UPDATE: This just got even worse, if possible. I decided to investigate this agency and called them directly to verify this person’s claims. Turns out that the person who had contacted me has never even been heard of by them. So not only is this person preying on people and fooling them but also ruining the brand name of an actual legit agency.
I have always been fascinated by how fashion is a form of art, where models get to express so many moods, colours and textures to the camera or on the runway. I don’t believe in the rather outdated view that modeling is for ‘airheads’. It requires a lot of hard work to know how to approach a subject and to exude the confidence and aesthetic that’s suited to the brand.
Since I was about 16, I’d always dreamed of being a model, of getting to work with some of my favourite brands, and to discover new ways of expressing myself, of maybe walking down the runway someday. So many people have told me I should give it a shot, and still do. I remember excitedly telling my dad when I heard about Elite Models, which back then was one of the first and best agencies in India. I wanted to shoot and send them a portfolio. I still remember what he told me. He said, “You’re beautiful, and I will support you in whatever you’d want to do with your life, except for this. People will take advantage.” I was disappointed and sad and didn’t understand. But then I thought he knew best and didn’t pursue it.
Years passed and as my love for fashion grew, that wish still stayed strong. That’s when I decided to start sharing some of my outfits on another blog that I really admire, and soon Instagram was launched and I started uploading them there too. After years of dilly-dallying, I launched Sartorial Secrets. It’s been an amazing journey and a dream come true for me, getting to do creative work of my own, and growing to an extent that I got to connect with you guys, build an audience, even meet some of you, and work with some of the most amazing brands and PRs. The best part? It’s all within my control, and everything from the styling, to the schedule to the creative direction, and the terms, is decided by me.
In light of the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal, I’d like to talk about how the ‘casting couch’ is such a reality literally everywhere in the modeling and acting industries. In case you still aren’t familiar, the term refers to (usually men) in positions of power in the industry by way of being casting agents for movies or modeling agencies, asking young and often naive girls keen on a career in the industry, to perform sexual favours for them in exchange for opportunities.
This predatory, disgusting practice is rampant across the world, including our very own country. When I speak about this, I come from a position of relative privilege – I’m from a ‘good’ family, we are fairly well off, English-speaking, educated and employed otherwise. This practice often preys on pretty young women, in search of an opportunity that will pay well and also take care of their families, leaving them with few options than to give in to such offers to save their budding careers. And of course there are others who would also think nothing of it compared to the kind of boost it would give them.
Recently, I was scouted by someone representing a well known agency; they had seen my photos on Instagram and the blog and proposed that an extremely well-known skincare brand wanted me to be the face of their next campaign which included hoardings and print campaigns, and also that one of the top modeling agencies liked my profile to be one of their Indian models for a six month contract for work in the US.
I was super excited, naturally, and waited to hear more details. We had a pretty normal discussion about the work until the person kept emphasizing the word ‘bold’ – “we want someone who’s *bold*” and asking me over and over again about ‘how keen’ I was.
Alarm bells went off in my head, and being the cynic I am, I braced myself for the worst. That’s when the person explicitly said that she declined to give my name because the client had a ‘casting couch’ requirement.
….Yep, it’s 2017 and people STILL think it’s ok to do this. I asked her if it’s common, and she said that it was, and that many girls would be willing because of the [large sum] involved and the brand name. I said that I’d love to work on brand projects but if this is the sort of expectation, I’m out.
I’m older, wiser and now know, and sort of knew after a while anyway, exactly why my forward-thinking dad persuaded me away from this field. It made me wonder – how many young, wide-eyed girls with dreams of being a supermodel or a star, who moved all the way to the city to be told things like this, would think it’s ‘normal’? How many were preyed upon, only to be cast aside and not actually cast IN anything at all? How many of these stories still hide within their hearts, and how many of those who did make it this way, might be willing to speak up about it?
More importantly, I come from a place of relative privilege based on my level of education, family background, caste, and many other factors, in that I can afford to refuse such terms. What about those who can’t?
We live in a world where #NotAllMen is deemed more important than #YesAllWomen. Where it is the woman’s fault no matter what. Where the politics of money, sex and power intersect in a way that makes a woman’s ‘no’ not worth anything at all. Where you are damned if you speak up, and damned if you give in. There is really no winning here.
Harvey Weinstein is but ONE cockroach on the giant dung heap that is this industry all over the world. For every Weinstein there are hundreds of others who still perpetuate this disgusting tradition of exploitation, which is much more about getting their rocks off on having that much power over these women than about the actual sex. The power to manipulate these women into giving in, and then using all their resources to effectively silence them for months, years, decades.
It boils down to how ‘far’ you are willing to go, in order to book the most amazing contract of your life – but at what cost? When we operate in a society with rampant rape culture, misogyny and abuse of power, it often isn’t easy to do the ‘right thing’.
I learned two things from this experience – one, clearly I’m doing something right if a brand of that stature recognized my worth, and two, if they’re not willing to see my worth for what it is and instead want to use my body as a bargaining chip, yeah no thanks, I’ll pass. But I will make sure to speak out about it as much as I can.
My fashion blog on the other hand is my own. From the content to the brands I choose to work with, to the writing I put out, is all my prerogative. And I’m pretty darn proud of that, and will continue to work towards aiming higher, and building out an amazing portfolio.
In conclusion, I’m proud of all the women who have come forth so far with their stories of dealing with predators like Harvey Weinstein, and hope this will foster a culture where people need no longer fear of not being ‘believed’, and gradually move towards a place where hopefully women will be seen for their talent and not seen as a piece of meat to be devoured and thrown aside.