The blurred lines between modelling and sexual harassment.

Kettlemag, Style, Modelling, Model, Sian Bradley
Written by sianabigail

Modelling is a heavily criticised career; whether it be the size zero ideal or unethical clothing, the public has plenty to say. But what happens when someone on the inside, someone who works as a model herself, speaks up about a personal experience which blurs the lines between ingenuity and sexually suggestive?

She’s only 23, but the phenomenon that is Cara Delevigne has created a name for herself in the fashion world, one which will go down in modelling history. She reportedly earns £6,500 a day and has 17 million adoring fans, but this model turned actress has revealed the dark truth of sexual harassment in the fashion industry.

Cara has always been frankly honest about her modelling experience, admitting to having stress related psoriasis and how her work makes her feel a bit “hollow”. Now, she’s tackling the grey areas that surround what is and isn’t acceptable in that job.

“I am a bit of a feminist and it makes me feel sick,” she told The Times. “It’s horrible and it’s disgusting. (We’re talking about) young girls. You start when you are really young and you do, you get subjected to…not great stuff.”


Miss Delevingne has clearly experienced some inappropriate behaviour, and it leaves you worrying about the environments under which famous underwear or nudity shots were born. The term “subjected” is a harrowing one, as it tell tales of the pressure that models go through in their line of work. Sure, it may be easy to tell models who are being made to feel uncomfortable on set to “just say no”, but this isn’t always a choice they feel is available. Modelling is very hard career to break into, and every day they have to weigh up decisions that will affect their career. The relationship between a photographer and a model is tricky, and only experienced ones like Cara may feel they have the authority to put a stop to it.

Cara touches on this point: “There are male photographers who go into it purely because of the girls… But in every industry, if you are pretty, or someone likes the look of you … It’s not good”

Kettlemag, Style, Cara Delevigne, Christopher Macsurak
Image: Christopher Macsurak/Flickr

An article published by Flare in October 2014  told the story of Misty Fox, an Australian born model. According to Misty, her first shoot in London was far from savoury. She was leered at by the photographer, who took an invasive photo of her in the bathroom. When she complained, she was told she was “lucky to be there” and so forced to deal with the sexual harassment, in order to score some images.

She also spoke of underage girls sleeping with old men, who are promised big career breaks. This is disgusting, and the gut-wrenching tales from the underbelly of fashion are never ending.

In response to Cara’s admittance, an anonymous male model spoke to Dazed magazine told about the time he was asked to do an underwear shoot, which did not reflect the brand or clothes. Women aren’t the only ones subjected to ill-treatment, pointing to a culture in modelling where such behaviour is expected or even accepted.

So where do we draw the line? 

Cara told The Times: “I think you get that (sexual harassment) in every industry,” she continues, “I don’t think it’s just modelling, although I think it’s worse in modelling.”

This is very much the sad truth, as in other industries sexual harassment is often painfully obvious, but the situations become ever more subjective in the modelling world. A photographers fleeting touch could be innocently related to the shoot, or a way for him to groom or grope the model. Also, how much actual freedom do we grant models to dictate what is sexual harassment and what is not?

I spoke to male model Bilal Rashid, who told me:

“Sexual harassment occurs mostly with females within the modelling industry. It can also happen to men, depending on the type of shoot, which can be anything from underwear to nudity.”

He spoke of the ability for a model to refuse to do a shoot, but he understands the need to land good images, which will leave some models with terrible pressure to push themselves into uncomfortable situations.

We need to stand up and realise what is happening to the beautiful people we see plastered on billboards and fashion magazines.

In no industry is it ok for an employee to be put in comprising situations and we need to stop fostering a culture which removes a model autonomy, in respect to the photographer or their career. 

What do you think? Leave your comments below.