Hello - My name is Coco Rocha and I’m a model based here in New York. I’d like to thank Senator Klein, Senator Savino and the Model Alliance for asking me to be here today.
For me, this issue is personal. Like Sara Ziff and so many professional models, I was scouted at the ripe old age of 14. By the time I was 16 I was living and working alone here in New York City. During my 10 years as a model I’m fortunate enough to have realized many of my professional goals, though not without feeling enormous pressure to agree to demands and make certain choices that no young person should ever have to deal with.
The fact is, too often young models find themselves forced to forego their education and their values in order to pursue their career, only to wind up with nothing. I will never forget being 15 years old, alone on a set as a photographer tried to harass, heckle and even threaten me into taking a semi-nude photo. I recall with sickening clarity the first time I was told (in no uncertain terms) to lose weight that I definitely couldn’t afford to lose because, as this person said, “the look this year is anorexia.”
There were times as a young model when I was very lonely and felt an enormous pressure from the adults working around me to give up values and beliefs I held dear. Through trial and error I learned my rights and I learned to stand up for myself. I decided that I wouldn’t allow myself to be degraded or treated unfairly and I’m now able to walk away from that treatment because, firstly, I’m established as a model and, second, I’m now an adult. But what about the young and aspiring models? For children and young teens who just want to please, the pressure to succumb to demands from adults is often damaging and life altering - dropping out of school; foregoing education and their health; allowing predators, sexual and otherwise, to harass and victimize - it has to stop. And although the industry has tried self-regulation, it just hasn’t been enough.
That is why I am here today, to convey to you my ongoing concerns about the health and well-being of children and teens who are working in the modeling industry.
When it comes to protecting our children, the moral argument should override any perceived inconvenience of rules, record keeping or expense. That fact has long been acknowledged as true for other child performers like actors, dancers and singers who all enjoy protections under law in New York. For reasons unknown to me, this has never applied to child models. I’m thankful that this has been noted by both The Model Alliance and by Senators Klein and Savino. I am thrilled that they are helping to correct this discrepancy by proposing that print and runway models under 18 have the same protections as all other child performers working in New York State. These protections are basic, necessary and long overdue.
I believe we all agree that there are natural human standards of how we treat one another and especially of how we treat children. On behalf of the many models I know and love, I thank you for all your hard work and your time. I’m confident that through continued efforts we can ensure a safer environment for the next generation.
(If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on modeling and the industry, please go HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE. Also be sure to check out ModelAlliance.Org.)