“I was signed to an agency as a ‘petite model’ but was promised I would be getting just as many castings as the tall girls. I never got any castings. At all. If I did get a job, it would be something I booked through Instagram myself, and they just wanted a cut. One time they told me they booked me a job that I had to fly back early from a family trip for, just to find out the job didn’t exist.
At one point, they sent me nasty emails for dying my hair blonde/pink, saying it ruined my book—which had never been updated anyways. The funny thing is that they emailed me a year later saying, ‘We have all these clients asking for your pink hair pls answer us!’ I feel that i’m way better off managing myself and have gotten way more job opportunities now that I’ve taken their name off of my Instagram profile.”
“When most people think about exploitation in the modeling industry, they think about young, extremely emaciated girls. But the reality is that men and women in the industry are for the most part treated equally badly. We are products and we are sexualized. Photographers, casting directors, and even our own agents become our unsuspecting predators. I’ve been living in New York for just over two months and have already had numerous questionable experiences, from a photographer’s hand sliding down my back, to an agent making a seemingly harmless joke about my ‘junk.’ Furthermore, the pressure to stay thin and look perfect is extremely overwhelming—since moving here I’ve lost 15 pounds and I know my agency still wants me to lose more.”
“I recently left my agency in NYC after an extreme lack of support. The entire process started when my agency had several sexual harassment allegations a year or so ago. However, after they fired the booker who was accused, the remaining booking staff sat me down and told me to keep my trust in them, as they thought I could continue to go far. I have a unique look as a male model, and accentuate that with feminine style.
The second I started wearing heels to my castings, they stopped booking me. The bookers at the agency that I knew personally started to ignore me and I felt an extreme shift in the way they viewed me. After sending several clients their way and hearing no response, I decided to walk in a show that a designer I knew personally asked me to walk in. Working separate from your agency is not allowed, but I felt forced to do so, or else I would have absolutely no work. The show ended up getting a lot of coverage, which I’m sure my agents saw, because after that I heard absolutely nothing from them. I was doing what they should be doing, I was getting my own work. Finally one of the bookers sent me a release after weeks of no communication. I knew it had to do with working on the side, but I wanted out and didn’t ask questions. Since then, I have been reaching out to clients on my own and getting castings for fashion week. I’ve already had much more success this way.”
“I was signed to a top agency only a month after being signed to my mother agent. They wanted me in New York as fast as possible and I was promised I would be seeing ‘top clients’ as soon as I got there. When I arrived, agents started asking about my acne and what I was doing to take care of it. I told them that I was on two different medications already. I was frustrated because I had put my life on hold to see them and they only realized I had acne when they saw me in person and I wasn’t getting any castings or jobs like they promised. The whole trip became about my acne. I left NYC early and have no desire to go back.”
“I was signed to a mother agent for less than a month—didn’t even get a chance. They emailed me saying that bigger agencies and photographers weren’t responding well to me. As a mother agent, their job is to mold me into a workable model. Instead, many search for girls with the full package, leaving those of us with untapped potential to fend for ourselves.”
“I grew up modeling. I even went to a modeling school. When I turned 21, I began really pursuing the idea of being signed. Some agencies told me I was ‘already too established’ due to the quality of my portfolio. The worst moment was when I finally got feedback about my body. ‘Yes, I’d love to work with you! Even though everything about you is great, your chest is too big and won’t fit into sample size dresses.’ But I’m too thin and tall for agencies focused on ‘unique-looking’ models.”
“My dream agency scouted me through Instagram. They contacted my MA about me & they corresponded for about two months before they flew out to my hometown to meet me. Prior to the physical meeting, I sent them digitals almost every week for 8 weeks strait. They kept asking me to lose weight, saying my legs were ‘skinny fat and ‘too muscular,’ that my bottom was ‘too wide.’ I was a size 3 at this time. They met with me about 2 or 3 weeks before my scheduled trip to New York. When I met with them they told me they loved my look a lot and asked me to lose two inches before i came to NY. I lost 4 inches…I went to NYC a 00, none of my pants fit & I had to wear a pair of black jeans from the 7th grade I found at the bottom of my closet to all my castings.
When i went into the agency headquarters, I saw something that really upset me: All the white models were way bigger than me. Most of the measurements on their comp-cards on the wall were bigger than the size I was when I met with them the first time. This was off-putting to me being that I have heard horror stories of the industry often mistreating POC models & putting extreme rules on their measurements, but I still was eager to sign. Then they asked me to lose 2 more inches…at a size 00, I’m just not really sure what I’d be modeling at that point. I looked sick. one really great agency that was particularly interested in signing me for print even withdrew interest because they said i looked too sick for commercial. Now anytime I gain 10 pounds I freak out and I never noticed my legs before or thought they made me look short & stubby like they told me, or thought my ass was wide (I didn’t even think I had an ass) — but now I see it every single time i look in the mirror.”
“I’m unsigned and have tried to get signed a few times, but I’ve had more than one agency say they ‘don’t really do the androgynous thing’ which is really frustrating. Photographers always say that they like my short hair and my androgynous look, but for some reason agencies aren’t interested. I’ve also had brands, photographers, and agencies tell me they don’t like that I have armpit and pubic hair. I even had one unpaid gig tell me that they wouldn’t shoot with me if I didn’t shave. So obviously I didn’t shoot with them. I just don’t really understand why agencies and brands are so against showcasing different looks. Everyone is different. Why don’t they want to represent that?”
“In the modeling industry—whether it’s for fun, business, or pleasure—we are all aware of how women are ‘made to look” and are “meant to look” due to social media, magazines and bigger social platforms. I am a five foot woman who at the peak of my modeling career weighed 100 pounds flat—I had hardly any body fat. And by multiple photographers I was told to ‘suck it in.’ Agencies I reached out to noted that they had concerns about my body. Hearing these comments was very disheartening and made me actually take a step back for months from modeling due to it being so painful for my mental health. I would never ever say this to anyone while taking their photo or working with them, but we should be much more respectful and understanding and loving of women of every body shape and size. That is the beauty of beauty in itself.”
“I came to NYC from Utah under the impression that I would get pushed to work with huge clients. My mother agency scouted me and signed me to my New York agent. When I got here, I booked jobs and did pretty well, giving me a solid trajectory towards my future goals of working with big brands. My NY agency decided it was time for me to cut my long hair. When I resisted, they said: ‘Milton, we will not push you unless you cut your hair. If you don’t do it, we are not going to book you.’ I cut my hair and shortly after went to Europe for fashion week. I barely booked any jobs because clients were expecting my long hair and no longer wanted my look. My agency did nothing to help me prepare or build a new portfolio selling my short hair, even after they encouraged me to cut it.
Later that year, my mother agent and my NY agent got into an argument and broke up, professionally. This left me with a choice to stay with my mother agent who scouted me, or continue working with my NY agency. When I decided to give my loyalty to my mother agent, my NY agency flipped out, saying if I left, they would take me to court for violating my contract. They wanted me to stay because they didn’t want my mother agent to have me. I was trapped in the middle of a petty fight.
Right after the complication, I was no longer booked for any jobs. To keep making money off of me, they charged me $500 in cards for fashion week and another $500 for messenger fees to send out the cards. They would set me up with ‘free test shoots,’ then charge my account, driving me deeper into debt. I’m not sure what their reasons were, but I know that it was intentional. They excused their actions by stating I was ‘too skinny to book jobs’ after I had already been booking jobs for years.”
“I was scouted in Nordstrom while working at a mall. My agent seemed so passionate about pushing me and working me as a top model. Knowing nothing about the industry, I agreed when they said they would pay to fly me to NY, house me, and book me top jobs. I was told multiple times that my agent would ‘take care of me.’ They assured me that I would be picked up from the airport and taken to my new spot. When I was on my flight to the city, I got an email from my agent saying to take a cab to a random location and meet a guy that would give me the keys to my place. After a $60 cab with money I didn’t have, I was put into a random apartment with another male model and only one bed. The man who gave me the keys never even told me his name. Everything seemed so sketchy and off-putting. After staying for 3 weeks, I was charged close to $1000 for the apartment that I was told would be paid for.
I left NYC with a bad taste in my mouth, but came back when my agency assured there would be work for me. Because I wanted to succeed, I came back and experienced the same situation—this time in my agency’s model apartments. After spiraling into debt with my agency, I was too broke to pay for the apartment and was left homeless. I managed to stay with friends when I could, and had to work random jobs for money. I had left my entire life to move to NYC just to end up homeless, hungry and hopeless.”