Seems a good a time as any to air my views on the Harvey Weinstein / Kevin Spacey / Louis C.K. / [insert applicable Hollywood scumbag] scandal – and let’s not forget dear Mr. Terry Richardson, famed sexual assault fashion photographer star. Heck, while we’re at it, why not move straight into a conversation about Terry Richardson? Because at the moment, the worldwide web-ness of news is inundated with stories about Weinstein and Spacey, and rightfully so. My views will be all but cast aside to join the sea of opinion pieces on how outrageous Mr. Weinstein’s. behavior has been for the past thirty-odd years. So I think this calls for a momentary shift of focus to Weinstein’s next-in-line, Terry Richardson, whom I shall be referring to as T-Rix or T-Dick in the course of this piece (solely for the purposes of brevity, so hold your horses).
I first heard of Terry Richardson at the age of about 16 or 17 when I was introduced to an aspiring model named Jane*. I had popped over to visit my friend, Sam (also dabbles in modeling), at her place. It was there that I met Jane for the first and last time in my life. It’s been 10 years and here I am telling you this story, so Jane clearly left her mark on me – not least because of what I’m about to tell you.
Jane was, like me, a bright-eyed 16-year-old but, unlike me, an ambitious 16-year-old. She knew from the outset what she wanted from her life and her career. I soon discovered that Jane had aspirations to become a supermodel. She had the looks but she was, by normal supermodel standards, petite. So she decided to run with that as best she could – she wanted to make it big as “the shortest supermodel in the world”. Laugh all you want, but she said this in all seriousness, so it was easy to pick up on her fiery ambition almost immediately.
She told us how she was beginning to get her name out there, she had been networking diligently and her efforts were getting her somewhere.
That is, until she met T-Dick.
Now, being a 16-year-old in a time well before social media really took off, the name “Terry Richardson” didn’t ring any bells. So Jane pulled out a google search to show me some of his work. I was also just beginning to discover Tumblr at the time (I abandoned it soon after, thank the lord…), where, as some of you may know, specific styles of photos would typically make their rounds. It was from this fleeting brush with Tumblr that I instantly recognized T-Dick’s signature Instax-esque portraiture of beautiful topless women – always beautiful, almost always topless or in sexually compromising positions. So these photos were his! I gasped, and congratulated her on getting this far with a Tumblr-famous photographer all the way from friggin’ U S of A!
But you see, Jane wasn’t bringing this up to brag about how her pretty face and dogged determination led her all the way to the doorstep of a renowned international fashion photographer. Jane was going somewhere else with this. Her eyebrows furrowed and she stopped me mid-congratulations, “waiiiit a sec. Let me show you something else”.
With one click, out popped screenshots and screenshots of a conversation between herself and T-Rix on an instant messaging platform. I wish I had a photographic memory that would allow me to quote the conversation word for word. But alas, I do not. Anyway, it started off rather ordinarily, with Jane introducing herself, telling him her goals, and asking if she could perhaps get involved in one of his gigs. In doing so, she embraced the ostensible disadvantage of her petite stature, repackaged it, and tried selling it to him as a novel approach to modeling.
Then the conversation took an odd turn. He started focusing the conversation on…. her HANDS. It was a strange line of inquiry and every time Jane attempted to bring the conversation back to the possibility of collaboration, T-Rix would rather blatantly steer it right back to the size of her hands. At first, his questions would be vague and something along the lines of “so you say you’re small… are your hands at least big enough?” Of course, Jane didn’t see what relevance the size of her hands had to the conversation. “Does he want you to be a hand model maybe?” I asked her. Oh how cute. 16-year-old me thought he was looking for a hand model.
The conversation got stranger, and before long, it was evident where he was going with this. It was, however, also evident that Jane was attempting to deflect his strange advances by constantly re-focusing the conversation back to her main purpose. After several rounds of clear frustration at this girl’s apparent naïveté, T-Dick finally asked her point-blank: “Look here, Girlie. Obviously what I mean is that you will need to give me a handjob at the very least if you want to get anywhere in this industry.”
Good lord was I horrified.
It wasn’t even some opportunistic, nuanced segue into a conversation about her body type, for instance, which could pass off as a necessary line of questioning in the modeling industry. It was pure, undisguised sexual predation.
Jane was a feisty one, though. I wouldn’t say she was hardened by the industry because she was literally just starting out. She was merely a girl who had her head firmly on her shoulders and refused to let some creep get his way with her. She called him out for it and told him to piss off. Needless to say, he was unfazed. She took screenshots of the incriminating portions of the conversation and posted it on her little-known blog. As far as I know, this is where the story ended for her, save for a couple of comments she received on the blog post in the aftermath of the incident.
I don’t know what has become of Jane and I do hope she has achieved all she set out to achieve. But as you can tell, this story isn’t so much about Jane as it is about T-Rix and his continent-crossing, untamable predatory peen– I mean this guy goes by the name of “Uncle Terry” for chrissake! –is.
Indeed, Jane had been given a choice – touch my genitals young’un and I could try to do something for your modeling career, or refuse and kaput goes your modeling career – and she made hers. Technically speaking, yes, one can choose between the two. But let us examine the choices presented to young Jane (and many before her): a solid chance at career progression on the one hand, or preserving your modesty on the other – as if to say, you may have one or the other, but god forbid, not both, for they are mutually exclusive in the world of showbiz, honey. That Jane was compelled to choose between the two is, quite simply put, thinly veiled manipulation. I think we all know that much by now.
If I am willing to pose in skimpy clothes for the sake of fashion and art, does this mean that I will have to shatter all modesty and dignity I hold so dear? Is it taken for granted that my body is currency in the world of showbiz?
Mind you, this was close to 10 years ago, back when I was a measly high-school kid in Singapore with scraggly hair, playing abysmal guitar in my room (I think it is highly defensible that I was trying to emulate Michelle Branch, so lay off), and my biggest worries revolved mainly around the pains of teenagehood. I was far-removed from the fashion industry and even further removed from the American fashion industry. Even then I had been made fully aware of snaky little T-Dick making his rounds, preying on unsuspecting school girls with stars in their eyes.
Over the years I would hear of allegations made against T-Dick. I remember reading Sinead O’Connor’s open letter to Miley Cyrus when the latter’s Wrecking Ball music video was released, advising her to exercise some discernment when faced with the proposition that she get naked to sell her music. I knew by then that the video was directed by T-Rix and I couldn’t help but wonder if Sinead too knew that T-Rix was a pervert. Just how many people in the industry knew? How widespread was the knowledge of T-Dick’s reputation of being a pervert?
The allegations began as early as 2001. Vogue US, H&M and Target cut ties with him in 2014. Last month, Condé Nast International made the announcement that none of their subsidiary magazines, such as GQ and Harper’s Bazaar, will be working with him. Fashion powerhouses Valentino and Bulgari took their cue and made a similar announcement shortly thereafter.
So why did it take reputable fashion houses and magazines years to cut ties with the notorious T-Rix?
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, industry players are beginning to realise that the internet is no longer going to allow industry heavyweights enjoy such impunity in their manipulative, predatory behaviour towards girls and boys. Given the violent backlash Weinstein and Spacey have received, coupled with the massive influence identity politics has had on the current political climate, the reputational damage threatened has proven to be vast and far-reaching. So to turn a blind eye towards known predators would, in this climate, be business suicide.
Yes, I roll my eyes at the hypocrisy, I complain that this should have been nipped in the bud all those years ago. But more than anything I’m relieved. I’m relieved that this revolution is finally taking place. We’ve all heard insider stories about the drug-fuelled “glamour” of showbiz and it’s now become clear that Hollywood’s problems run much deeper than drugs. In the past few weeks, the world has discovered that sexual predation has been a well-established facet of life in Hollywood, and was, until now, a systemic problem almost immune to resolution.
Nevertheless, a reminder lest we all forget: Despite the industry’s’ long-held knowledge of their acts, Weinstein managed to escape unscathed for over 30 years, and Richardson for nearly 16 years. So for now, it seems safe to assume that there remain high-profile figures in show business pushing their weight (and di*ks into kids’ faces) and getting the hell away with it.
And to the T-Dicks of the world, just a reminder lest you forget: Your young model may be willing to go so far as to get her tits out in the name of art, but that doesn’t mean you whip your di*k out behind the camera lens you absolute, blithering creeps!
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of said models, and to minimize any risk of further career damage at the hands of sexual predators in show business.
**An alternative title I had in mind was “T-Dickin’ His Way Round Town”, but this was violently vetoed by my 16-year-old sister, who is beginning to display signs of maturity well beyond my years…