Model and actress turned writer Jennifer Sky is best known for her work as Amarice on Xena: Warrior Princess or as Cleopatra on Cleopatra: 2025 but as she's written today, it was her time spent modeling that made more of negative a impact on her life than years of casting couches ever did.
Though modeling and acting are often considered similarly judgmental industries because of their dependence on young hotties, as Sky writes for the New York Times, the big difference between the two professions "is that actors have a union and models do not." (Oh, we know.)
Sky describes her time on Xena as "feminism as work" because it was a show "with female lead characters who were unapologetically powerful and sexy":
I haven’t done any acting in a few years, but I carry Xena’s lessons forward. And I never forget how much we all need our heroes and heroines, our mythical gods, our warrior princesses. For all its pomp and glamour, the fashion industry was never able to give me that kind of hope.
Last week, Sky wrote a piece for New York magazine entitled "Working As a Teenage Model Gave Me PTSD" where she described the systematic and endemic practices young models face when they are naive and can't question whether the treatment they're dealing with is right or wrong:
Countless questionable things happened to me during my time as a model. From neglect to molestation to topless photo shoots to men exposing themselves to being made to stand in a freezing pool until I turned blue, I would be abused for the entirety of my career. Eventually, the highs of the photo shoots began to dull. I started to show signs that things weren’t right; feeling disconnected, hollow, having nightmares. My naturally outgoing personality changed: I became withdrawn and startled easily. It became hard for me to travel new routes, to eat at new restaurants, or even shop at the corner store. I became so timid I no longer spoke. I eventually did not leave my room unless I had a job or a casting.
Sadly, even the modeling jobs that on paper should have been good gigs were not: Sky writes that she quit modeling after posing for the prom issue of the beloved Sassy magazine. "When the magazine arrived, the pinnacle of my modeling career, the girl in the photo seemed sad," she says.
Sky rightfully points out that her experience on Xena was unique in that it was a specifically feminist show that has since been deeply praised for its representation (however subtle) of gay relationships and strong women. But her larger argument is still hard to question. It's certainly true that actors have more agency than models, which explains why many women (and men) start off modeling and try to segue into acting, but whether they have that much more is hardly enough to prompt any sane individual to recommend a career in acting above modeling to any youngin' just starting out. Unless they are auditioning for a Xena reboot, which would be an entirely different story.