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Is It True That Male Models Get No Respect?

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Models walk the runway during Billy Reid's NYFW Fall 2014 show in NYC. Photo via Getty Images
Models walk the runway during Billy Reid's NYFW Fall 2014 show in NYC. Photo via Getty Images

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Are we entering the age of male super models?

The front cover of this month's Details magazine features the faces of ten prominent male models that have gained significant status in recent years, including Sean O'Pry, Clement Chabernaud, and Garrett Neff. Speaking with Business of Fashion, Details editor-in-chief Dan Peres noted, "men's fashion is stronger than it has ever been in terms of what the offerings are."

But despite Details' insistence, none of these male models have achieved household name status. While female supers like Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss are flown around the world and paid millions of dollars for their looks, male models still experience inferior treatment, as modeling is the one unique industry in the world where men are less valued than women.

BoF cites strong social media presence and stronger aesthetic values as reasons behind the rise of the male model. With the men's fashion industry growing twice as fast as womenswear, and expected to hit $18 billion by 2016, male models, they believe, could be on the verge of a major status shift.

Even as some male models strike it 'big,' they still struggle with equal treatment, especially when it comes to amenities and salaries.

Details magazine front cover this month.

Back in October, in their annual report of world's top earning models, Forbes noted that 2013's top-earning model, Sean O'Pry, had an annual salary of an estimated $1.5 million, while the world's top-earning female model, Gisele Bündchen, pulls in some $42 million annually. The average female model's salary, at $41,300, is 148 percent more than the average male model's, according to payscale.com.

Sean O'Pry, the world's highest paid male model, only makes $1.5 million a year. Photo via Getty Images.

"For men, attaining supermodel status is rare and challenging; they don't have the opportunities to gain wide-scale exposure that Victoria's Secret or a major cosmetics campaign offer female models. And the rates they command are far lower," the Forbes report explained.

Only a few male models have been vocal about the salary inequality. O'Pry told ABC back in October that he wouldn't complain about "not making $42 million. ... At the end of the day I'm very, very blessed with what I do. I don't have to wear high heels and I don't have to wear bikinis, so I mean, more power to the ladies. I'm very happy with my career."

David Gandy, the world's second-highest paid model, has spoken about the salary gap. Image via Getty.

But in a 2012 interview with the Daily Mail, David Gandy, the long-time face of Dolce & Gabanna, and the world's second highest-paid male model, said that men in the modeling industry are the "lowest of the low."

"A part of me does think, 'Why is this? What can I do about it? Why is it that the female models get paid four times as much as a male model for a campaign – a campaign they are both in," Gandy asked. "But it's just a fact in this industry that the women earn more than the men. While the top female models fly first class or business class, the guys fly economy."

Sam Barraclough, a 30-year-old British model who's modeled for Robert Cavalli, Fred Perry, and Diesel, said male models certainly experience inferior treatment.

"I just came from a casting for Reiss, where the girls were sitting in a special room and I had to sit in the middle of an office," he said. "The treatment is different and I think it's because there aren't as many jobs."

Sam Barraclough, a British model, says male models experience some inferior treatment. Photo by Jane Hoskyn

Matthew Rettenmund, an author who writes the blog Boy Culture, believes the unequal pay and treatment stems from the way society views male models as a whole.

"I don't think there is any question that female models are seen more positively and treated more glamorously by our society. This is probably colored by homophobia," Rettenmund said. "Even though many male models are, of course straight, I think our society still frowns on peacocking males and thinks male models are gay and therefore not as praise-worthy as men in other professions, whereas women who are models are fitting into a role that society thinks is okay for that gender."

"The issue of unequal treatment is provocative and there is no easy answer," Rettenmund went on. "I of course think it's wrong that there is a huge difference between what men and women are paid. Those doing the paying will point out that the real money in fashion is from women, so therefore female models are more in demand. However, they're doing the same work and there is plenty of money in that profession. What about the fact that so many models aren't even paid for shoots when they start out, but are supposed to feel grateful for the exposure. Including posing nude or nearly nude."

Male models at the D&G Spring 2012 show in Milan. Photo by Getty Images.

Christopher Koulouris, a former male model turned writer, said the lack of jobs in the industry have to do with big actors and sports stars such as David Beckham, Brad Pitt, or Henrik Lundqvist snatching the large campaigns.

"When you look at what's available for male models, it's collections, editorials, fashion spreads, and the occasional campaigns. We'd get paid peanuts, just crap money, but we'd just take whatever is available," Koulouris said. "It's not an easy business to survive in and I don't buy into the whole male super model thing—it just doesn't exist. Men don't become everyday names like women because as a society, a man's value isn't perceived based on his appearance, his worth is based on his career."

Travis Smith, a 21-year-old Hawaiian native who moved to Williamsburg to pursue his modeling career, agreed that women have more opportunity in the modeling industry.

"There is definitely a bigger drive for women in the industry, because who doesn't want to look at a supermodel?" Smith said. "But the payment is realistic. [Female] models have more to do, from lingerie or cosmetics and that's why there is more money involved."

Travis Smith feels the salary gap is justified. Image via Getty.

Smith, who's modeled for Versace and Son Jung Wan, believes women land jobs easier than men because there is more room for creativity. While agencies are open to casting female models that have a different look (like Lara Stone or Chloe Nørgaard), most prefer a more standard look.

"The clients know the look they are going for and in my case with [my long hair], I might not fit what they are looking for," Smith added. "Almost half the clients out there don't even hire boys with long hair."

Male models also seem to have a hard time making a career for themselves, post-facto. While supers like Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum built television empires after their modeling careers ended, male models remain unknown, with the exception of Ashton Kutcher.

From a social perspective, male models have a long way to come before gaining a similar following to female models. O'Pry has 15,200 Twitter followers and 41,192 Instagram followers compared with Bündchen, who boasts 1.67 million followers on Twitter and 1.49 million on Instagram. Tyson Beckford, the male model best known for his Ralph Lauren Polo campaign, has nearly 80,000 followers on Twitter while Victoria Secret bombshell Adriana Lima knocks him out of the park with 1.34 million.

Model Tyson Beckford. Photo by Getty Images.

On the flipside, female models are held to an incredibly higher standard than their male counterparts, between the weight expectation and the emphasis on youth.

"Is the salary difference fair? I don't know about the fairness but when women are paid less in the rest of the careers in the world, why not have it?" noted Sophie Loyd, a 24-year-old model living in Soho. "There is crazy competition where we are all up against each other. Our jobs are more challenging and the getting-ready process is harder. We have to watch our weight and figure out how the heck we can be healthy. Yes, we have [more opportunity] but when I do market, I'm sitting in a model closet all day—it's not glamorous and it's not sexy but it is what it is. And it's a lot more work than going on set, taking off my shirt and posing like Zoolander."

Photo by Getty Images.

"With the male model industry being smaller, there's less money but there are also advantages. There are all these stories of female models starving themselves to stay skinny and you don't really hear about that in the male model industry," Smith added. "The rules are definitely more loose for men."

Loyd added that female models constantly have to deal with "the pervy photographer" —but that is something male models face as well, Rettenmund noted.

Photo by Getty Images

"I find pressure for sexual favors more annoying to hear about than pay inequities, [but] that is an issue that plagues both male and female models equally," Rettenmund said.

Barraclough noted that salary gap does not bother him when he considers the longevity of his male modeling career. While female models are encouraged to start as young as 14, male models can begin anywhere from 18 to 25. While pre-pubescent "look" of female model only lasts for a few years, male models aren't expected to look childish for too long.

"Guys have a much longer career potential than girls. When it falls apart for girls, it's because she is beyond the age where the industry accepts them. It's a tough gig for them," Barraclough said. "But I can be doing this for a long time, and I can look like a student, and then a guy with a kid. We might get paid less but the longevity of our career is there and that, itself is worth money."

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