THE Casting Director, a Dutch man in his 50s with a large paunch, looked at me, his eyes darting around my body. " Take off your top and show me your torso, " he said. I was exhausted after 14 hours of castings, and so I did what I was told and removed my undershirt to reveal my rather pallid chest. After a quick glance, the casting director returned to his seat in the adjacent room and muttered to his stylist, " He's beautiful, but he's fat." Sound travels easily in a hard-floored warehouse; I had moved to the changing room, but I heard his words clearly. I felt humiliated.
I had walked the catwalk twice at Paris Fashion Week, worked with a range of talented photographers and stylists, and was part of a world filled with staggeringly beautiful people. But this wasn't the first time I had been called overweight, despite my jutting rib cage and hips. At a fitting for a Japanese menswear show in Paris in the summer of 2014, a group of elderly women from the designer's team gathered behind me to laugh and lightly slap my buttocks as the material stretched to cover my rear. On another shoot, a stylist who had started drinking vodka at 9 a.m. told me I was "handsome" but needed to " stop being lazy and do some fucking crunches." I didn't like any of it-and I certainly didn't like being called " beautiful " but " fat." I decided then, that summer, to quit modeling.
When most people think of exploitation in modeling, they think of young women and girls walking the catwalk with alarmingly protruding hips and angular shoulders, or they remember the lurid tales of celebrity photographers manipulating or coercing young women into sex acts. Muscle-bound male models with perfect cheekbones and fat paychecks? They do not seem like obvious victims. But as I found during my short career as a male model, men and boys are increasingly at risk in the odd, unregulated workplace that is the fashion world. Being a man does not make you safe: Male models are often subject to sexual harassment but rarely report it. And, like their female counterparts, they are under intense pressure to have just the right kind of body. Recent menswear trends have polarized male catwalk modeling, encouraging either extreme muscularity or waifish androgyny. Want to look like that? It will likely make you sick.
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And there's another factor that makes male models more vulnerable today: Emerging East Asian economies have created a demand for designer clothes and consequently for models. Growing numbers of young models, both men and women, are heading to Asia, far from their families and support networks, and working in poorly regulated conditions that leave them at risk of being overworked and underpaid. It turns out that being really, really, really good-looking - as Ben Stiller's male model character Derek Zoolander describes himself-will not guarantee you wealth, health or security.
Sam Thomas, founder of the U.K.- based charity Men Get Eating Disorders Too, is highly critical of recent shifts in the fashion industry. " There has certainly been a trend in which some male models are getting younger and definitely skinnier," says Thomas. The industry seems " particularly polarized right now," he says, with hypermuscular looks becoming increasingly popular at the same time as demand has surged for waifish male models.
Sara Ziff, founder of the Model Alliance, a New York City nonprofit labor organization advocating for greater protection of models, says male models face a uniquely difficult situation. " I definitely think that men have just as may labor-related concerns as women, if not more, " says Ziff, a longtime model. " The industry urgently needs reform. It's an industry that has escaped any real regulation for decades."
The models and insiders I spoke with for this story were often hesitant to talk for fear of reprisals, and many requested anonymity. Their insights reveal an industry struggling to safeguards some of its youngest employees-many of whom have very little employment protection, are ill-informed of their rights and suffer from a culture of silence that protects the abusers within the industry who are considered too powerful to confront.
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@ Jackie San