An Afghan model on catwalk stage in Kabul

The ugly face of a beautiful business

The qualifications for becoming a model cannot be limited to be tall and having a slim body, fair skin color, and an attractive face, says Atia, 24, who broke into business of modelling to make a career as model in Afghanistan.

For many people modelling is a business that looks greener on the other side. Models appear stylish and chic on catwalk stages but there are a lot of disturbing facts in real life of a model, which often remains untold. The glamour and glitz surrounding a model before cameras cannot hide the ugly face of this beautiful business. Exploitation, mistreatment and sexual harassment make the ugly face of this lucrative business—which brings huge profit for modeling agencies in Afghanistan.                               

“As a child, I was passionate to wear colorful dresses. As I grew older, I became more interested in colors and designs. This was what that pushed me to join modeling,” she says.

Atia has fought a tough battle to join her dream job in conservative Afghan society where female population are seen as family and tribe honor. Born and raised up in a religious family, she has swum against the tide. No one in the family favors Atia. Even her father and mother are not in her favor when it comes to her career. Under growing pressure from family and society, she has worked in modeling industry for four years.

As a model, she has tackled a load of burden. She says her relatives have a ‘negative’ perception and see her nothing but a ‘bitch’.    

 “After a year of following me everywhere like a shadow, one day, a close friend of my father invited me to his home, and asked me to share bed with him,” Atia says. “I ran out of his home, talked to my father about his friend’s behavior, months passed by I was depressed and thinking to quit my job.”

Getting into business of modelling, in particular for a young girl, brings so many miseries and humiliations. The modeling agencies misuse time and energy of female models to advertise their products. For a model earning money is difficult and they do not get paid what they are promised to earn.          

“They are promised to be paid, gain fame in society but none of those are materialized,” Atia says. “I was sent to different TV channels and places to advertise products, conduct interviews and take pictures. I worked for two and half years in the business and in return was paid 5000 afghanis.”   

The 25-year-old Nazia, a former model, has quit her job after receiving many threatening messages on social media. “Many fake Facebook accounts were created with my name and my pictures. The users of these fake accounts would find my family members and send them requests with my name and images. They were spreading many negative contents, sending them to my family members,” she says.

“I quit my job in order not to lose my family’s support.”

As a passionate model, Nazia would dream to promote Afghani dresses but massive pressure by the society members—often in the form of jumping into bed with someone—have forced her to quit the job and never think about it. “Almost every day I had to deal with wrong people, who would ask to share bed with them. I was hating myself.”

But Laila has a different tale to tell about her experience of being a model in India.           

“One day, I met with a tattoo artist, who asked me to be a model. Considering my height and appearance, I wasn’t very sure about it, but I tried my luck,” says Laila, who has worked as a model in India for two years. She says that Indian entrepreneurs invest a lot on marketing and models and supermodels in India get handsome salaries.

Afghan modeling agencies , however, draw a different picture of the business. Designers and investors who are running the agencies say they have created jobs and are working to boost up professionalism in the field.   

Ajmal Haqiqi, the founder of Haqiqi Group Modeling Agency, says, “We work hard with the ones who are passionate about modeling.”

Hamid Wali, the founder of Modelistan agency, says his goal of opening his agency is to create jobs, increase professionalism and promote Afghan brands.  

Modeling industry is a business which is not as pretty as it looks on the other side. The ugly face of this beautiful business remains in the dark and the uglier facts of modeling life remains untold.

Kubra Nadir contributed to this report.