She has worked with some of the country’s most recognizable brands and shot with the best photographers, but one fashion model claims her agency still deemed her “too big.” The model, Cleirys Velasquez, is suing her former agency for allegedly “body shaming” her, amid an agency tug-of-war over her future.
Velasquez, a size-2 stunner who has modeled for Maybelline, Aveda, and Mary Kay, claims in a suit filed Friday that her agent at Marilyn Model Management disparaged her appearance and forced her to undergo unusually frequent weight and measurement checks.
Among other things, Velasquez claims her agent—industry veteran Maria Cognata—told her she was “too big” to work and even blocked off her schedule, making her look unavailable to clients. The heavy-set agent also allegedly told Velasquez she made her look “thin and small” in comparison.
In a statement, Cognata called the lawsuit “frivolous,” and said Marilyn remains “very proud of its successful track record on behalf of the models it represents.”
Velasquez, 24, told The Daily Beast that no other agency had ever complained about her weight, but that Cognata made her body-shaming comments frequently—and in front of other agents.
“It was just always her measuring me, always letting me know that I was too big for her,” Rios told The Daily Beast. “It would be stuff like you’re too big, we can’t let you go and see this person, or we can’t have you work.”
Velasquez began working with the agency after graduating college in her native Panama and moving to New York City to pursue modeling full-time. She said she was thrilled to sign with Marilyn, which represents top models like Claudia Schiffer and Bar Rafaeli.
But according to the complaint, Cognata quickly made it known she “hated” Velasquez, and allegedly took to calling her a “cha-cha girl”—a phrase Velasquez took as a dig at her Latin American heritage.
“Sometimes it would really make me doubt myself, make me hate myself,” Velasquez said. “My self-confidence would get hit so hard I would have to try to breathe and say, ‘No, you know she’s not right.”
According to the complaint, Velasquez eventually switched to a rival agency, One Management. In November of last year, she allegedly sent Cognata an email saying she no longer wanted to work with Marilyn.
That same month, Marilyn filed a lawsuit against One, claiming the agency had stolen Velasquez from them while she was still under contract. The complaint alleges that former Marilyn agent Derek Saathoff almost immediately began soliciting models like Velasquez to join him at One after he defected in Sept. 2018.
Saathoff allegedly encouraged at least six Marilyn models to join One in the last year, in violation of the non-solicitation clause in his contract.
The Velasquez suit, Cognata said, came after “repeated success in court against One Management.”
“The Courts have twice now blocked One Management’s unlawful campaign to usurp for itself Marilyn’s own success with the models it represents,” she said in a statement. “The Courts have also repeatedly rejected One Management’s legal maneuvers, and we’re confident they will do so again with this suit.”
An attorney for One and Saathoff, who also represents Velasquez, said his clients “vehemently disagree” with the allegations in the suit filed by Marilyn.
“[Velasquez] left on her own accord, by her own choosing,” attorney Joshua Blum said. “Neither Derek Saathoff nor One did anything improper.”
The modeling industry is littered with territorial disputes like these: Marilyn has sued at least three other agencies in New York over similar allegations of model-snatching, and One Management has also sued competitors for allegedly stealing its bookers and beauties.
Allegations of body-shaming are also common, though few have made it as far as New York Supreme Court. Catwalker Charli Howard famously penned an open letter to the fashion industry in 2015, revealing how her agency had never considered her “thin enough” despite her constant dieting. British model Georgina Wilkin also opened up about struggling with an eating disorder for years—and even being hospitalized—in order to book campaigns.
But Velasquez she never wavered in her determination to stay healthy, no matter what her agent said.
“Just because she didn’t believe in me… didn’t mean that I had to lower myself to be what she wanted me to be,” Velasquez said.
“I said, ‘You know what, this is enough,’” she added. “There must be someone who will believe in me and will help me and will appreciate me how I am.’”