Former model Michael Boyd Hager isn’t interested in suing his former agency for sexual harassment, or seeing the agent whom he claimed was verbally abusive lose his job. More than anything, he’d like his description of New York’s modeling scene to be a cautionary tale that will inspire younger models to speak up for themselves and avoid some of the more precarious situations that he found himself in.
Claims of abuse and mistreatment continue across numerous industries, but proven public revelations in fashion have been scarce. In an open letter to the industry published by WWD this fall, Edie Campbell criticized the industry’s enablers. “If all agencies, casting directors, stylists took the same hard-line approach against those that you know to be abusers, we might be closer to finding a solution. And to all the others: Don’t stay silent. Your inaction is complicity,” she wrote.
In a phone interview with WWD from his home in Los Angeles, Hager, who used his middle and last names when modeling, said in hindsight he understands that mistreatment is not tolerable. Having been released from Red Model Management last summer, Hager said recent news reports of sexual misconduct made him step forward. “I’ve talked to people about it before. Because I was never assaulted, I thought, ‘Maybe I’m just being sensitive?’ even though I knew none of these things were OK,” he said. “Now seeing all these people in different industries tell their stories, the modeling industry needs to change.”
In recent weeks, Terry Richardson, Bruce Weber and Russell Simmons have come under fire for their alleged sexual misconduct. Although first-person accounts by male models have been scarce, Jason Boyce detailed his alleged sexual abuse and discrimination in a complaint filed against Weber on Friday in New York State Supreme Court. Activist and model Cameron Russell turned her Instagram into a forum for models to air their concerns about their experiences, but the models’ names and their alleged abusers’ names were blacked out.
Sara Ziff, founder of the Model Alliance, said, “Sexual abuse within the modeling industry is widespread. Although female victims more often tend to be the focus, men are also vulnerable of being victims of sexual abuse — and it can be more difficult for male models to report sexual abuse by other men because there remains a stigma.”
Still studying clinical psychology as he did at The New School while in New York, Hager started modeling professionally in September 2015 at age 24. In his hometown of Chicago, Hager did a few runway shows for Vidal Sassoon and worked for little-known designers “in not very professional settings,” he said. At go-sees or on location, models’ conversations often turned to stories of mistreatment, Hager said. “There were so many times we would be at a photo shoot that was unpaid that the agency had set up. We’d be outside for eight hours shooting in 20-degree weather standing there, shaking, freezing and say, ‘This sucks. How did we get signed up for this?’ Then you’d start talking. It would be well-this-happened-to-me…and then I’d learn what was going on, not only with my agency but with other agencies, too.”
Models would often warn each other about certain photographers or how to handle certain scenarios, Hager said. “At castings, they would shove 150 of us into a tiny little room where we would be sitting on the floor or in the hallway in front of the fire escape. There were so many crazy things we would have to do so we would talk and share experiences in that capacity.”
Hager recalled how eager he was to work after signing with Red: “I really wanted to do well. I told my agent, ‘I will go to any casting. I will do any photo shoot. I am just ready.’ He said, ‘OK, the successful models send me pictures of themselves so I don’t forget about them. I need body and face.”
“I sent his some pictures of me in my underwear, which was just standard — front, full-length shots. He had told me I needed to get in shape. I texted him, ‘I hope that you are having a great vacation. I’m going to strength-conditioning pilates…’ He said, ‘Send me some body and face selfies.’ So I sent him some. He wanted to see me from the back and I didn’t understand why. It was because he wanted to see my ass [allegedly],” Hager said, adding the agent then responded, ‘Too bad you found a pair of underwear n [sic] it wasn’t laundry day.’”
Hager said early on in his career he worked with an unknown photographer who was notorious for trying to get male models naked, but another Red agent had cautioned him. That agent, whom he later identified as Carly Greenberg, suggested texting her or to leave if anything happened. Hager said over time his agent became harder to reach about jobs, and stopped returning his phone calls.
Greenberg deferred comment to Red owner Neil Mautone, who disputed Hager’s claims of verbal abuse and the possibility of being passed up for jobs. “It’s just unfathomable. Nobody here would be passed over. We work in teams. I actually want to vomit to tell you the truth. I don’t know what this is, where this is coming from or who supposedly did it. It’s just not anything that has ever been part of Red or who we are.”
To try to get more bookings, Hager said he scheduled office appointments — rather than texting photos — with his agency to stay on the radar. During two of those visits, his agent said things like, ‘Hey, I’m going to do a little coke in the bathroom. Do you want to come?’ I said, ‘No,’” Hager said. “There was always something inappropriate. He screamed at me one time for 10 solid minutes in front of a bunch of people for skipping a casting. But they had double-booked me.”
From then on, he dealt primarily with Greenberg, but the main agent funneled all the work, Hager said. Eager to get more work and break the silence, he asked his original agent for career advice and agreed to have what he thought would be a business dinner. That night wound up including a younger model, whom the agent allegedly made sexually explicit comments not to him but about him, Hager said. “During the dinner the kid kept talking about his girlfriend. It just felt really predatory. And my being there felt like I was kind of legitimizing the agent.”
Midway through the dinner at Miss Lily’s, the agent allegedly asked Hager to stop by his apartment, where he lived with another agent. A dispute between the agents later led to table-clearing fight at the restaurant, where Hager was told to pick up the $150 bill — “a lot of money for a nonworking model.” That was the breaking point for Hager, who said he decided to work solely with Greenberg.
He also alleged that his agent often advised him “to be less of a p—y.” Occasionally, Hager would mention other models he was working with to his original agent, which would lead to crude remarks about their anatomy. “I don’t know if it was because he knew that I was gay he would say these things to try to start a conversation. There was always something that felt like, ‘What does this have to do with modeling or business?'”
While hanging out at night with agents, casting directors and photographers is a way models indirectly book jobs, Hager wasn’t interested. Advised that successful models hang out with the agent, Hager said he decided, “I don’t want to hang out with you. I want to do my job. I guess I’m just not going to be successful.” Red allegedly set up a meeting with a casting director, whom Hager said had sexually assaulted or harassed male models. “There were online reports. I always Googled people before I went to meet them. My agency set up this meeting in a hotel room with this casting director. Everyone was just hanging out, listening to music, smoking [weed]. That just seemed stupid,” Hager said.
He estimated that more than 50 percent of the time that he visited the office, the agent allegedly barked at him or made inappropriate comments. ”After a while, I was like, ‘Why am I putting up with this?’ I had booked a couple of shows, I had done shoots and whatever, but I wasn’t in Vogue. I hadn’t booked any huge jobs. I would always be a wreck after I left…”
After a few clients allegedly told Hager that they had tried to book him a few times but was told he was unavailable, he wondered if he was getting passed over for jobs on purpose. Before leaving Red officially, Hager said he told Greenberg about the unprofessionalism that he had experienced there. “She said she had heard stuff like that before. She was very supportive and nice,” he said.
Hager said many of his friends, who are still modeling, would not be willing to detail their sexual or verbal harassment experiences because doing so would jeopardize future work. And given how young so many models are, they often are too naïve to know that certain behavior is not acceptable, he said.
“The thing about modeling is there is a lot of work for not a lot of money. If you’re Gigi Hadid and you’re booking huge campaigns, of course you’re getting money. But I would walk in shows or we would do shoots and we would get paid nothing,” Hager said. “A lot of models moved from different places or other parts of the world and they were in debt. It becomes a perfect scenario for you to have to do whatever anyone says. Because if you say ‘no’ and get blacklisted by an agent, photographer, casting director or anyone in a position of power, then all of a sudden you’re not getting any jobs or going out at all. Now you’re super in debt and just completely screwed.…The models have no control until they become big. There is always that feeling of, ‘If I say no or I take a stand, I’m going to be completely ruined.’”
Not interested in legal action, Hager said he is open to the idea of advocating for models or holding a forum. “As uncomfortable as the agent made me, I don’t want to ruin his life. I just want other models who are going through it to know that they can say, ‘No,'” he said.