Nikki DuBose’s time in the modeling industry was anything but positive.
“I experienced everything negative that you could imagine in the modeling industry,” the former model, 31, tells PEOPLE. “I was raped in the modeling industry. I was sexually harassed. I had eating disorders which were exacerbated by the modeling industry, and I was pressured by the director of my agency about sleeping with him, and all of these things really triggered my mental health condition.”
DuBose wants to create a world where models never have to face those working conditions again, so when the National Eating Disorder Association reached out to her about backing a new bill in California that would work to reduce eating disorders and sexism in the modeling industry, she immediately agreed.
“NEDA approached me and [California] assemblyman Marc Levine because it came to our attention that there was this issue in the modeling industry,” DuBose says. “40 percent of models have an eating disorder – so he was very alarmed about that, he’s a father of a 7-year-old and a 9-year-old, and this directly impacts children. 50 percent of 5th through 12th graders are dieting. And that’s because they look at those advertisements every single day.”
“So I said, ‘Sure, I would love to help out on this bill, this is something that directly affected me.’ ”
RELATED VIDEO: People Exclusive: ‘I’m Starving to Death and I Can’t Help It’ Meet the Former Model Who’s Making Strides in the Fight for Her Life
The bill, the first of its kind in the United States, would require brands to hire models as employees, rather than as their current status as contractors, which would give the models more rights. And the agencies would be accountable to the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, which would give models a governing body to tell if they’re being sexually harassed or feeling pressured to dangerously diet.
“The bill is pushing for health standards and for workplace protection,” DuBose explains. “[Right now,] it’s a very psychologically damaging industry because it is so poorly regulated, and any time it’s like that we know with research that it’s very easy to develop disordered behavior such as eating disorders, and body dysmorphic disorder, and other mental illnesses.”
While DuBose and the legislature haven’t devised an exact plan for how to lower the rate of eating disorders amongst models, they will work with medical experts to create the best method. DuBose agreed that using the body mass index, or BMI, which France adopted is potentially problematic, but may be the best solution.
“I know that BMI is controversial because you can’t always tell if someone is healthy or not,” she says. “I think that it depends on [the legislatures] collaborating with the medical experts for that. My personal opinion is that BMI is not the best, however it has been proven in the past to be a good standard, so we’ll have to see about that.”
After presenting the bill, AB 2539, in Sacramento Wednesday, it swiftly passed through the labor committee, and they hope to have a full decision in August.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but this is such a big deal because this is the first time that anything like this has been done for the United States,” DuBose says. “We really feel that California is the leader for other states, and hopefully other states will follow suit. So we’re hoping that New York and every state will follow what we’re trying to do.”