By HTP Editorial
Marie P. Anderson is an international fashion agent and scout based in Chicago. She has been a strong advocate for protecting young models from human trafficking and sexual abuse. Marie is a professional speaker, a creatives coach for teens in the entertainment industry and an author. She is credited with discovering and launching supermodel Cindy Crawford.
You describe yourself as a “creative activist.” What do you mean by that?
As a “creative activist” I use storytelling in my public speaking career to address a variety of social issues, not only to raise awareness but also to share ideas of potential solutions. My mother was a community activist. Watching her passion, commitment and progress inspired me to do the same as an adult.
We hear a lot about human trafficking as it relates to the clothing manufacturing side of the fashion industry. But not so much about trafficking in the modeling world. What can you tell us about this?
The raw truth about the modeling industry is that it is a business that is highly competitive, often ruthless and hugely focused on making high profits. Often the quality of care for the models’ mental and physical health can become secondary when profits are management’s ultimate concern. This creates an imbalance in the business partnership between model and agency. There are several very informative articles about this. Here are some I recommend:
And if you’re really into research you can watch the film Girl Model. It’s about an American scout and how she willingly shoots young women for shady users. None of this discussion even begins to address the drug and alcohol abuse and self-harm with eating disorders and other destructive behaviors that are all considered the ‘norm’ in the industry. So many fashionistas turn a blind eye to it, either from fear of losing their status in the industry or because they are themselves active participants in the abuse of the models. Very few people have the courage to speak up. The more I speak publicly about the harsh areas of the industry, the fewer supporters are left standing in my corner. Don’t get me wrong — I love the industry. It has been very generous to me by giving me an amazing international journey, the stuff that movies are generally made of. However, I’ve also been sexually assaulted multiple times from top clients and found myself remaining silent when I was younger due to the pressures of my peer group.. As a model I was also intimidated into posing nude (thank God there was no digital or internet back then). I pray that those photos never see the light of day. Once I became a martial artist and learned a great deal about predators and how to prevent a lot of precarious scenarios, I no longer had a lot of the traumatic issues.
How has your own experience helped you protect your modeling clients from the dangers of trafficking or abuse?
Because of a long list of inappropriate life experiences, starting in childhood and lasting well into my early twenties, I learned a lot about how predators get access to vulnerable people. These traumatic experiences gave me a profound sense of responsibility to protect each of my models as much as they allow me. They call me Mama Bear. And yet sometimes they feel I’m overly dramatic with my sense of protecting them. I also learned from my own trauma how to be present for them with empathy and compassion. Taking martial arts also taught me a great deal of tools to pass on to them in self-defense workshops that I’ve produced for them and their families. In the past, I always took a general approach to their mental and physical health. But over the past year, I have become more aware of — and committed to the prevention of –sexual exploitation and human trafficking. The epiphany came when one of my teen models was nearly abducted in a major shopping mall in Chicago last summer. Thankfully she got to a safe place and called the police – just as she was taught at my dojo in the Chicago Fitness Center as part of our self-defense workshop. One of the three men that the police apprehended was a well-known sex trafficker on Michigan Avenue. After that happened, the reality hit me hard and this is why I’m now involved with the Hidden Tears Project and doing a July 30th fundraiser for the Chicago chapter of their survivors group (Chicago Survivor Support Group.)
What advice would you offer to young people pursuing a career in modeling?
I’ve written three books on this subject, so the list is long of what I could tell them. However some high points are:
- Be your best advocate (There are only a few legit, qualified people who are going to teach you the business. You need to do a great deal of grass roots research to learn the tools of the trade so you don’t get pulled down the bunny rabbit hole of the Crazy Land part of the industry.)
- Trust should be earned (There are a lot of people in a position of power who don’t know what they’re doing. Some are well intended and some aren’t. Regardless of their intentions, when you immediately assume that they know what they’re doing, that’s the beginning of your career’s demise. Empower yourself with information so no one can take advantage of you.)
- The industry is not just about modeling, it’s about entertainment and celebrity. When social media influencers are now being booked as the new ‘celebrities’ for a variety of media– only because of their followers– then the script has totally changed from what we all knew it to be two years ago. Before, the agents used to make fun of social media ‘models.’ Now, they are being embraced by agencies who have specific divisions called Influencers. Anyone in entertainment needs to be social media savvy with their branding, strategy and execution.
- Establish your Core Values early on. Know your boundaries regarding what areas you are comfortable working within or not comfortable working within. You will be put to the test on a daily basis. Once you know your boundaries, they’ll become your Geiger counter for detecting the harmful areas. My Core Values are Integrity, Faith and Courage. They pull me through even the darkest of challenges.
I could go on and on…
What do you think the modeling industry needs to do to better support and protect its young people?
Thankfully the modeling industry already has one important blessing with an advocacy center, The Model Alliance in NY. They have already been successful in getting bills passed in Congress for the protection of models. However, they are a small organization that isn’t funded enough to do more. I love them! The Model Alliance is a volunteer advocacy group for American models, dedicated to fair work treatment, ethical standards in the fashion industry, education, community building and support. They have the following goals:
1. Provide a discreet grievance and advice service.
2. Improve labor standards for child models.
3. Promote greater financial transparency and accountability.
4. Provide access to affordable health care.
5. Draft a code of conduct that sets industry-wide standards for castings, shoots and shows.
(To learn more about The Model Alliance, click here.
The modeling industry needs to find the right balance between making money and taking care of their models. When it does, there will be less damage to the individuals, and they’ll make more money and live longer, healthier, more robust lives.
What can you tell us about the event you have planned for July 30th in Chicago?
On Sunday, July 30th, I will lead an exclusive seminar on how to become a model at GoLucky Studios. This is a great opportunity to learn the important steps it takes to become a working talent in the business, and the tricks of the trade that will help you thrive and survive.
After the seminar there’ll be a Q&A session followed by the screening of the short film Tanya, directed by Monica Raymund of NBC’S drama Chicago Fire. Tanya explores the detrimental effects of human trafficking and its impact on young women. As producers of this seminar, we believe it’s important to raise consciousness on this serious issue that happens very close to home. Not to mention, a multifaceted industry such as entertainment has uncanny parallels to the corruption that occurs during human trafficking. Though many of us are taught how to audition, we aren’t taught how to audition smart. A bad audition or making the wrong connection can take you astray, leading to a potentially fatal mistake. Educating women on these practices well help to keep us safe, savvy, and successful!
A portion of the funds will be donated to Hidden Tears Project, an organization that partners with non-profits across the country to raise consciousness through media on gender inequality, sexual abuse, and human trafficking. Specifically, the funds will be donated directly toward Hidden Tears Project’s newly formed Chicago Survivor Support Group.
The last portion of the event will include a martial artist from the Chicago Fitness Center, giving self-preservation and self-defense advice.
Why did you decide to partner with the Hidden Tears Project for this event?
My co-producer, Mary Munez, and I decided to partner with the Hidden Tears Project because of their superb reputation within the entertainment industry as professional people to work with and because they are sincerely like-minded in their commitment to address social issues that also concern us.
For more information about the seminar Safe, Savvy, Successful: An Agent’s Guide on Becoming a Model
on July 30th, click here