There’s a new trend going on in the supermodel world – taking to Instagram, Facebook, and/or Twitter to hashtag about popular causes. While many are applauding this trend as proof that models are more than just pretty faces, others are questioning their motives as PR firms and marketing agencies confirm encouraging young celebrities to speak out on social issues or face obscurity.
Some noticeable models embracing the hashtag trend:
Cara Delevingne, England’s “It Girl” model-turned-actress took to Twitter calling Walter Palmer, the dentist who infamously shot and killed the much-beloved Cecil the lion, “a poor excuse of a human being.”
Although much of her Twitter account is used for things like promoting upcoming projects, commenting on fashion, and random thoughts in true Twitter style, this wasn’t her first activist hashtag to be thrown into her feed – with tweets about #blacklivesmatter, calling for #justice for #SandraBland, and celebrating the SCOTUS gay marriage ruling with an enthusiastic #lovewins. To her credit, Delevingne did step outside the bounds of social media for Cecil the lion, as she raised almost $15,000 for the University of Oxford researchers who studied Cecil by auctioning off her watch.
Victoria’s Secret model and Namibia native, Behati Prinsloo, got over 90,000 likes for her Instagram post regarding #Cecilthelion and a caption that called Walter Palmer and his like “Bored idiots that think trophy hunting in Africa is a sport need to be stopped.”
These are just a few examples of the new breed of hashtag-activist-model. Now, I don’t think anyone thinks it’s a bad thing for celebrities to use their voice to bring attention to important causes.
“Old school” model activists
Supermodel activists aren’t exactly a new thing. Before the rise of current social media, there were a lot of brave women speaking out about issues that had personally affected them. Some examples include:
Waris Dirie, the former supermodel who has been using her voice for many years to speak out against female mutilation, an issue that affected her personally, all over the world including in front of the UN. Watch:
A former supermodel who was born a refugee, Iman, travels the world promoting peace in Africa and speaking about her experience. She works for aids prevention though the Keep A Child Alive Foundation, and promotes awareness for the war in the Congo though the Enough Project. Watch:
Famous supermodel Gisele Bundchen became a UN Environmental Ambassador, supermodel and environmental activist Lily Cole travels around giving speeches warning that “global organisations are not reacting quickly enough to halt climate change,” and Christy Turlington Burns has become an outspoken advocate for maternal health care around the world and produced and directed a critically acclaimed documentary No Woman, No Cry.
So, with all this history of model activists, why is there controversy with millennial models?
The controversy isn’t so much that they are speaking out, but why they are speaking out. A story from the New York Times states:
These days, a certain amount of banner waving is deemed not only acceptable but downright essential, a vital way for a model to reach the people who actually buy the clothes she parades.
“Our customers expect social commentary,” Paula Schneider, the new chief executive of American Apparel, said in an interview with Marie Claire magazine. “They expect it to be a part of their lives.”
If models are speaking out on issues only because they are doing as they are instructed, it does indeed ring a bit hollow. On one hand, and way an issue can get attention is good. On the other hand, others feel it cheapens activism itself. As some of the comments on the article show:
Another point of concern is if these models are doing anything besides helping their own careers. Some wonder if raising awareness is enough, if no actual changes are being promoted or money is being raised. To be fair, perhaps when they aren’t so busy with their often short-lived careers, these models will indeed do more than tweet their support. At this time, only time will tell.
The final opposing point is that the young celebrities are kept on a tight leash regarding which subjects they vocalize. According to the article:
Part marketing, that strategy is meant to underscore a model’s “authenticity,” she said. Still, there are limits. “We don’t want to censor, but we do issue guidelines as needed,” Ms. Yang said. “We urge our talents to draw people in without alienating anyone, and would likely steer them away from topics that are sensitive.”
Fans, in short, aren’t likely to find their idols campaigning for the right to life or taking up the crusade against child labor violations in offshore factories. (Why bite the hand that feeds them?)
This point is what bothers me the most. Perhaps because it has personally affected me. In my former life, I made my living as a model (no where near supermodel status) and small time actor. I was dropped by one agent for refusing to do a Walmart ad (I’ve been boycotting them for years), and by another because I refused to only do “safe” protests. I was actively encouraged to get my picture taken for protests of certain causes, and to wear masks for the “out there” ones. I really didn’t have that much to loose, as I was only getting enough work anyways to barely scrape by in the big city. So, I can’t really compare the choices I made to the ones major models and actors face.
One things for sure: the recent trend of supermodels embracing hashtag activism, whether met with criticism or praise, has produced the desired effect: staying “relevant” in their own world.
Featured Image via Twitter