Despite many believing that there is a national standard that protects child actors or models within the entertainment industry, there is actually no federal law in place to determine how child actors and models should be treated on sets, at shoots, or even in regards to their payment.
Child modeling has been the focal point of controversy for a long time, going back to Kate Moss’s ten-year-old school photo as a magazine cover, to even Brooke Shields at sixteen in “My Calvins” campaign of 1980. And these issues are still relevant now, with more and more stories like that of Thylane Blondeau, who at age 12 became the focus of controversy because of her overtly sexualized Vogue Paris spread, making headlines.
In areas teeming with show business, such as California and New York, informal regulation was put in place to cover the treatment of the child entertainers while working. It wasn’t until only recently, however, that these standards began being proposed as legislation. New York Congresswoman Grace Meng is currently proposing the Child Performers Protection Act of 2015 with the intent of improving the conditions child performers work under.
This is even more revolutionary for child actors, because as of now there is no union regulating their workplace benefits and conditions. This bill intends to set reasonable working hours for child entertainers, and ensure they receive decent salaries and benefits. This bill would also prevent models from being paid through unconventional means, such as clothing. This will affect all performers under the age of 16 and will also provide them a confidential means for reporting sexual harassment within the workplace.
“Working as a child model or actor can be an incredible opportunity and lead to success for a lifetime,” Ms. Meng told the New York Times in a phone interview. “However, the work can come with much risk. Although there are a patchwork of disparate state laws, these regulations offer inconsistent protections. That’s why we need a national standard.”
Even though the Fair Labor Standards Act protects children in the workforce, models and actors are usually exempt and not protected by the law. Many fashion councils such as British Fashion Council and the Council of Fashion Designers of America have guidelines, but there is usually little to no regulation or enforcement of such guidelines.
Their Guidelines include not allowing models under 16 to work runway shows (that are intensive), not allowing minors to work past midnight on set, and requiring models that appear to have eating disorders to seek professional help.
The founder of the Model Alliance, Sara Ziff, has worked closely with Congresswoman Meng. She explained in an interview with the New York Times on Nov. 2, “When most people think of models, they think of supermodels who command large sums, but most working models are not supermodels. Most begin their careers as children, and work in debt to their modeling agencies. The pervasive practice of pay in ‘trade’ contributes to models’ disempowerment in the workplace. Without adequate safeguards, child models often stand to be exploited by adults who do not have their best interests in mind. A unified national floor of standards would protect child performers wherever they engage in work across the country.”
Congresswoman Meng is unsure on whether this bill will ever make it to vote, but is happy about the conversation it has started on the hill. She has received quite a bit of support, and as she explained, “When you bring [issues like this one] to people’s attention, they are very concerned.”