BIO: Media has called fashion "high-class human trafficking." 54% of models begin working on or before the age of sixteen. Agencies start recruiting at age thirteen. Many of the pictures in your favorite fashion magazines are little girls dressed up to look like women. With no legal union or governing body watching over the wellbeing of these children, they often become indentured into paying off monstrous debts to their agents—the largest of which is the cost of the agency-run apartments, often charged at four times the market rate. This past fall, New York State passed the Child Model Law, granting protections for minors working as models in the fashion industry—protections such as school-night curfews and on-set hour limits, chaperones, tutors and mandatory financial trusts. As someone who was abused as a child model, I would like to see these protections ratified across the globe. With the global clothing and textiles industry now generating upward of 2.5 trillion dollars a year, fashion can afford to offer positive work environments for their young models. Sign my petition calling for protections for child workers in fashion:

To learn more about my story, visiting here:

Or read my book, Queen of the Tokyo Ballroom, from The Atavist:

Comments: 126 • Responses: 21  • Date: 

mrc1ark69 karma

Human trafficking seems like a big claim and maybe a disservice to those that are actually trafficked. As a model can't you quit? Aren't your parents involved somehow if you are a minor?

How do you end up in debt to an agent? Isn't that just poor business decisions by your parents?

jennifersky28 karma

Sorry, I somehow missed your question and I'm come back up the thread now. Yes, I am not trying to take away from the horrible conditions that girls involved in human trafficking face. Human trafficking needs to be stopped now. But what happens under the guise of modeling often falls into similar categories, especially for girls that come from poor home lives and countries. They become indentured to their agents. Parents are sold a different story and then when the minor model is taken out of their home, a very different situation is at hand.

tugboatfather10 karma

Are female models the only victims or are male models facing similar hardships in the industry?

jennifersky12 karma

Both young men and women are abused and objectified.

apathy200710 karma

Let's face it - the overt sexualization of women in the media is a driving factor for these disparaging practices of underage modeling. How do you think society can send a sex-positive message to girls while also explaining that being a sex symbol isn't a necessary part of their existence based on what is shown to them in the media?

jennifersky10 karma

Great question, and yes, fighting against the images that media sends to young women and girls since the day they are born is difficult to impossible. A woman should be able to feel strong and sex-positive in her body without it being seen as a corrupting object. I believe this starts with age. If we raise the global average age of models to actual adult age, 18 and above, then we will see a rolling effect of beauty across the spectrum. The way we view beauty will not be so focused on fetishizing youth. If we change advertising, this will reflect in how girls feel.

lula24889 karma

What steps can be realistically taken (by the industry or the average person) to help change things?

jennifersky17 karma

We can impress upon our lawmakers that they need to change the tax laws around the modeling industry. This is not only a NY State issue, but an industry wide one. Models are currently classified as independent contractors and so they can not guild together to form a union. In California, this standard has already been challenged: Zaremba v. Miller is about a model who was misclassified as an independent contractor for a two-hour job. (The law in CA has since become even clearer in classifying workers as employees.) The court found Zaremba, the model, to be an employee and therefore protected by CA’s Labor Code, including Labor Code Section 203. Labor Code Section 203 says that if an employer willfully fails to timely pay an employee’s wages, the employee can obtain both his/her wages for that day AND 30 days additional wages. This is how the precedent begins.

MrThingyman8 karma

Hello Jennifer Sky, a pleasure to have you on here! You were stunning in Xena and Cleopatra. And if you don't mind me saying so, I think you look even more beautiful today :)

  1. You've written a lot about the fashion industry and the negative experiences that you've had with this. What about the film industry - have you also had negative experiences with this?
  2. If you were offered a recurring or starring role in a tv show, would you accept? Or is that a thing of the past for you?
  3. Can you tell us a funny story about Gina Torres? Also, do you guys still hang out?

Thanks for doing this AMA.

jennifersky12 karma

Hi! The film industry has similar image issues around youth and weight. But they have one definable difference that made a huge difference in my life, and that was a union. With a union, actors have the ability to enforce protections. If producers want you to do a stunt, and you are not a trained stunt person, actors do not have to feel pressured to put themselves in harm's way. But in fashion, models do not have a union. We have so far been unable to unionize because of tax codes qualifying us as independent contractors. This needs to change.

bl00fz7 karma

What is the worst experience you have encountered in the industry?

jennifersky0 karma

Physical and emotional abuse. So much so that I have been diagnosed with PTSD. I believe that the experience I had in Japan, at 15, was human trafficking. That I was being sent out on dates by my agency and I never knew. For more about story, here's my e-book:

wellvis6 karma

When did you start your own modeling career? How were you discovered?

jennifersky9 karma

I won a modeling contest with 17 magazine. I was 14 and from swampy Florida. It was a complete shock.

agoldwynn5 karma

have you ever met terry richardson ? that guy is a creep - totally sums up the industry

jennifersky19 karma

Anytime someone brings up TR, I point them to Statutory rape laws.

Cozmo235 karma

I have read that hard drugs are huge problem for young models. Is that true? Did you have any experiences with that?

jennifersky11 karma

I did not have that problem, but yes, these are beautiful teens with money and no supervision. You do the math.

medieval935 karma

Why do you think there is no union or governing body to watch over the children? I mean, I personally think the fashion world is sometimes just over sexualization of people, it doesn't help that the media glorifies it. But if that's what the models want to do, it only seems fair that someone tries to protect them.

jennifersky5 karma

I believe that fashion will continue to work in this lawless capacity until someone stands up and stops them. Historically it's workers that create workplace boundaries, and in fashion, the workers are most often children. It is now up to us, a handful of older models, who are stepping up and speaking out about changes that need to happen. We must be allowed to unionize.

alwfarr3 karma

Obviously these children are surrounded by "adult" situations. What are your suggestions to changing the work environment for these children so that they can have a more positive experience if they truly do enjoy modeling?

jennifersky10 karma

Child actors are also around by adult situations and in adult work places, but they have a union that for the last 80 years has set specific boundaries for how these adults can act. Child actors must be chaperoned and must attend school. Child models are often without supervision and being photographed in hypersexualized ways. Models need to be allowed to unionize, this will make all the difference.

bucyrus50003 karma

Historically, modeling and prostitution went hand in hand. The same woman employed to sell clothes would also take money to model privately for an artist, but may also take money from some horny slob. It's only in the last century that the fashion industry has employed models dedicated to just modeling. Though many parts of the world see modeling the old way, & assume scouts are human trafficers (Eastern Europe in particular). This strongly suggests a modeling agency in say Bulgaria or Estonia could easily be a front for organized crime to sell young women. Given our custom of women changing their names when they marry, the age of most models, and travel demanded by the industry, even reputable agencies could plausibly sell models to pimps globally. My question to you Jen is, how many times did girls you knew simply drop off, never to heard from again? Sure, they could be back home, where there is no internet or phone...but how often do you suspect the worst?

jennifersky6 karma

Thank you for this great question! Modeling is inherently transient. I would live with a group of girls for four weeks then never see them again. Maybe I would catch a glimpse of one in a Macy's flyer in the Sunday paper, but most often they all dropped off the face of earth, as far as I knew. Now, this probably meant they went back to their small towns in Canada or the Mid-West, hopefully back to school, but I have heard stories. Specifically in Asia and Eastern European regions.

Thanks everyone!

itsanotsobad3 karma

Can you give a rough idea of the sort of earnings you recieved early and late on in your modelling career?

jennifersky4 karma

Very early, 10-20k. At the peak of my career, only around 50k. Agencies take HUGE portions.

Ben_Stark3 karma

Jennifer, I understand the exploitative agents and the harsh working conditions, but I think another issue that should be addressed is this unrealistic image of what is beautiful. Do you think that models who make a living looking beautiful and yet have to go to such extremes to maintain their figure and their image are doing a disservice to the young women who are looking up to them to develop their idea of beauty? What can we do to fix this trend of girls thinking they need to be a size 0?

jennifersky8 karma

Thanks for this question, Ben. I believe if the overall industry trended toward older models than the image and body ideal problems we have would become better. It is not the girls in the industry that choose to be so thin but the adults around them telling them they must be. If we made it more difficult, or even trendy, for magazines and designers to use older and more body-positive models, then that may have a trickle down effect for girl readers.

And, of course, if we all consumed less media, and less body-negative media, this would also help.

Ben_Stark4 karma

But do you really think that moving to older models is really going to make a difference when their agent comes to them and says "if you want this job, you need to lose 5 lbs in 2 weeks."

How would you treat a not-for-profit that organizes the boycotts of companies that use models who promote an unhealthy body image or are under the age of 18? It seems to me that consumers voting with their dollars is much more effective than legislation.

jennifersky3 karma

Voting with your dollars is the best grassroots movement we can do. Sign me up!

I do feel that when dealing with adult models, they will have better luck in standing up against agents and unrealistic pressures. They will not be so ready to harm themselves for a job. They will see the longer, lasting effects and bigger life picture.

[deleted]3 karma


jennifersky3 karma

My experience was 20 years ago, but little has changed. The disrespect of these young people, often young women, is obvious. We hear stories of the way they are treated and nothing changes. For more details, here are two interviews I did yesterday:

Interview Magazine:


scourgey2 karma

Hey Jennifer! Loved Cleo, and you were my favorite Buffy-hyena. :)

You've said that as a child model there were a lot of unsafe/harsh conditions that you wouldn't have been exposed to if there was a union or law in place to protect you in those days. Was there ever a time you honestly feared for your life (or I guess quality of life if not your actual life)? What or whose lapse allowed it to happen when it shouldn't have? Thanks!

jennifersky6 karma

To the people that hired me as a model, my body was just a commodity. They had no hesitation in asking me to do uncomfortable and sometimes unlawful things. Once in France, I was on the verge of hyperthermia from being put in a freezing cold pool over and over. I literally turned blue. I was neglected in numerous foreign countries, anything could have happened. I was a child.

glennyyyy2 karma

Hey Ms Sky, what got you to quit modelling? And what do you do now?

jennifersky2 karma

My personality had change to the point where I was afraid to go outside. I was only 17 and had been crushed by fashion. I learned the hard way that my body was not my own. 20 years later I was diagnosed with PTSD and everything made sense.

here's a link to that story:

i_axe_the_questions2 karma

Hi Jennifer, glad to have you on.

  • Are there any sources out there detailing/investigating the recruitment of young models? (I've never been aware of this issue and seems systematically wrong)
  • How do agencies get away with charging such staggering rates?
  • Why do you think there are no laws or unions to protect models in the industry?
  • Why do you think there's such a big disparity between the living conditions for models and actresses?

jennifersky5 karma

Actors have a union and models do not. That's the difference. See some of my above answers re. why models have not been allowed to unionize.

There is the Model Alliance,


crateguy1 karma

Is this mistreatment of models a U.S. issue, or is it a global issue?

jennifersky5 karma

Global. In fact, the issues become even more hazy outside of America. There is a very fine line between modeling and out-and-out human trafficking. Models are often indentured into paying off huge sums to their agencies.

azendel1 karma

I completely agree with you! I study cultural labour, not models, but I encounter literature on modelling often. I suggest you read this article! If you want a .pdf version, message me back!

Entwistle, Joanne and Wissinger, Elizabeth (2006) Keeping up Appearances: aesthetic labour and identity in the fashion modelling industries of London and New York. Sociological Review, 54 (4). pp. 774-794. ISSN 0038-0261

jennifersky1 karma

These both look very interesting, thank you. I would love a .pfd. You can email me at jen at jennifersky dot com