Thanks to courageous men and women from multiple corners of “creative” industries, the world has learned a lot about the sexual abuse and harassment. British super Edie Campbell is the latest model to speak up on the issue after a string of fellow catwalkers like Cameron Russell and Karen Elson have come out in support of their colleagues that have suffered at the hands of photographers (such as Terry Richardson), casting agents, and other high-standing members of the fashion business that are often dubbed, as Campbell notes, an “artist-genius” and are given “carte blanche to express their creativity, whatever your means of expression may be.” As for why now, Campbell—who is “grateful” and “very lucky” to have never been a victim of the abuse herself—writes in an open letter printed via WWD, “Because we have reached a turning point. This could be the moment at which everyone within the fashion industry takes stock of where we are, and the culture we operate within and perpetuate.”
It goes without saying that all of us, regardless of our occupations, could do with a bit of self-reflection on the current state of the world and how we choose to participate in this thing, as Prince once described, we call life. She points to the diva attitude and behavior that is often glamorized via big-screen blockbusters like The Devil Wears Prada, which in reality, is anything but. “The ritual humiliation of models, belittling of assistants, power plays and screaming fits,” as Campbell describes, aren’t remotely professional, let alone acceptable. They should not be applauded. It is not, as she notes, “just part of the job” to put others down in an effort to look powerful, nor should it be justified by those on the receiving end as an integral part of climbing the ladder and paying your dues. For models, protesting nudity or refusing to make physical changes to your appearance (like hacking off your hair) shouldn’t be viewed as a man or woman “being difficult,” but an employee who is standing up for his or her rights as a human being.
Perhaps the most interesting issue Campbell raises is in regards to male models. Harassment is not limited to one gender, as we’ve learned from the recent allegations against actor Kevin Spacey. “Abuse suffered by men is more complex,” she writes. “The global conversation about sexual abuse has been (possibly rightly) focused on female victims.” For men, however, there is a different “stigma” attached to coming forward and the language to speak out “doesn’t exist.” While Campbell revealed that many of the anonymous model stories shared on Russell’s Instagram actually came from men, I would say the majority of us reading those troubling personal accounts didn’t think twice and wrongly assumed this was solely a women’s issue.
So where do we go from here? Well, Campbell admits there is a lot of work to do and fashion doesn’t exactly operate according to the rules of corporate America. “Work, to me, does not look like work: I undress in front of the people I work with, I travel with these people, I get drunk with them, they ask me who I’m shagging, we tell stories, we giggle, we gossip and we become part of ‘the gang,’ she explains. “It’s a school trip for all ages.” And she’s certainly not wrong. It’s the informality of fashion that attracts so many of us that don’t want to be just another suit. But we must remember that this is, in fact, a job and we have a responsibility to ourselves and those we work with to not turn a blind eye to privileged people—regardless of gender or sexual orientation—behaving badly in order to maintain our good standing or get ahead. We must, as so many Americans demonstrated by casting their votes during this week’s elections, stop talking, stand together, and take real action to create change. Only then, as is almost compulsory with the end of every event, can we break out fashion’s favorite food: champagne.