Christy Turlington says the fashion industry is 'surrounded by predators'
Supermodel Christy Turlington Burns has today described a culture of ‘tolerance’ that exists in the fashion industry, towards the male photographers, designers and casting directors who mistreat and harass young models.
Turlington Burns was responding to a week full of sexual abuse allegations in the film industry, made primarily against the producer Harvey Weinstein, as well as to a series of stories shared on Instagram by model Cameron Russell, in which other models detailed the ways that they had suffered in the hands of men in positions of power within the fashion industry.
“I have been thinking about this a lot since the news came out [about Weinstein], and I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry,” she told WWD. “The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experienced at some point in our careers.”
Turlington Burns was scouted by the photographer Dennie Cody when she was just 14, but counts herself ‘lucky’, in that a chaperoning arrangement was set up by her mother and agents to keep her safe, and to ensure that she still went to school. She didn’t begin to pursue full-time modelling opportunities until she was 18, and says that she was never personally subjected to any abuse.
“I feel fortunate that I did not personally experience anything traumatic, but also know that is not the norm,” she said. “I was lucky because my mom was with me a lot early on and then once I had some success, I was handled with extra care. We trusted the people who were supposed to be keeping an eye out for me. There were many times I could not believe who I was left under the care of on early trips to Milan, Paris or London. I would get off of a flight and find some creepy playboy type there to meet me.”
Last week Russell shared accounts from numerous sources on her Instagram, prompted after a friend had told her about a male photographer who had assaulted her on a test shoot at the age of 15.
“She has asked to remain anonymous but asked that I share her words here because the photographer still works in the industry,” Russell said. “She wants to encourage other women to speak up. We need a way to begin breaking the silence while remaining protected. We are not talking about one, five, or even twenty men. We are talking about a culture of exploitation and it must stop.”
The British model Edie Campbell was one of the first to back her campaign to highlight those who abuse their power. "The question of consent is a particularly tricky one when it comes to fashion,” she said. “When we go on set, we enter into an unspoken contract: for that day we give our bodies and our faces over to the photographer, stylist, hairdresser, makeup artist. We give up ownership for that day. The power imbalance is huge, and the duty of care to that model is even greater as a result."
Turlington Burns also describes a sense of feeling like ‘an accomplice’ and says that she might have acted differently if she had truly known how some of her collaborators had treated others.
“In hindsight, I fear I may have played the “honeypot” that has been described in the stories about these predators who make other women feel protected,” she says. “Unknowingly, but still an accomplice of sorts. I might have been the assurance that made other young women feel safer. If I’d known how these men thought and behaved, I might have done more to stay clear of them.”
The solution, she says, is to continue to strengthen and enforce the regulations in place to stop the use of underage models, as well as to monitor the appropriateness of themes of shoots, with penalties if standards are not adhered to.
“The best way to protect young models is to keep them in school and off sets until they are adults,” she added.