I was sexually harassed as a male model

As Cara Delevingne speaks out about inappropriate behaviour in fashion, one former male model shares his stories

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Male model polaroid
Stock image, not the authorPhotography by Sasha Kargaltsev via Creative Commons

Yesterday Cara Delevingne spoke out about sexual harassment in the fashion industry – bringing rightful attention to the way models, particularly young women, are treated. This isn’t to downplay the harassment that female models experience in the industry, but male models face it too. I know, I’ve experienced it first hand. In my short 18-month span as one – aged 19 – I had my fair share sexual harassment.

During one shoot for a magazine I was asked – quite unnecessarily – to strip down to my underwear so that the stylist could “look at my body objectively”. Later on that shoot, I was disallowed from wearing underwear under a pair of tight trousers – the stylist then proceeded to put his hand down those trousers to “adjust the fly”.

Another time, I travelled out to Paris for Fashion Week and after a long day of castings was told by my agent that I had a shoot that evening. Cool, I thought. The shoot in question was in the photographer’s hotel room. At 11.30 at night. I was asked if I wanted a shower and, after several shots, if I would mind doing some “underwear shots”. Needless to say, I declined both offers – something I’m eternally grateful I did.

On other shoots, there would be men present whose role was unclear. They would stand, leering at me and the other male models present when we were being dressed or having our hair and make-up done. At the end of the day, they would seedily ask if we “would like to come for drinks.” A question which, according to my more seasoned colleagues, translated as “would you like to fuck.”

I have more stories and other male models I know do too. I’m sure I could have told my agency what was going on and I trust that they would have acted accordingly. However, it’s only with retrospect that I’ve realised that what I experienced wasn’t necessarily appropriate. In what other workplace would a man sticking his hand down your trousers be classed as an acceptable form of behaviour?

“In what other workplace would a man sticking his hand down your trousers be classed as an acceptable form of behaviour?”

That said, I was young and blissfully (or perhaps woefully) naïve. But then, the majority of models are young: according to the Model Alliance, 54.7 per cent of female models start their careers between the ages of 13 and 16. So naïvety should be expected and education, or at least a head’s up, should be given so they know what was out of line.

And that’s the other reason I didn’t say anything to my agency – I didn’t know what was normal, what kind of behaviour was acceptable and what wasn’t. There was no leaflet titled “Here’s what to do if a stylist touches your junk”, no crash course in sexual harassment law. Maybe this is something agencies could work on. OK, maybe not the leaflet, but giving their models – female and male – some preparation.

Because for the majority of models, they aren’t prepared for work in the fashion industry. They've been plucked off the streets, straight from school or university, and thrown into the deep end. It’s a new – and for the most part, exhilarating – world to be a part of. 

Admittedly, I never had it that bad. I never felt like I was in any real danger. Myself and the male models I became friends with were never coerced into the profession. We were supremely privileged – enough to make money out of how we look (or looked...), do some travelling, go to some amazing parties and be surrounded by creative, inspired people.

My only reason for sharing these stories is to agree with Cara that sexual harassment exists within the fashion industry – and that it happens to guys too. If this is what I have experienced, during my brief stint as a model, what about models who work for years? What about models who start their careers at a younger age than I did? What about models who do feel like they are in danger? I really worry whether enough is being done to protect young people in this industry – whatever their gender.

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