Breaking The Model - Documentary

Tinyportia

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There's little I love more than documentaries about fashion and the modelling industry (even if they feature models complaining about how they never made it as it’s usually very entertaining to hear their excuses) and the recently released Australian documentary "Breaking The Model" is no exception. This one does not deal with body image or eating disorders but rather how unprotected models are in their workplace. The documentary seeks to highlight the fact that the industry is largely comprised of children and in Australia at least, operates largely unregulated.

The documentary features a former Australian model, Jenna Owen. She was signed to Chadwick models when she was 17 but quit after 2 years. She admits she was not a good model, and didn't make any money. Jenna, as well as three other models share their stories about their modelling experiences and the failure of their agencies to adequately look out for their interests. One model, Mercy was 14 when she did her first lingerie shoot. Another model, Izzy, was 15 when she had first sexual experience on a fashion shoot with a 30-year-old male model.

And then there's Jenna herself:

When she was 17, her agency booked her for a shoot without telling her that it would involve being topless. At the time she saw it as an opportunity to start making money for her agency. But when she looks back on the resulting images now, she’s unsettled.

“It’s about the lifespan of that image, and it’s about the fact that we can’t control where those images go,” she said. “I don’t know who’s editing that image. I don’t know where that image has been sent, where they’ve decided to submit it. I don’t know if I ever find all the corners of the internet or the computers or the hard drives that that image is on in the world"

"And I think that’s a quite sinister thing when you’re speaking about someone that is under age. And I 100 per cent gave my consent in that moment [on set], but how much consent can you really have as 17-year-old girl who is so disempowered by their relationship with their agency, so disposable as a person?”

In the documentary, Jenna sits down with her mother to reflect on that photo shoot. Her mother is defensive at first — "You didn't know you were doing it until you went there. So it's not that I knew either. I wasn't comfortable being one of those hovering mothers". But according to Jenna, she's since been guilt-ridden. "That was really difficult for her, obviously, because she felt so responsible," she said. "But she was the opposite of a negligent mother. She was a really incredible supportive mother".

By the time Jenna left the industry she not only hadn't made money, she had a debt of $163. That's something Jenna wants parents to be particularly aware of. "The sting on top of it all, the majority of these girls and young women aren't even making profit. Their wages are sapped through commissions and a murky tally of expenses charged by the agent (from printing fees to accommodation and travel)".

For the documentary, she had modelling contracts examined by a top employment lawyer who concluded that "the power is all with the agency... these contracts allow for models to be financially exploited".

She also discovered that the major agencies were not meeting their legal obligation to register with the NSW Office of the Children's Guardian, as an authorised employer of children under 16.

These are just the reasons why Jenna would like to see the minimum age requirement for models to work in Australia raised to 18.

"I am yet to get one good reason why children are modelling," she said.

"This is not a good financial career path for the majority of young women — maybe the top three per cent [are financially successful]. So if it's not a good financial career path, and they're not protected by child safety laws, then what are the advantages?
Subsequently, Jenna's former agency, Chadwick models, has released a statement responding to the allegations made by Jenna in the documentary:

It is disappointing Jenna is indicating a negative experience with us as our team were committed to developing a professional modelling career for Jenna in an appropriate manner and at no time was any regret or dissatisfaction with any aspect of the association ever communicated to us.

Jenna signed with us on 20/06/12 and left us on 26/05/14 indicating she wanted to focus on an acting career leaving us with a debt of $163 which we absorbed without mention and released her from her contract.
In her time with us Jenna booked herself out extensively for personal reasons including for study and regular voice coaching in line with her acting aspirations which we supported.

I can only say that the entire team at Chadwick are fully focused on our responsibilities to our guys and girls that remain paramount in building on the highest reputation Chadwick's has earned over our 43 years in business.
We vigorously vet any and all photographers working with our girls and are constantly impressing upon our models the need for honest and open communication at all times especially when on any test or assignment arranged by Chadwick.

All models are informed of the industry standard commission we charge and that various expenses incurred in career development will be advanced by the agency and deducted from future work which is also a worldwide industry standard and covered specifically in the executed agreement.

Any charges deducted are included in a detailed statement when a payment is made or upon request and we aim at all times to keep such expenses to an absolute minimum.

With regard to responses on specific points please see below:
  • Modelling agencies across Australia, including Chadwick Models, are financially exploiting models by (on top of taking commission) charging expenses to models' accounts with little or no transparency.
Every aspect of the relationship between Model and Chadwick's is communicated carefully and in person to the model [including their parents or Guardian if they are under 18 years]. Preparing and developing a professional model takes time, consideration and expertise and largely is a partnership between model and agent and something Chadwick Models has been very successful with and proud of.

The subject of commission and expenses is also covered in detail in the signed agreement on file [also signed by parent.] As per below.

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  • Allegations made by former model Jenna Owen that when she was 17 years old she was sent by Chadwick Models to a test shoot in Sydney with a photographer who – during the shoot – asked her to pose topless. Jenna alleges representatives from Chadwick Models did not discuss the possibility the shoot will require nudity prior to Jenna being sent there.
We vet any and all Photographers and would NEVER approve or give consent to such a request let alone raise the prospect with one of our models as it is simply not within acceptable behaviour. We advise all our models to contact us immediately any inappropriate request may be suggested in particular with regard to topless or nudity in any way. With that required notification we would be in in immediate contact with the Photographer in question to arrange immediate departure of the model and ensure we do not work with that photographer again.

All our models follow those very specific instructions and we would be extremely disappointed and consult with in any model the importance of never ignoring those instructions in particular if such requests are agreed to.

As this scenario was never raised with her booker at any time and Jenna continued to work closely with the agency for the next 2 years doing numerous future tests we were unaware of the breach in our rules for photographers on that occasion and the trust we have in our models to keep us informed of such breaches. It should be noted that we do suggest a parent be in attendance at any shoot for our models under 18 years of age and most contact with models under 18 is through a parent.

Again I must reiterate how disappointed I am that Jenna has had that experience and disappointed further that we are only now learning of the transgression by a photographer 7 years on when we would have dealt with it immediately if notified at the time or at any time during representation.
  • Why is Chadwick Models not registered with the NSW Office of Children's Guardian?
We are not aware of the requirement.

You can watch the actual documentary here:

 
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SugarFree

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While most in the comment section is very clueless with the industry in a whole, I fully believe there needs to be more regulations put in place. There’s a union for actors, there should be one for models - and even then (which we have seen with the Me Too movement) it’s not 100% full proof but at least it would be a start. I would also like to see agents sitting down with their models and talk about sexual harassment/assault, and if they were in a situation where that happens, go over step by step what they should do. I think this would help empower young models to be able to stand up for themselves better, since they are working in a very adult industry. They don’t have the same life experience as adults (but even then, adults can freeze.) It’s a lot easier to take advantage of someone so young and eager. A lot of people like to sweep it under the rug and say “that doesn’t happen, it’s very rare” “we are a reputable agency” “we vet all photographers.” But time and time again, this is happening - and agencies need to hold themselves accountable and acknowledge that they are not immune. They vet photographers by how good they are - not if they’re sexual predators. I won’t say this happens to every model, but it has happened to me, and I know other models from reputable agencies it’s happened too as well. It took me a very, very long time to recover for it. I almost allowed it to destroy my life. This was absolutely not my agencies fault, and they handled it very well, and I’m forever thankful for that. But knowing what I know now, I think agents, models and parents really need to speak more about it. Bring awareness so if that ever happens, they are more prepared on what they should do. There is too much trust in the hands of strangers in such an under-regulated industry. Especially with children. But my experience is my own, and I know of other models who never had experienced anything of the sort. I don’t believe the industry in itself is bad, but there are many things that we can work on to strive to be better - and that’s something we should always do, no matter the industry.

Edit: Wanted to add some thoughts about Chadwicks statement. I do believe that they were unaware of this situation with Jenna, I don’t blame them. But I also don’t blame Jenna either for not telling her agency. She was young, she didn’t know what was right/wrong, and she was probably afraid of saying anything - especially if she thought Chadwick had set it up like that (which doesn’t seem to be the case.) This is why I said it’s extremely important for agents and models to sit down and talk about these potential situations so there is a very clear understanding of what is expected and what is not. This is something I would have loved to see them add to their statement. While it isn’t their fault that this happened, more can be done in the future. This would better protect not only the model, but themselves too.
 
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lattelover

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While most in the comment section is very clueless with the industry in a whole, I fully believe there needs to be more regulations put in place. There’s a union for actors, there should be one for models - and even then (which we have seen with the Me Too movement) it’s not 100% full proof but at least it would be a start. I would also like to see agents sitting down with their models and talk about sexual harassment/assault, and if they were in a situation where that happens, go over step by step what they should do. I think this would help empower young models to be able to stand up for themselves better, since they are working in a very adult industry. They don’t have the same life experience as adults (but even then, adults can freeze.) It’s a lot easier to take advantage of someone so young and eager. A lot of people like to sweep it under the rug and say “that doesn’t happen, it’s very rare” “we are a reputable agency” “we vet all photographers.” But time and time again, this is happening - and agencies need to hold themselves accountable and acknowledge that they are not immune. They vet photographers by how good they are - not if they’re sexual predators. I won’t say this happens to every model, but it has happened to me, and I know other models from reputable agencies it’s happened too as well. It took me a very, very long time to recover for it. I almost allowed it to destroy my life. This was absolutely not my agencies fault, and they handled it very well, and I’m forever thankful for that. But knowing what I know now, I think agents, models and parents really need to speak more about it. Bring awareness so if that ever happens, they are more prepared on what they should do. There is too much trust in the hands of strangers in such an under-regulated industry. Especially with children. But my experience is my own, and I know of other models who never had experienced anything of the sort. I don’t believe the industry in itself is bad, but there are many things that we can work on to strive to be better - and that’s something we should always do, no matter the industry.

Edit: Wanted to add some thoughts about Chadwicks statement. I do believe that they were unaware of this situation with Jenna, I don’t blame them. But I also don’t blame Jenna either for not telling her agency. She was young, she didn’t know what was right/wrong, and she was probably afraid of saying anything - especially if she thought Chadwick had set it up like that (which doesn’t seem to be the case.) This is why I said it’s extremely important for agents and models to sit down and talk about these potential situations so there is a very clear understanding of what is expected and what is not. This is something I would have loved to see them add to their statement. While it isn’t their fault that this happened, more can be done in the future. This would better protect not only the model, but themselves too.
Thank you for such an insightful response, it's very interesting to hear the opinions of an insider. I'm sorry that you had to go through a traumatic experience, but I'm glad you had the strength to recover from it ❤ I'm definitely not an insider and don't have a large extent of knowledge about this topic, but I believe that in any industry there should be an emphasis on protecting children. By vetting photographers more thoroughly, having more regulations in place, etc, these agencies could save young models from trauma which can affect them for the rest of their lives. I also completely agree with @SugarFree that it's essential for there to be an open discussion with the models about how to deal with situations where they don't feel comfortable. As a teenager myself, I can understand how many newcomers to the industry may be extremely eager to please/do well, and may not fully comprehend what's considered normal and what crosses the line. I think that some young models may also be afraid of the perceived repercussions of telling someone about their experiences, which prevents further action from being taken. All in all, I agree that more should be done, though once again, I don't have much knowledge on this topic.
 
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PetiteLapin

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When I was signed, my agent never specifically talked about sexual abuse/harassment but she encouraged all the models to learn the basics of fighting/self defense. I learned Krav Maga "through" the agency. They brought in a couple of experts and the models had to sign up for a time slot to learn about safety and fighting techniques. Of course this was very elementary and hand-to-hand combat only but it's better than nothing. :)
 
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Tinyportia

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Thank you @SugarFree for your industry insights, they were very interesting to read. To echo what @lattelover has said, I am sorry you had to experience what you did.

The challenge, at least in Australia, is that models are not engaged as employees, rather they are engaged as independent contractors and there are very few regulations that serve to protect the health and well being of independent contractors, even if they are minors. On the other hand, there are so many protections for employees (such as minimum rates of pay). I do not think that modelling agencies engage models as independent contractors (rather than employees) as a deliberate attempt to avoid complying with these regulations though - based on the nature of the work models do I am not sure it would be practical to engage them as employees. For example, part-time and full-time employees are entitled to sick leave and annual leave and are protected from unfair dismissal. A casual employee can be entitled to these protections too subject to certain criteria. And all employees are protected from termination for discriminatory reasons. If a model was engaged as an employee and then the agency wanted to fire her because she had gained weight, employment laws make doing so illegal.

Leaving all that aside, I did find Chadwick's official response rather interesting. Not passing judgment here on whether they're in the right or wrong, but solely looking at this from a PR perspective, I think their response could have been better. I understand they wanted to make clear that they were not aware of what happened between Jenna and the photographer but I think they could've been more sympathetic to the reasons why Jenna may not have felt comfortable raising it with them at the time. Though that being said, it does sound like Jenna only realised several years after the incident that she wasn't comfortable with posing topless:

At the time she saw it as an opportunity to start making money for her agency. But when she looks back on the resulting images now, she’s unsettled
As for Chadwick's comment that they waived Jenna's $168 debt...yes, it was probably generous on their part to release her from her contract and waive her debt but it does come across as a bit petty that they felt the need to call this out. Again, not saying this wasn't generous of them, but I don;t think it helped them to mention the $168 debt in their statement!

What also frustrated me was this:

  • Why is Chadwick Models not registered with the NSW Office of Children's Guardian?
We are not aware of the requirement
Chadwicks aren't legally required to register with the NSW Office of Children's Guardian. The documentary implies that Chadwicks are not complying with their legal obligations, but that is not the case. Only employers are required to register. As Chadwicks (and modelling agencies) do not employ minors, they are exempt from this requirement. While I understand the laws are changing in this regard, at the time the documentary was made, there was no requirement for Chadwicks to register. Yes, maybe the right thing to do is register anyway but it struck me as sloppy journalism for suggesting Chadwicks are in breach of the law when they are not. I am surprised Chadwicks didn't allude to this in their statement. They could've said something along the lines of "While we are not legally required to register, we will be looking into this further and consider registering on a voluntary basis".

While most in the comment section is very clueless with the industry in a whole, I fully believe there needs to be more regulations put in place. There’s a union for actors, there should be one for models - and even then (which we have seen with the Me Too movement) it’s not 100% full proof but at least it would be a start.
I am curious - anyone know why a union exists for actors but not for models? Is it simply because historically, models haven't fought for their working rights in the same way actors have?
 
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