New York May Finally Protect Underaged Models

“Underage” and “model:” these words have practically become synonymous. This past Wednesday, the New York State Legislature passed a measure (A7787-2013) that could change this by calling for underage models to be treated as child performers and to be under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor.  The result of the legislation (which still must be approved by Governor Andrew Cuomo) could affect nothing less than the look of models in high-profile events such as Fashion Week.

There are indeed some very young models walking the runways as a list of models (via New York Magazine) reveals. According to the New York Times, most models start their careers before they turn 18 and some as early as 13 or 14.

In New York, underage models are currently subject to regulation under the Department of Education, but these rules have not routinely been enforced, meaning that models under 18 in New York — a city that is home to numerous designers, brands and magazines – are working with “no significant workplace protections.”

It has been up to employers to “do the right thing” regarding the treatment of underaged models and some have. Vogue recently announced that it will not use models who are younger than 16 and the Council of Fashion Designers of America has called for its members to set a minimum age of 16 for models; most designers, but not all, have complied.

New York’s Proposed Regulations to Protect Underaged Models

Were underaged models to be considered child performers, they would fall under the Department of Labor’s far more stringent regulations and oversight. Employers would have to apply for permits to hire them and document all the hours they worked; they could be investigated by the Labor Department if they did not comply.

Under the proposed legislation, underaged models would not be allowed to work past midnight on school nights. They could only work eight hours a day during school hours for no more than two days in a row and only with school permission. They would also have to have twelve hours of rest between work days and be allotted study time, tutors and space for instruction. A “responsible person” would have to be designated to monitor the activity and safety of a model aged 16 years and under. 15 percent of a young model’s earnings would have to be be placed in a separate, restricted bank account set up by a parent or guardian.

Huge Pressure on Underaged Models

Girls in high school who work as models are under “tremendous pressure” to put aside their education, as Sara Ziff, a former model (she started when she was 14) and founder of an advocacy group, Model Alliance, says to the New York Times. Ziff worked with politicians on the proposed changes to the law. As she also notes, underaged models may also feel pressured to agree to photo shoots that are inappropriate for their ages; part of Model Alliance’s mission also seeks “redress for issues of sexual harassment” in the interest of creating a “safe and healthy work environment that protects models’ mental and physical wellbeing.”

The fashion council seems open to the new regulations. The real opponent is likely to be modeling agencies which have long been wary of attempts to regulate them, says the New York Times.

Other states have long had such regulations in place. New York adopting such could have a particularly significant impact on the rest of the country and specifically on the fashion industry. As Time magazine comments, the industry has of late sought out models who are not only skinny but who have an androgynous look “and the ideal has become a tall skinny teenager who has yet to flower into full womanhood — no curves whatsoever.” Models with underdeveloped bodies that are not like that of an adult woman’s have been the most sought after to display designer clothes that, as Ziff points out, are marketed to adults. Would it not make more sense to have adult models wearing them?

As Susan Scafidi, academic director or Fordham University’s Fashion Law Institute observes, designers and magazines are likely to take the easier route of hiring models 18 years and older. The “biggest” impact of the law could well be that older models get more work which, as she says in Women’s Wear Daily, “wouldn’t be a bad thing” as “model careers are very short.”

Scafidi’s statement about the brevity of a model’s career is troubling in itself as it suggests how (certainly in the fashion industry) youth is equated with beauty. A report that circulated a few weeks ago about models eating tissues to suppress their appetites is about as much evidence as anyone should need for why this industry needs to be reformed, as well as why we’ve a long, long way to go in changing cultural notions about what beauty is.

In view of repeated concerns about models’ health and susceptibility to anorexia and mistreatment, the need for more well-defined and extensive protections for underaged models — and for enforcement of them — in New York is more than overdue. An underaged model in an elaborate designer’s clothes should be seen not as some ideal of beauty but as a child in an elaborate outfit working long hours when she should have been in school.


Photo via Dilia Oviedo/Flickr


Jim V
Jim Ven9 months ago


Jerome S
Jerome S9 months ago

thanks for sharing.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener4 years ago


Thomas Myers
Thomas Myers4 years ago

Natasha S.

It would indeed be nice if we could address the weight issue, but you can't. That is not the problem, it is a symptom, and as my chiropractor always says, if you address the symptom, you're only ignoring the problem. When you are in pain, don't attack the pain. Go after the cause. These people take all of these pain meds, and their bodies don't heal. Why? They are numbing the pain, and the pain is the body's signal that it has to heal. Without pain, it doesn't know that it has to heal. Follow this same logic in dealing with problems in the community.

The modeling industry has an issue with underweight women. The women are only anorexic because they are desperately trying to meet industry standards. It therefore stands to reason that you can't deal with anorexia by addressing the anorexia. You can only deal with the anorexia by prohibiting policies that promote anorexia, then again, those policies are merely symptoms of the problem, too. Find the source of the disease, eliminate it, and then you eliminate the symptoms.

Ernie Miller
william Miller4 years ago

great idea

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran4 years ago


Natasha Salgado
Past Member 4 years ago

Great but the real focus needs to placed on the weight issue---it's appalling to have these poor young women looking like waifs and resembling tree stems. That needs to change. Thanks

Thomas Myers
Thomas Myers4 years ago

Marianne C. Understand that fashion designers are arTEESTs. It's not about what the female is or isn't. It is about them. Art tends to be a very narcissistic form of expression (being an artist, I can assure you that this is true). The androgynous model is intended the same way that a blank canvas is intended: these arTEESTs can build their designs around models as they like, adding curves to the body with padding and the like as needed, but more often than not, artists tend to have a surrealistic view about the world and in the end, it's not about women's fashion, it's about the arTEEST's personal vision.

Thomas Myers
Thomas Myers4 years ago

Part 3(my wife didn't gain weight, no matter what she ate and was consistently underweight. Her doctor's couldn't figure it out. Here, she would go out to these luncheons with these models, they'd all order a salad without dressing, and she'd order a double-cheeseburger with fries, to murderous glances.). My wife would have discussions online with Heidi Klum, Cindy Crawford, and Heather Locklear, and these women all talked about how if today's industry was in charge when they were modeling, they would all be considered plus-sized. They all think something needs to be done.

So, if that's only the tip of the iceberg, what was my wife's real issue with the modeling industry? I'll tell you. They generally won't take models who are old enough to graduate school. They want them between 12 and 16. They will often work 16 to 20 hours a day, often allowed only one meal, in grueling conditions under which they aren't allowed sit, laborous practice so harsh that they often develop bone and muscle conditions. She believed that the industry needed an overhaul and envisioned opening a modeling school that would address these issues, and would teach models how to be everything the industry demands without having to ruin their bodies. My wife died of an asthma attack this past March at only 37, and I now have no way of doing what she had hoped to accomplish. I don't know how to teach models, and I doubt I'll find models interested in running such a school.

Thomas Myers
Thomas Myers4 years ago

Part 2 It's true, they can't use facial expressions because that would draw attention away from the clothes (and facial expressions are only permitted, and in fact, required, when makeup is being modeled). Still, you can see the difference in expressions. If her face is passive, you can bet she probably pleased with the shoot. If she's scowling, she probably wishes she was someplace else, hopes no future employers see her in these ridiculous poses, wonders why the designer put her in such an idiotic outfit, or is probably thinking she isn't getting paid enough for this humiliation (see some of Marc Jacob's shoots in Vogue. You'll see what I mean).

But models have more concerns; the concerns mentioned above only start to cover it. Public opinion versus job requirements spring immediately to mind. Agencies want their models to be a certain weight, and in case you're wondering, if you are at the ideal weight for your height, you are fat, and if you are at a healthy, but less than average weight for your height, you need to lose weight. The thing is, your body knows when it's too small, and will struggle to pull nutrients in, creating food cravings. These women, in many cases, have to be anorexic to maintain industry standards (my wife didn't gain weight, no matter what she ate and was consistently underweight. Her doctor's couldn't figure it out. Here, she would go out to these luncheons with these models, they'd all order a salad without dressing, and she'd order