Models Have Rights, Too! – Marcus Hyde, Sexual Misconduct, And The Model Alliance
Marcus Hyde is the latest addition to the long list of men exposed for gross sexual misconduct in the fashion and entertainment industries. Diet Prada broke the story earlier this week, after coming across the detailed account of an interaction with Hyde, from Los Angeles-based model, Sunnaya Nash. Diet Prada’s initial post featured screenshots from the conversation between Marcus Hyde and Sunnaya Nash, in which Hyde offered to shoot Sunnaya for free, with the caveat that she be nude. Hyde went as far as asking her to send him nude photos of herself to “see if she’s worth it”. Naturally, she declined, to which Hyde replied that it would then cost her to two thousand dollars to shoot with him. After rightfully being called out for his behavior, he replied, in typical a**hole-fashion, “Find someone else. I’ll keep shooting celebs”. However, I suspect, unbeknownst to him, that Marcus Hyde has already done his last A-list celebrity shoot.
Diet Prada, fashion’s watchdog and one of Instagram’s resident heroes, made sure to not only call out Marcus Hyde for his disgusting and predatory behavior but to also tag Kim Kardashian and Ariana Grande, who have both recently worked with him. Surprisingly (but, not that surprisingly), an army of women have since shared countless screenshots and messages, recounting their own experiences with Hyde, each equally as or more disgusting than the last. The horrors stories range from Marcus Hyde sticking his fingers in various places on his subjects’ bodies, to rape. And the details are graphic and grisly. Those who had come close, in some way or another, to publicizing their trauma also have stories of Marcus Hyde or his team threatening them with legal action and/or ominous physical threats.
I was tuned in to the story in it’s earlier moments, meaning that after reading the first few posts on Diet Prada’s story, I still had the luxury of scrolling through Hyde’s fully-operational Instagram account. The first and only thing I noticed as I scrolled through his feed was the fact that, barring the scattered celebrity pictures, all of his subjects were female, and almost every single one was nude. Those who know me personally know that I am extremely skeptical of male photographers who specialize in female nudity. Not all of them, but most. Their photos, more often than not, are unremarkable, and the only reason they seem the least bit compelling is because the subject is naked. And while I understand shock-value, if your entire craft revolves around a naked woman’s body, it’s not so much artsy, as it is exploitative.
Despite staying mute during the first couple days of the scandal, it wasn’t long before Kim Kardashian and Ariana Grande released their statements. At the risk of sounding harsh: I thought their statements were garbage. Kim stated that her experiences with Hyde had always been professional (shocker) and that she was “deeply shocked, saddened, and disappointed” that other women had had differing experiences. Ariana Grande’s statement read more like some sort of PSA. She warned her followers: ”Please do not shoot with photographers who make you uncomfortable or make you feel like you need to take your clothing off if you don’t want to”.
Wow, how helpful!
Sharing how your own experiences, as one of the world’s most high-profile celebrities, with someone who’s just been accused of rape and numerous sexual assaults, have always been professional is not the same as “speaking out” against their actions. And telling women that they simply shouldn’t do something if they feel uncomfortable isn’t “calling out” anyone, despite the narrative the Cosmo or Buzzfeed headlines are trying to push. Blanket statements like these are performative and problematic. We all “know” if you feel uncomfortable doing something, you shouldn’t do it. We all “know” that if you feel uncomfortable working with someone, you shouldn’t work with them. But it’s almost never as simple as that, especially in cases like these. To imply otherwise is to ignore the real-world complexities of power dynamics.
The internet witnessed a similar unfolding when news broke of Terry Richardson’s similar behavior a few years ago. For those who may need context or a refresher: model Liskula Cohen once walked out of a Vogue shoot over requests made by Terry Richardson. “I worked with him once… and I would never work with him again,” she told a publication in 2013. “Not even if it was a zillion-dollar contract with security guards and my own mother present. This monster has brought me so much unhappiness in my life from one photoshoot. You may think that is crazy, but it’s true.” Richardson was an industry-darling. Beloved by both celebrities and editors alike, he had friends in high places, not unlike Marcus Hyde. Despite the numerous accusations, the industry was reluctant and extremely slow in un-clenching its grip on Richardson. Which is not at all surprising from an industry well-versed in protecting it’s prominent, personal connections over the well-being of those they employ. It’s not unheard of in the modeling industry to reprimand or even drop models who speak out over photographers’ inappropriate behavior. And it’s a system that works exactly as intended. The creation and perpetuation of such a toxic culture ensure that whether modeling is your dream, or the simply the way you pay your bills, you put yourself at risk of losing a great deal if you decide to speak up.
I, like most on the planet, am not and will likely never be a model. At 5’3”, I can almost guarantee that fact. So, I had never really given much thought to the specific issue of the model’s rights. Luckily, someone else has.
The Model Alliance is a non-profit organization founded in 2012, by model Sara Ziff. Sara Ziff named one of Business of Fashion’s 500 people shaping the 2.4 trillion dollar industry of fashion, has walked for fashion’s biggest players, like Chanel, Prada, and Dior. The mission of The Model Alliance, as stated on their website, is to promote “ fair treatment, equal opportunity, and sustainable practices in the fashion industry”. While all of the work they do is commendable, most noteworthy is their legislative work. Last year, they championed the Talent Protections Act, which requires talent agencies in California to provide educational materials to their talent on sexual harassment prevention. They’re also in the process of urging New York lawmakers to pass the Models’ Harassment Act, which will extend legal protection to models against sexual harassment and discrimination.
My biggest take away from Sara Ziff and @ModelAllianceNY is that, like many other problems we once thought of as individual, this problem is systematic. The modeling industry is almost entirely unregulated, a fact that had never once occurred to me. And while I want every Marcus Hyde, Terry Richardson and Harvey Weinstein viciously debased in both the court-of-opinion and the judicial system, I realize that to effect long-lasting, permanent change we need to take a critical look at the modeling industry and the fashion industry as a whole. There’s a reason it took so long for Terry Richardson to finally be deemed poison. It’s the same reason Marcus Hyde felt cocky enough to taunt and threaten his many victims. Toxic masculinity is prevalent in all parts of life, so, no matter how much we fight, we’ll have to keep on fighting these individual cases until we change the systems that allow these scumbags to thrive. It’ll take hard work from agencies, editors, publications, and the gatekeepers of the fashion industry. But, it’s work that needs to be done. Agencies, managers, and other industry heads should be realistically held accountable for whom they send their talent to, and for creating a culture where their talent feel supported enough to speak up against abuse. It’s should be their job to sincerely check-in with their talent and thoroughly and repeatedly check out photographers to ensure there isn’t anything inappropriate going on.
Marcus Hyde is not a one-off. He, like countless men, are aware of their power and privilege, and happily intimidate and manipulate women under the pretense of “work” or “art”. It’s our job to stomp out men like these, behaviors like these, as they are and have been so deeply ingrained in society. Men have been wielding that power since the dawn of time, however, stories like this remind us that #Time’sUp.