If you scroll through Terry Richardson’s blog, you will find hundreds of images of models posed against his infamous white wall. Some are smiling and others are staring intently into his camera lens. Many of these images feature models giving a thumbs-up or wearing Terry’s glasses. In many, Terry makes an appearance, wrapping his arm around the model tightly, flashing his mustache-filled grin.
These images seem harmless. They look like typical digitals taken at a casting for an editorial or ad-campaign. And yes, they probably are harmless, but these images are not what have caused controversy.
The controversy lies with the thousands of images that aren’t on his blog. The ones where models are posed in degrading and demoralizing positions, often naked and featuring certain personal parts of Terry, too. I’m not saying that all of these images were taken in situations where the model was forced to do things against her will, in fact, many of these women probably voluntarily participated. But, the problem with Terry’s images is those taken featuring models who did not have a say in their position they were placed in. Whether it was out of fear that their agency would disapprove or even Terry himself, the lack of respect for the model’s well-being is the problem, not Terry.
The fashion industry has a problem with closing their eyes and remaining silent. The industry continually reinforces ideas of misogyny in ad-campaigns and editorials. The notion that it is “okay” for a female model to pose in a way that shows male dominance is in no way “okay.” Yet, the fashion industry sees it as art and the model as its obedient subject.
The secrecy and unwritten rule of brushing any mistreatment of models under the rug is the problem. Terry is simply one of the most famous examples in the industry of getting away with it. Models are constantly told to “be professional” and to obey instructions from agencies, photographers, casting directors, and stylists alike. They are told to be the puppet for the photographer to play with. They are to sit in positions that give them an unsettling feeling in their stomach. They are told to close their lips when something is wrong, and if they do speak out, they are shunned by the industry.
The problem isn’t the person, the problem is the problem itself. The problem of ignoring basic right’s of the models, including such simple things like treating the model with dignity and respect. The problem of not treating the model’s voice as equal to everyone else’s on set. The problem of the industry exiling those who speak out against individuals like Terry who have continuously been accused of crossing the boundary between art and assault. Yet, there are never consequences for their actions.
As a model, I don’t blame Terry for what has unfolded over the years, I blame the industry. I blame the magazines who continually work with him and applaud the ones that refuse. I blame the stylists and assistants on set who would rather turn a blind eye to inappropriate behavior, than help the model. I blame the agents who guilt-trip their models into working with individuals like Terry who say that it’s “for their career.”
Yet, what’s an even bigger problem to blame isn’t even the industry, it’s society’s acceptance of blaming the victim. How it was her fault that she worked with Terry and that she should have known better. Even worse, that the model wanted to do the things she did on set. Blaming the victim reinforces the issues we have with patriarchal gender roles in society. The way the model is treated is simply a repercussion of decades of the degradation of women.
So what can even be done? It starts with speaking out to those that have influence. It’s time to call out those who are still abiding by the cycle of misogyny in the fashion industry. There needs to be an even greater amount of respect given to the models. Once the industry accepts the situation with Terry as one that is a common occurrence, they might be able to end these tendencies that are seen as “artistic choices.”
Models: it’s time to put your foot down. This might seem like a call to action, but it starts with us. We are the ones in front of the camera and we are the ones whose faces are placed at the forefront of this dialog. You need to stand up for yourself and start asking the hard questions. If you’re stuck, reach out to The Model Alliance for help. Your voice is important and needs to be heard.
With the hundreds of models that flock to New York City this summer, we have power in numbers. Ending this cycle starts now. Ending the problem starts now. Speaking out starts now. Our concerns are valid and should be treated with the same respect as any other member of the fashion industry.
From now on, at every casting you go on, think about those digitals that an individual is taking of you. They might seem harmless now, and probably will be in the future, but you never know which girl won’t be as lucky. It’s time to speak for those who can’t.
This summer, you’ll probably go to New York. While it might be your mother agency that makes you go or you’re just tempted to go to all of those summer parties, every model makes a pit stop in one of those cockroach-infested Brooklyn model apartments.
Upon arriving at the office of your New York agency that you may or may not have met, you are greeted by your agent. He takes digitals, tells you that you need to tone-up and suggests you go to Soul Cycle.
Then, he pauses. He stares at your hair, running his fingers through it, and examining all of your split ends.
"You need a haircut," He says as he pulls out his phone to call the salon he claims is “the best."
But, which type of cut will you get? It depends on what type of model you are.