September 5 begins Mercedes-Benz’s biannual fashion week and, right now, models from all over the world are lining up to fill the New York runways. In the past, many of them would be teenagers. Not yet able to drink, not yet able to vote, some of them not yet able to even drive. But this season is different: In June, the New York State Senate unanimously passed a bill advocated by Sara Ziff’s Models’ Alliance that will finally provide labor protections to child models. Though the legislation hasn’t yet been signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo, the big agencies still aren’t sending the youngest girls to castings this month. Effectively, this closes a loophole exempting models from child-labor regulations — twelve-hour workdays, required chaperones, mandatory tutoring, and more — that are in place for kid actors, dancers, and musicians.
I was a teen model. This statement does not immediately inspire compassion; it is a thought that one attaches to lucky breaks and glamorous lifestyles. In part, that's what it's like. But what I mainly got from the experience was something that took me twenty years to figure out: The symptoms I had developed after my years as a teen model — the hyperawareness, the hair-trigger panic, the dissociation that I called putting on my model-suit — were actually post-traumatic stress disorder.