The fashion industry makes a lot of noise about improving working conditions for underage models while the de facto situation stays more or less about the same, i.e., totally unregulated. Even designers who openly champion hiring only girls over 18 years old and who at least appear healthy, like Diane Von Furstenberg, sometimes mess up. Now the New York State Senate is stepping in, proposing a series of laws (key word here — “laws,” not guidelines, like the fashion industry tends to propose and then ignore) that would allow under-18 models to keep working, but with a series of protections in place.
Minors in similar working conditions — actors, dancers, etc. — have legislation that specifically applies to them to ensure reasonable working hours, continuing education, and a generally safe work environment. Heretofore, none of this has applied to the modeling industry, but if legislation written by Senators Diane Savino and Jeffrey Klein passes, young models will be chaperoned, tutored, and afforded the same set of protections as their under-18 counterparts in the entertainment industry.
What’s great about the proposed new rules is that it allows younger models to keep working — since fashion doesn’t seem like it’s shifting to an older demographic anytime soon — but does so in a way that makes the trend toward hiring very young models less problematic overall. Yes, there’s still the issue of using 15-year-olds to sell clothes to adult women, but hey, it’s still an improvement if that tenth-grader hasn’t dropped out of school for the work.
By the way, the senators creating these laws are working with the Model Alliance, an organization formed by former model Sarah Ziff, which works to improve conditions for models of all ages. If anything proves the point that young models shouldn’t quit school for their jobs, it’s Ziff herself. The Columbia-educated model-turned-activist’s work to change the industry has been notably more effective than efforts from many older, bigger names before her.