Thursday, January 7, 2016

Pay-to-Play Runway NO WAY part 2 (or P2PRWNW2)

Wow!  Lots of responses to this pay-to-play runway topic!  I've even had to resort to shorthand: P2PRW.  I’ve spent some time wandering around social media to see what people are thinking, and I’ve seen a LOT of interesting points.  I’ll address some of them specifically, but first I want to focus on what I think is my biggest issue with pay-to-play runway.  Several people raised this point with me, and it zeroes in on some of my biggest concerns with the industry.

So here goes.

Child modeling is a job.  It’s work. 

It sounds really cool, and for most kids, there are bursts of fun and giggling at shoots – but there is a lot of waiting around, getting poked and prodded, reminded to be quiet…there’s a reason it’s paid work.  And as it’s paid work, it’s regulated by labor laws.  A lot of us say it’s a fun hobby – which it may very well be for parents and some families – and the money isn’t anything you’re going to get rich from (see my earlier post about what a child model makes) – but the hobby is actually considered BY LAW to be work for a kid and as such, there are specific requirements and protections built into how it's done.  And these requirements and restrictions are especially important for runway work.  It may not seem like a big deal for an eight-year-old to put on a pretty dress and work that runway – but it’s a slippery slope as to what comes next.  The regulations are designed to protect the little ones as well as to prevent emaciated fifteen-year-olds from walking for Proenza Schouler or whomever.  All kids under 18 are treated the same under child performer laws, and the laws need to be applied to all kids who work.  And let’s just say that California laws make NY laws look like a little board-book story.  (And runway work is explicitly part of child performer laws.)

It’s work.  What do you do for a living?  What do you dream of doing?  Would you work for free?  I highly doubt you would show up and do someone’s job for free – and I’m sure you would never ask anyone to come PAY YOU to do your job.  How would your colleagues feel if someone just paid to show up and do the job with no permit or other requirements of the job?  Again, modeling is work.  It should be treated as such. 

So we're not actually talking pay-to-PLAY...As my friend (shout out!) pointed out, it's pay-to-WORK!  YESSSSS!!!  We're talking about PAY-TO-WORK!

Now – here’s where I can anticipate what you’re thinking.  “You just don’t want someone to come and take away an opportunity for your daughter!”  You know what?  People come and get chosen for jobs she could do EVERY DAY.  Rejection is CONSTANT in this industry.  My daughter gets rejected so many times that I never even know about!  I TRULY do not personalize any of that.  Some moms do, and I really disagree with that belief system.  But honestly, there will ALWAYS be more attractive, cuter, smarter, more talented kids than my daughter and my agency may sign five of them tomorrow.  I have no control over that.  I DO NOT believe that your kid will take any opportunities away from my daughter that your kid doesn’t totally deserve – when you play by the rules of the game.  We don’t even love runway that much.  Don’t get me wrong, we’ll do it, but it’s a long hard day and probably even more fun for me than my daughter. 

Ok, now for some point-by-point responses.

1.  But it’s my child’s dream to be a runway model! 

Ok, it does look cool and it can be a lot of fun.  Lots of little girls like to be pampered and feel beautiful.  Is this the only way?  Is this really your child’s dream?  As any model mom who started when our kids were practically fetal or non-verbal – it was OUR idea.  OUR choice.  As children get older, sure, they have more to say about it.  Are there other dreams you can nurture?  Do you want your child’s dream to be realized by someone making money off of your child’s dream in a way that’s not considered an industry standard or norm – when many other people are playing by the rules?  Do you realize your dreams by paying for the opportunity?  If so, who profits?  Was it worth it in the end?  Think about the lessons you want to reinforce in your home.  (And don’t tell me it was your dream to go skydiving and you did and it was expensive and it was great.  You paid for the company’s experience, their safety expertise, their equipment, their airplane fuel, and their insurance – which I am sure is huge.)

2.  …and we’re not in a big market…we haven’t been picked up by an agency…etc.

All children are beautiful and many designers cast a wonderful range of looks.  Some kids happen to do well modeling and some do not, but that doesn’t mean your child cannot participate in local, charity, or fun runway shows.  If you can’t find one of those, why not organize a runway show for a few Girl Scout troops to raise funds?  Get some people together to sponsor a mission trip?  PTA family night?  You can charge the viewers/guests of the show and it can be a legitimate charity donation.  I am certain you can get a bunch of people excited to participate, maybe some shops willing to lend outfits for publicity (or wear your finest or create a theme) and you can even hire hair and makeup people and a photographer – or get donated services for the charity – for less than it would cost even one girl to participate in some pay-to-play shows.  Get creative.  Want to go to a big city for fashion fun?  Make an appointment with a personal shopper in Bloomingdale’s and book a beauty treatment at Elizabeth Arden.  Stay overnight.  You are still paying far less than some runway shows I’ve seen.

3.  This will give my child exposure!

Highly doubtful…to just NO.   Agencies do not sign/book kids from their runway work.  Actually, I do know one girl who was sort of scouted by an agent at Petite Parade (but then again, it was an event that an agent would actually attend…and she was already a successful actor…so I guess it doesn’t really apply here).  My daughter has done several Petite Parade shows and not once – ever – were the photos from the show used by her agency.  Not once were they ever used for a submission.  Did photographers take her picture?  Sure.  Did she get posted on social media?  Sure.  Did she get a really bad thumbnail pic printed in Vogue Bambini from the show when she was 3 and buried her head all the way down the runway?  Yes.  But you know who soaked up all the exposure she got?  ME.  Moms look for their own kids.  And really…no one else does.  And that’s at Petite Parade!

4.  It’s just like sports or dance or cheer or…fencing or…poetry class!  We pay for all that!

Yes, you do.  And I know those great things are not cheap!  And the older the kids get, the more it all costs!  But it’s not the same.  They get instruction and experience they can actually apply.  They are not paying a fee just to show up at a game and realize their dream of being an all-star.  Those lessons/programs/classes reinforce proper technique, the value of persistence and practice, and many other labor-of-love lessons for our children.  Unlike walking down a runway, the time our children spend in those programs give them the tools to realize both short-term and long-term goals.

Maybe your dream is to play in the World Series.  You can’t just pay to show up and do it.  You can, however, spend a nice weekend at fantasy camp with a real team – for fun – just not doing their jobs.

5.  Modeling is not cheap!

Don’t I know it!  I commute two hours for most of my daughter’s work and that started when gas was $4.00/gallon!  Tolls and parking and lunch/dinner in the city and all that stuff adds up – and that’s not even counting the occasional head shots she may need or the acting classes she’ll start in a year or so.  It’s NOT free.  But you know what?  Those are the business expenses any self-employed worker would incur.  There are all sorts of tax laws to deal with that stuff.  And here’s the clincher: you can only deduct expenses incurred in the course of working or improving your current craft.  (So acting lessons for an actor would work, but not cooking lessons for an actor…unless the actor is preparing for the role of a chef…you get the point.)  Pay-to-play runway wouldn’t qualify for this, since it doesn’t further a career.   And my daughter never, ever pays to work.  Agencies ONLY take money in the form of commission from paid jobs – not one cent beyond that.  And if you live in NYC, most of those travel expenses I pay are off the table.  I work with moms and kids who WALKED from their apartment to the studio!  How easy is that!

6.  But I get to keep the clothes! – or – But we get pictures!

Will your child wear them again?  I mean, I’m sure they are wonderful and show the designer’s vision – but a lot of runway looks are more conceptual than wearable.  Is it really a true win-win?  And about the pictures?  Of course we know that photographers should be paid for their work.  Are you paying the photographer or the designer?  How does the rate for the photographer stack up to the going rate for a similar shoot?  If the designer hires the photographer for just a few hundred bucks but then promises packages of pictures to participants, that really sucks for the photographer!  Just consider what I wrote above about who viewed the runway pictures of my daughter: me.  (And there were some images I selected and purchased full-res from the photographers…for me.)

7.  Not from model moms, but from designers:  Do you know how hard it is for a young/new designer to get started?

Not personally, but I have worked with several and know how they roll.  They work jobs they don’t love during the day and they design and sew at night.  They get friends with cameras to take pics…maybe get a few friends with kids to model…and they grow a little at a time.  I’ve seen lookbooks they printed themselves on color printers they bought at Staples.  They pound the pavement to boutiques and sell on commission.  They work their butts off and some succeed and some don’t.  I don’t want to be all “too bad  / so sad” here, but a lot of people work very hard to realize their dreams or attain what they want in their career and they don’t have the opportunity (or desire) to fund their goals off the desires of little children.  It can be done.

8.  Let’s not all judge each other!!!

I agree.  THAT’S not productive.  But advocating for one’s position is – and I’m advocating to keep the child modeling/talent industry fair for all involved.  Work is work and should be treated as such.  And if we happen to meet and you’ve just done, like, six pay-to-play runway shows with your kid?  Whatever.  You know my feelings already.  I won’t bite.  Six pay-to-play shows AND a “Make America Great Again” hat?  THEN we may have a problem…KIDDING!!!  (Dad?!?)

And just a reminder: make sure if your kid is doing any runway -- paid/unpaid/for pay -- in NYFW, be sure you have your permits on hand and proof of trust account!

For any comments, respond here or on my Facebook page, The Bizzy Mama.  You can reach me by email at and check out some of my daughter's work on Instagram.  And pets.


  1. Well put, Bizzymama! I would love to add that free and pay-to-play work makes it very likely that future jobs will also go unpaid or -- even worse -- kids will be charged a fee to participate. The rise of social media has seen designers able to cast without the use of agents. This lowers the salaries of professional model kids. and could potentially put smaller agencies out of business.

    As you said, this is a job and none of us would be happy to find out that someone else paid their way into the same position that we worked very hard to attain. It's the same for our kids.

  2. Thank you! What stands out to me is that if a child does have a passion for performing and they've only done PFP work when the opportunity for real work arrives a child unaccustomed to an actual audition process, actual rejection and actual competition will not only get burnt out quickly, their self esteem will surely be hit. A child in that situation will wonder why they went from being a star in the "runway" show to not booking anything and as with all children, their feelings will be bruised. PFP devalues hard work and positions children for self esteem issues. It's not fair in the long run to the children whose parents allow them to do PFP. When you're not booking, you should always be training...