British model Edie Campbell has written an open-letter for Women’s Wear Daily on model abuse in the fashion industry, speaking out against the ways the fashion industry has normalized sexual abuse for the sake of “artistic genius.”
The letter comes at a time when many models are grappling with sexual harassment claims. Campbell references Cameron Russell’s Instagram account in which the model shared anonymous stories of models, women and men, sharing stories of sexual harassment and even rape in their field:
Since Cameron Russell enlisted the help of many fashion people to share the stories of sexual abuse she had been sent — anonymously — by other models, the conversation has only focused on Terry Richardson. Media coverage has been frustratingly limited to Richardson. Broadsheet newspapers write clickbait articles that avoid the more nuanced and complex truth, which is this: The models that shared their stories with Cameron were not all talking about the same photographer.
Campbell points out that a lot these anonymous stories were about a wide variety of photographers and members of the fashion industry, not just Terry Richardson, someone she believes the media is too focused on. She also emphasizes that sexual harassment in the industry concerns male models as well, though most stories focus on victims who are women:
Abuse suffered by young men is more complex. I would assume that it is more difficult for the victims to speak out: The language doesn’t exist, and the conversation is currently weighted heavily in support of young female victims. The shame felt is probably greater as there is a stigma involved. The abuse can be perceived as emasculating, and then there is the delicate subject of homophobia. The global conversation about sexual abuse has been (possibly rightly) focused on female victims. The statistics add up. But when you zoom in on the fashion industry, I would assume that the numbers are much more evenly split between male and female victims.
As to how to fix this industry that is “too accepting of abuse,” Campbell writes that the problem starts with how the lines between personal and professional are too blurred in modeling. “Pranks, sexually explicit jokes, suggestive comments — these all slide under the radar in a ‘fun’ and ‘creative’ industry like fashion,” she writes. She also proposes that things like nudity be discussed explicitly before shoots and that work-days be limited to certain hours, plus calling out the agents who aren’t doing enough to protect the mental and physical health of the models they represent.
Fashion, she says, ultimately revolves around the idea of the “artistic genius,” which allows for this kind of inappropriate behavior to be normalized. “As an artist-genius, you are allowed to behave in any way you see fit, and you inspire total fear and devotion from your followers,” she writes. “If you are creative, and if your work is good, you will be forgiven anything.”