Sara Sampaio at Web Summit 2017: "It's About Choice"

Sara Sampaio at Web Summit 2017
Photo: Elle Portugal.
Portuguese model, actress and activist Sara Sampaio spoke at Web Summit, Lisbon this Wednesday, November 9, 2017. First, she sat down with Zing Tsjeng from VICE Media to talk about the modern day model. Later on, she spoke about celebrity activism alongside Rosario Dawson.

In her first talk, Sara touched on really important issues surrounding the fashion industry today and the use of social media. She also talked about her own sexual harassment experience and why it motivated her to speak up and name the publication on social media. Finally, she suggested great solutions for the fashion industry to protect and respect women. And how models can protect themselves.

Social media has its ups and downs 

Sara admits that social media has its good and bad points. However, one of the many privileges of having a large following on social media is the ability to be heard. Social media gives people strength and speaking up about mistreatments and abuse on social media can open up the doors for change. Even for someone without large following, they should speak up because nowadays post goes viral and sparks change. One example she gives is changing naked in front of strangers and how it's painted as "normal" in the fashion industry. She says if a model asks to change in-private she would be called a diva". Getting changed in front of everyone shouldn't be part of the business she states.

"It's about choice."

The model opened up about her sexual harassment experience when she was shooting for Lui magazine. First, she gave an example of previous jobs where she was treated with respect and felt respected. She was asked beforehand that a job contain some nudity. Then told them what she's ok with and what she isn't ok with. Once she's booked, the mutual agreement stood. Even the stylist and the photographer made sure she was okay with the job.

Unfortunately, that wasn't Sara's experience with the French magazine, Lui. She wanted to avoid what had happened to her in the past when she came to the job and the photographer has expected something she wasn't. So she agreed to do the Lui shoot with a no-nudity agreement in her contract. However, when she got to the set, she was pressured to get naked by the team (not the photographer). When she refused and persisted, she was shown previous pictures she had taken in the past and was told: "but this is no different from this".

She says it is different because it's about choice. She gave a powerful analogy by stating the following, "Just because you've kissed a lot of guys in the past, it doesn't give anyone the right to come and kiss you without your permission".

Lui ended up publishing photos of Sara with nudity which were taken by mistakes. Sara exposed them on social media and took legal action because of preaching the contact.

Why did she expose Lui?

Sara was empowered by the strong individuals that came forward with their own stories of sexual harassment. She strongly believes that people need to start calling out the harassers so they're held accountable for their actions. In an emotional voice, Sara says that her goal is to at least save one girl and to prevent this from happening to someone else. 

Speaking up about her experience gave her back power. She demands that a model's relationship with the staff on a shoot should be a collaboration. Giving an opinion or pointing something out shouldn't be met with statements like "complicated" or "troublemaker".

The model also says that there are underage girls who are forced to do topless photos, underaged girls who are being sexualized at a young age and even adults who get bulled into getting naked and it doesn't need to be like that.

Sexism exists.

Sara points out something important in regards to her experience as a model. She says when a woman speaks for herself, she's called a feminist, but when a man does it, it's empowering. Even in an industry where women make more money than men, women are still being exploited, says Sara.

Changes the industry needs to make

Sara believes there should be accountability. People involved shouldn't look away and pretend it didn't happen. Agents shouldn't send their clients to problematic people. And most importantly, magazines and publications shouldn't work with problematic photographers because it's hard for a girl to pass on a big campaign because of a photographer. "Photographers don't be assholes!" she emphasizes. The model also believes in talking about the issue. People who know about the abuses, do nothing which needs to change. Another good solution she mentions is, to monitor casting.

Advice for models

Sara speaks to her fellow models, especially the new ones. She says to stay true to yourself and to not be pushed around. You will lose jobs, but the industry will walk in the right direction. You deserve better. Talk to your agents. Yell if you have to. Talk until someone hears. She concludes by saying
fear in the industry is necessary to make the changes. "Give women respect." is the final takeaway.


On the topic of the rise of celebrity activism. Sara says the number of followers comes with a huge responsibility. It isn't just about posting beautiful pictures, but it's also about helping others. She gets to use her voice to talk about issues that are important to her. In regards to her exposing Lui Maginze, she says she had to make sure the message went through the right way without getting misinterpreted. It can be scary to come forward due to fear of backlash, misunderstanding or even being sued for defamation. She admits that she has to be careful about what she posts on social media. An example she gives is American politics. As an immigrant, Sara feels that she can't get involved because that puts her work status at risk. She also states that activism posts don't get her a lot of feedback, something she has to also take into consideration before posting. 

What do you think about what Sara Sampaio said at the Web Summit? Follow her on Twitter @SaraSampaio and show her your support.