The most recent example of exploitation are the allegations of sexual misconduct by six contestants of Miss Universe Indonesia, a beauty pageant that was held in early August.
In an episode of the second season of And Just Like That, the reboot of the cult classic TV show Sex and the City, Charlotte’s husband Harry Goldenblatt expresses serious reservations about his 13-year-old gender-neutral child modelling for fashion brand Ralph Lauren. "I’m sensing a "Taken" type of kidnapping vibe here. One step ‘teen model’, next step ‘junkie’. Even if it is legit, it’s gonna be exploitative. The next thing you know, they’re gonna be using Rock’s likeness in God knows what kinda ad…!" he says, unsuccessfully attempting to stand up to his excited wife and child. Fortunately, all goes well in the show but in reality, these reservations do ring true where models are concerned. Financial and sexual harassment is sadly commonplace in this industry, as evident from the numerous lawsuits against Harvey Weinstein following the #MeToo movement.
The most recent example of exploitation are the allegations of sexual misconduct by six contestants of Miss Universe Indonesia, a beauty pageant that was held in early August. In a statement released by their lawyer, Mellisa Anggraeni, these unfortunate participants were allegedly forced by the organisers of the pageant to undergo an intrusive "body check" while being topless. This incident is said to have taken place in front of 20 people, some of which were men. Apparently, the torture didn’t end here, and topless photos were also clicked of these girls. In one case, the girl in question was asked to stand with her legs wide open, an act that made her feel violated. The apex body that organises the Miss Universe pageant responded to this incident by cancelling the license of the organisers of this particular event.
In their official statement shared on X, formerly Twitter, they wrote, "It has become clear that this franchise has not lived up to our brand standards, ethics, or expectations as outlined in our franchise handbook and code of conduct." They added, "Providing a safe place for women is the Miss Universe Organisation’s utmost priority, and the events at this particular pageant are diametrically opposed to everything we stand for as an organisation." In response to the intrusive body check, the organizers were keen to assert that, "There are no measurements such as height, weight, or body dimensions required to join a Miss Universe pageant worldwide." They rounded their message off by applauding the bravery of the women who decided to raise their voice against this behaviour.
Content creator Niharika Jain, who was formerly an assistant fashion choreographer at a renowned modelling agency, was involved in the coordination of nine prestigious pageants over the last eight years. She was horrified to hear of the events that took place at Miss Universe Indonesia. "It’s important that such matters are thoroughly investigated and addressed to ensure a safe and respectful environment for everyone involved. While it’s not my place to make sweeping judgments about all beauty pageants, it’s essential to recognize that any mistreatment of models is unequivocally unacceptable. The industry must adopt proactive measures to prevent such incidents and prioritize the holistic well-being of every participant."
Though she also points out the good aspects of the industry when she says, "The realm of beauty and fashion encompasses tremendous potential for personal evolution, artistic expression, and empowerment. It provides a platform for individuals to showcase their distinctive talents, leaving an indelible mark on trends and reshaping perceptions of beauty."
Beauty and fashion influencer and entrepreneur, Bindya Talluri agrees with her that the modelling industry is not all bad, especially in the context of Indian beauty pageants. She says, "I became involved in the world of modelling after winning the Miss Chennai title in 2003. Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to witness the positive aspects of the industry. This recent incident is deeply concerning, but I believe it does not represent the entirety of beauty pageants. I’ve never felt mistreated during my career, and I credit this to the professional and respectful environment that the Indian pageant industry maintains. There are strict guidelines and laws in place, ensuring accountability for any misconduct, whether from within the organization or outsourced personnel."
One cannot be sure what goes on behind the scenes of glamourous industries like modelling, as the call of fame and promise of wealth and recognition, may cloud people’s judgements or make them immune to behaviour they may otherwise never have tolerated. What one does know, however, is that when such incidents come to light, it is important to make a precedent of them, so they cannot be repeated in the future. Professional training and sensitization focused on maintaining personal boundaries and encouraging the reporting of misconduct are some essential measures that should be adopted by models across the board.
— Noor Anand Chawla writes on lifestyle for various publications.