14-year-old model dies of exhaustion after gruelling 12-hour show
The modeling industry in the past few decades has come under increasing pressure to improve working conditions for models and loosen their strict size demands. Particularly in the fashion capitals of the world – including New York, London, Paris and Milan – the call for more realistic standards and better conditions for models has led to new laws and regulations to come into place.
London Fashion Week was one of the first to take a stand against casting models under the age of 16 in fashion shows. New York Fashion week included the greatest diversity of models ever, with fashion brands casting many women of colour, several plus-size models, and a 16-year-old transgender model to take to the runway. And earlier this year, France announced a new law that requires models to provide a medical certificate valid for up to two years, confirming that they are not excessively underweight and they have a healthy general physical wellbeing.
But in some cases, the health of models is still not taken seriously enough, which can have devastating consequences for those who are forced to work in tough conditions.
This week, a young Russian girl tragically passed away on a modeling job in China. Vlada Dzyuba was only 14 years old, an age that many agencies consider too young. She collapsed during a show while on a three-month contract in China. The Siberian Times reported that the teenager's temperature rose alarmingly high just as she was about to step onto the catwalk during a show in Shanghai.
The show was a harsh 12-hours long, causing Dzyuba to collapse and slip into a coma for two days before her death. It was discovered that the collapse was due to exhaustion caused by the working conditions and chronic meningitis, a long-term illness that causes inflammation of the layers of tissue that surround the brain and spinal cord.
Due to her illness, the young model was only supposed to be working a maximum of 3 hours per week, something clearly ignored by the agency by the fact that she was working four times that on a single day. The Siberian Times reported that she was on a "slave labour" contract, and reportedly too scared to ask for help when she noticed that her illness was getting worse.
The model's mother Oksana was distraught by the news of the collapse, saying she had been trying to organise a visa to fly out to be with her daughter before she passed away.
"She was calling me, saying 'Mama, I am so tired. I so much want to sleep'," Oksana told reporters.
"It must have been the very beginning of the illness. And then her temperature shot up.
"I didn't sleep myself and was calling her constantly, begging her to go to hospital."
The modeling agency based in Perm, Russia who contracted Dzyuba's 3-month trip to China, said they did not check the teenager's contract, nor whether she had proper medical insurance before she left Russia.
"No-one expected it to lead to such consequences," said the head of the agency, Elvira Zaitseva. "We are now reaping what we have sown."
Several Russian models are recruited for fashion jobs in China, and Dzyuba's case has raised concerns about working and living conditions for models there. However, the regulations and contracting procedures in Russian fashion companies should be investigated too, especially considering the agency admitted to not to having checked Dzyuba's contract properly. The human rights ombudsman in Perm, Pavel Mikov, is now personally investigating the girl’s death.
Dzyuba's untimely death is a tragic story that will at the very least hopefully spark new conversations about modeling conditions for fashion industries in the less prominent fashion hubs of the world.