breaking into the industry is sending models broke

A recent report found many models are financially exploited and receive little of their own pay.

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12 May 2016, 1:50am

Most people likely assume that modelling is all champagne and gift bags, but anyone who has spent time being professionally good-looking can tell you it's an expensive world to live in. A recent CNNMoney investigation has broken down the processes that are leaving a lot of young men and women in a considerably disadvantaged financial position. While a big commercial job can pay thousands of dollars for a few days work, the reality is that often the model—who did the work—sees very little of that cash.

Conservatively, most models hand 20 percent of their earnings to their agencies. This is a standard deal that covers their expenses and allows the businesses to make a profit. But issues arise when individuals are saddled with additional, hidden expenses as well as being left with the bill for their own travel, housing, photos and PR. The investigation found that models regularly also had additional fees deducted from their pay without their knowledge, often for services they hadn't elected or been given a chance to refuse. Examples ranged from the regular to the ridiculous—including comp cards, space on the company's website, gifts for clients, and in one case flowers an agency sent a model for her own birthday.

One model profiled showed how she only saw $6475 of a $30k job due to commission fees, expenses and taxes. Sure, for people waiting tables $6k sounds like a pretty sweet payday, but the issue is compounded by the lack of regular work in the industry. For many models, the pay from a single job needs to cover months of rent and living expenses while they are trying to land another booking. During this time they are rarely given financial support from their agencies. In some cases agencies may offer cash advances to struggling models, but these often come with interest fees.

A lot of this underhanded action is possible because models aren't technically classified as employees, but rather contractors to their agencies. Because of this, they're able to slip under the radar of national employment laws and the protections they offer. They aren't guaranteed a minimal wage, fair working hours, overtime, nor do they have the support of an ombudsman or union to help when things go awry.

Obviously not all agencies are out to exploit those on their books; many are supportive second homes to their models. But the stark realities are worth keeping in mind next time you flip through a magazine and feel a tinge of envy. Your life might not be as glamorous, but your regular job probably offers considerably more financial stability.

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Text Wendy Syfret
Image via Flickr