In last month’s blog post “On Models” (Part I)” we addressed the fashion industry’s treatment of models as one of the many ways it harms women. It’s a status quo that works for no one, as models are mistreated and unrealistic imagery of women has a great societal cost.
As a follow up we are thrilled to bring you our interview with Rachel Ford, a self-professed activist for eco and sustainable living and rebel with a cause who seeks to “be the change you seek in the world”. Rachel is also a professional model in Los Angeles and one of our country’s leading models for sustainable brands.
Rachel’s modeling career spans the past seven years, and about three years ago she became vegan. “Becoming vegan played a domino effect in my life. It caused me to question everything I thought was normal. I haven’t shopped in a mall in three years and I decided to dedicate my modeling career to be a platform for activism. I use my role in this industry to try and promote healthier alternatives for the greater good. In the past it was about booking big name jobs, and I used to really care about that, but now it’s about furthering the movement and how I live my personal life.”
“Now working in modeling is very tough. I sometimes don’t have a choice around what products a make-up artist has in her kit and I cringe about the aspects out of my control”. Rachel won’t model for a leather or fur company, but “some days leather boots are the only option for a shoot. It’s tough to feel like I sometimes have to compromise what I live personally.”
This consciousness extends to the other issues in this industry that Rachel has become acutely aware of through her work. “I will read a fast fashion tag that says ‘Made in Vietnam’ and see fabric that is ruining the planet and women and children paid less than a dollar a day.”
Rachel grew up in a small town and never imagined she would be a model. She initially enrolled in fashion school, but she was scouted by Barbizon Modeling Agency and surprised to find that after their training courses she got a number of callbacks. Modeling channeled Rachel’s love of acting.
I love being transformed and embodying a mood. Modeling can be like acting without words and very creative.
However, on a daily basis most models’ experiences are a far cry from the “glamorous” lives depicted in our media. “You are essentially a moving mannequin who doesn’t get to pick what she wears, the make-up being put on her, and you are being paid to dress up. It sounds like it’s every little girl’s dream, but sometimes it’s hard to get a lunch break as the laws aren’t always enforced in workplaces. You have to get dressed in at least 100 outfits a day, and it’s front, back, side, front, back, side over and over and over again and very robotic. It’s physically demanding on my back and feet and I constantly have pain. I crave shoots where I can be more free, as models often don’t get to be themselves.”
Despite all of the challenges in this industry Rachel brings an attitude of gratitude to her work. She’s thankful she gets to do a job that not many people can and constantly seeks ways to bring activism and advocacy into her work.
Rachel grew up as the skinny, tall girl in a small town, but when she got to LA she started getting new messaging. “When I first met my agent I was told my thighs were too fat. It gave me a complex and I started working out an hour a day and thinking lots of negative things about myself.”
Now that Rachel is vegan she feels comfortable in her own skin. “I’ve completely transitioned from meat and potatoes every night to whole foods and organics and I’ve never felt better. I do yoga and I don’t do any excessive exercise. I don’t count calories and my body now naturally knows what is best.
However, even with her healthy, authentic lifestyle the shaming continues. “There is a stereotype that the typical model doesn’t eat as much as she should and is trendy and shallow. People think all models are ‘mainstream’ and only care about how they look and fashion.” Rachel is sometimes shamed on social media for being “too thin”. “I’ve had comments on my photos like ‘go eat a cheeseburger’. I am fit, I am trim, but everyone has a different body type and you shouldn’t be shaming other people for their bodies.”
Rachel began her modeling career when she was older than most, as the average age American female models begin their career is before age 16.
There are so many girls in this industry that are sexually abused and mistreated. Young girls feel like they must listen to their agent or photographer or their career will be over. They are also told things like ‘It’s normal to do a topless shoot’ and the ethics of that is very wrong. I learned at the beginning that I didn’t need to listen to what industry people say. We need to all speak up against sexual predators and abusers of young women. It’s time to get rid of old people literally destroying young souls. They don’t care. The injustice really gets to me.
“Models will be used for anyone and anything, but it’s technically the industry that works for them. Each girl needs to embrace her strengths and who she is rather than trying to conform to other influences. Models need to stand up for what they believe in and what they think is right. Now is the time to stand up to be yourself and let that shine or else you will feel empty and that you have nothing. I’ve seen it happen to too many girls.”
Rachel would love to see more diversity in modeling. “It’s important to show cultural diversity as that is what makes up this world. It is a melting pot and there is not just one mold of a woman, but many shapes and sizes. The industry needs to change and brands should reflect that and connect with the consumer on a more personal level.”
Rachel believes photoshopping needs to stop. “It’s very disheartening to young women to see a photoshopped, ‘physically perfect’ woman. It’s not always real.”
Rachel, only posts on social media about her work with ethical companies. She feels that she does her best work when modeling for companies that share her values like Bead & Reel, Groceries Apparel, and BEETxBEET. She also shares my frustration with ethical brands that don’t try to embody their ethics in everything they do. This includes their selection of women modeling their brand, which is part of our values at Maven Women.
I am frustrated when ethical brands get a mainstream model who doesn’t live the brand like I do. I would love to attract those brands that I can honestly and passionately support and promote.
Rachel will often model 100 outfits in one day, and right now there isn’t enough work for her to model only for companies that share her values. She would love to work on a vegan, ethical set every day, but the industry just isn’t there yet. Having to sometimes work for fast fashion is a “struggle on her soul”. “I hope that one day I can work 100% for vegan, ethical brands. That’s where my light shines and it gives meaning, purpose, and transparency to my work.” However Rachel tries to do whatever she can, and over time she hopes to expand and grow her impact.
“My first thought is that the fabric is NICE. It is thicker and very soft. The dresses have a flattering fit that would compliment almost any woman’s shape. It’s a good piece you can dress up or down, and I think most women would feel very comfortable in it. You can easily style it with heels or boots. It’s amazing to know that the fabrics are environmentally conscious and that the woman behind the brand is doing everything she can to change women’s lives.”
Check out her Instagram, where she profiles the ethical brands she works with. And stay tuned for the new Blog Rachel is creating as well as a future post by Rachel on the Maven Women Blog!
 This interview has been edited for clarity.