After a 12-hour runway show in Shanghai, 14-year-old Vlada Dzyuba collapsed.
The teenager never regained consciousness, dying two days later. In addition to suffering from “utter exhaustion,” The Sun reports that the Russian model was suffering from chronic meningitis.
While many Russian girls are recruited to model in China, this recent tragedy has sparked debate on the conditions these young girls are forced to endure.
Dzyuba, for example, was officially only allowed to work three hours a week. Her participation in a 12-hour show illustrates that she was on a “slave labor contract.” She was reportedly too afraid to seek medical treatment.
According to The Sun, The Siberian Times reported that the teenager’s temperature spiked right before she emerged on the catwalk. The exhausted girl had called her mom, Oksana, who said:
“She was calling me, saying ‘Mama, I am so tired. I so much want to sleep.’
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.”
Oksana had been trying to obtain a visa to fly out to see her daughter before she passed away.
The modeling industry is known for exploiting young and vulnerable girls. Last year, CNN reported on the labor abuses that consume the modeling sector. Their investigation revealed that even the most successful appearing models are being overworked and struggling to make ends meet. Emily Fox, who has been modeling since age 16 and has appeared in Italian Vogue, said:
“It’s not an easy industry, and you’re not going to have a nice lush lifestyle. You’re going to really struggle and you’ll be really poor.”
She added that her annual salary is under $20,000 before taxes.
Carolyn Kramer, a former agency executive who compared the modeling industry’s abuses to “those faced by young factory workers at the turn of the century” said:
“When you’re a supermodel like Giselle or Christy Turlington you’re treated like royalty, but 99% of models are treated like garbage.”
There is a huge issue of lack of regulation within the industry that allows sketchy agencies to take advantage of girls desperate to break into the modeling world. Models are typically taken on as contract workers rather than employees. As a result, challenging unfair practices, such as “wage theft [and] sexual harassment” is extremely difficult. Former model, Meredith Hattam told CNN:
“There is this culture that comes from the agency that you are disposable and you are so lucky to be here. It’s a toxic power dynamic and it starts from the top.”
In response to Dzyuba’s death, Moscow is demanding an explanation over her living conditions during the teenager’s time in China. Her modeling agency admits to not checking Dzyuba’s contract or confirming whether she “had proper medical insurance.” The head of the Perm modeling agency said:
“No one expected it to lead to such consequences. We are now reaping what we have sown.”