Incident of Model Abuse by Balenciaga Highlights Brutal Reality of the Industry

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Accusations of model mistreatment at Balenciaga’s casting session for Paris Fashion Week has brought to the surface controversy over abuse in the modeling industry.

The high-end fashion brand Balenciaga, owned by the French conglomerate Kering, was one of many prominent fashion houses at Paris Fashion Week, alongside Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Issey Miyake, Yves Sant-Laurent, and Rick Ownes.

Balenciaga announced on Wednesday that it has hastily fired casting directors Maida Gregori Boina and Rami Fernandes after an alleged incident when the two went to lunch, leaving 150 models confined in a dark stairwell waiting for hours.

James Scully, an American runway casting director, was the first to sound the siren on the situation.  Scully spread the word on Instagram and criticized the abuse of models during casting sessions, calling the process “sadistic and cruel,” and accusing the casting directors of being “serial abusers.”  He said that Balenciaga’s actions at Paris Fashion Week were “dangerous and had left more than a few of the girls traumatized.”

Balenciaga acted quickly to do damage control, issuing a written apology to the agencies representing the affected models.  Several of the models involved had even been chosen to walk in the upcoming show on Sunday.

“Balenciaga condemns this incident and will continue to be deeply committed to ensure the most respectful working conditions for the models,” the brand said.

Maida Gregori Boina, one of the accused casting directors, said Scully’s claims were “inaccurate and libelous,” and called out the Balenciaga company for the poor conditions during the casting session.

Scully, however, did not act without warning.  Before taking to social media to call out Balenciaga, Scully had previously cautioned fashion brands that “if he continued to see evidence of the bullying, cruelty and discrimination in the fashion’s modeling industry, he would name and shame the perpetrators publicly on social media,” reported the Business of Fashion.

The runway casting director also has a history of publicly criticizing the industry’s casting practices.  Scully has accused fashion labels of using minors as models and discriminating against black models.  His claims have incited a series of denials on the part of accused fashion brands, and simultaneously raised questions about the harsh reality of being a model in an industry that often forces unhealthy weight loss and treats models more like props than employees.

The Balenciaga incident occurs at a time when “the fashion industry is under increasing scrutiny both from insiders and consumers demanding more diversity and a responsibility towards models who are often young and vulnerable,” said Telegraph.

A recent study looked into the dangerous phenomenon of models being pressured to lose weight and found that about 81% of the professional models who participated were classified as underweight.  The study was conducted by researchers from Northeastern University, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Model Alliance, an American model advocacy group, and published in the International Journal of Eating.

The study also discovered “a high prevalence of unhealthy weight-control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasts, detoxes, use of diet pills, vomiting, and abusing stimulants or cocaine,” according to Buzzfeed.

Rachel Rodgers, the head researcher and a professor of applied psychology at Northeastern University spoke to the dangers hidden behind the glamour of the modeling business.

“Most of these models are teens and young adults, so being dangerously underweight and having an eating disorder can have serious consequences on growth and development that affect them for life,” said Rodgers. “The fact that the already-thin models engage in unhealthy behaviors to maintain a slender appearance highlights just how unattainable and unrealistic that body truly is.”

While the abuse in the modeling business is somewhat woven into the past and the fabric of the industry, advocates like Scully and the Model Alliance are working toward reform and protecting the rights of those in the profession.

My favorite things in life include cozy coffee shops, window-shopping, wearing the perfect outfit, or writing the most satisfying words.

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