Stepping Up for Models

By Greenhouse, Steven | Honolulu Star - Advertiser, December 24, 2013 | Go to article overview

Stepping Up for Models

Greenhouse, Steven, Honolulu Star - Advertiser

Sara Ziff was a 14-year-old student at the Bronx High School of Science when a fashion photographer "discovered" her as she was returning to her family's apartment in Greenwich Village.

Within months, she was modeling for Calvin Klein and Seventeen magazine, but she soon encountered some compromising situations. When her modeling agency sent her to a photographer's apartment for a shoot, he told her to take off all her clothes. At age 15, she was sent to another shoot where drugs flowed freely and she was ordered to pose against a backdrop of explicit images from an adult magazine

Now, Ziff, 31, is seeking to help the next generation. Ziff - who still works as a model and recently graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University with a bachelor's degree in political science - has founded an unusual labor organization for fashion models. It aims to prevent abuses like agencies cheating models out of pay and coercive contracts dictating that 15-year-old models not let the circumference of their thighs or waists grow.

Its motto could be "5-foot-10, Size-Zero Workers of the World Unite."

In its year of existence, the group, the Model Alliance, which is backed by big-name models like Coco Rocha and Milla Jovovich, has already registered a major victory. In October, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a bill the alliance championed that significantly increases protections for child models by, among other things, requiring agencies to provide a chaperone whenever models under age 16 are sent to a fashion casting or shoot.

The Model Alliance hopes to succeed where a previous union for models fell short. In the 1990s, Donna Eller, a model with the Wilhelmina agency, created the Models Guild, which, backed by a major labor union, sought to unionize models. But after an initial splash, the glamorous guild fizzled, as modeling agencies resisted the idea of unionizing and many models worried that agencies would blacklist them for union ties.

Eager to lure models to her new group, rather than spook them, Ziff says the alliance is not seeking to unionize agencies or bargain contracts. Instead, it is vigorously promoting a longtime labor strategy -- strength in numbers -- to press for better conditions. In that sense, it resembles a host of new, innovative labor efforts, like the Freelancers Union and the fast-food workers' movement, which have sprouted up in an era when unions are in decline. At a time of high unemployment when many workers are on the defensive, these groups have become laboratories struggling to reinvent and reinvigorate labor advocacy to advance the cause of particular groups of workers.

Ziff, who has been a face for Tommy Hilfiger and Stella McCartney, acknowledges that models' concerns are often met with little sympathy. "A common comment we hear is, 'You're being paid to look pretty. Just shut up. You don't have a real job,'" she said. "My response is: Modeling is a job, and we deserve basic protections like any other worker, and it's all the more important when you realize that it's an industry that relies heavily on children, often just 14, 15, 16 years old."

Ziff first entertained the idea of unionizing models when she and her then boyfriend, an New York University film student, were making a documentary about models. That film, "Picture Me," released in 2009, shows Ziff and other willowy models at parties and fashion shows, but it also highlights their 18-hour days on runways in New York, Paris and Milan. One American model tells of a famous photographer who urged her to remove her clothes and perform a sexual act -- and of being in perpetual debt to her agency because it billed her for flights to Europe, for models' apartments and for preparing and distributing her photo book.

After the documentary's initial screening, where numerous models told their own stories of abuse, Ziff became convinced that something needed to be done. That was when she first met Susan Scafidi, director of Fordham University's Fashion Law Institute, who offered to help -- but balked at any talk of unionizing. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Stepping Up for Models


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.