, and, because of her age, she wouldn’t have a lot of time left to be a model. Like athletes, models’ careers often end when they reach their late twenties.

Consequently, high-fashion models usually start their careers at a very young age. Betty Lowe, daughter of designer Pearl Lowe, started modeling for her mother at age five. Cindy Crawford’s daughter made her modelling debut at the age of 10. And, Anaïs Gallagher, daughter of Oasis musician Noel Gallagher, was signed to a modeling agency at the tender age of 11.

So, just what is the best age to start modeling? “Sixteen is a good age to start,” Carole White, founder of UK-based modeling agency Premier Model Management, told The Guardian. “Seventeen is the perfect age for a model, because most girls feel comfortable in themselves by then; 18 is good too, though, because then all their schooling is out of the way. If a girl started at 20, she would find it difficult to get work. Her agent would probably lie about her age and say she was a year or two younger.”

2. Social Media is the New Advertising Medium in the Modeling Industry

Source: Pexels

The more social media followers a model has, the more sought after he or she will be. That’s because these models can reach customers interested in their clients’ products, according to White. This applies more so to celebrity models (think Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and Cara Delevingne) than it does to traditional models. Munro admits that although celebrity models work well from some projects, he’d rather see an ad campaign with a traditional model.

FYI, social media has not only become a powerful selling platform for models, it’s also become a platform for them to speak out about the abuse they face. In fact, model Ulrikke Hayer took to Instagram to accuse a casting director of telling her to consume nothing but water for 24 hours. The post went viral.

1. Many Photos are Dramatically Photoshopped

Photoshop Logo
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The end result of many modeling photo shoots is anything but realistic. An anonymous source, who just so happens to be a photo retoucher, told xoVain magazine that he’s received some crazy requests for image alterations. It’s not uncommon to digitally remove 10 or 20 pounds from models who are already paper-thin, he said. They want everything to be thinner: the arms, the thighs, the hips. He even had a request to remove a woman’s collar bone because it supposedly was a “distraction.”

The photo retoucher admitted that he doesn’t comply with every request. “There are times when you have to fight and say, ‘No, I think this is wrong’,” he said.


Now that you know what goes on in the modeling industry, you might want to think twice before considering, or persuading someone else to consider, a career as a fashion model. Thanks for reading, and be safe out there to all of you who are serious about modeling!