|People Magazine, 25 August 2003.|
Photographer: Dana Tynan
How young is too young to model? It seems that designers, magazine editors, and advertisers everywhere are of the opinion that the fewer years a model has under her belt, the more likely it is that she will get to wear theirs. Debate around this issue has been gaining momentum this year, with concerns finally resulting in a pledge by modelling agencies to ensure that girls under the age of 16 would be ineligible for runway work at New York Fashion Week.
One casting agent has sparked heated debate by stating that aspiring models are too old to work at 16. Naomi Fitzgerald de Grave, head booker at Sydney-based GEAR Model Management believes that international brands are only interested in 13 or 14 year old faces. She has a point. Many of the models who are now household names had great success from a very early age: Kate Moss, Brooke Shields, Kimora Lee Simmons, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Gisele Bündchen, and Karolina Kurkova were all between the ages of 13 and 15 when they started working.
Even film stars are picked out by designers to be the face of their brand from ridiculously young ages. Just look at Dakota Fanning. The young star recently admitted that in 2007 at age 12 she "really wasn’t old enough" for the clothes she wore while modelling for Marc Jacobs. This revelation comes just days after Fanning's most recent Marc Jacobs perfume campaign was banned in the UK. In it Fanning sits demurely, looking even younger than her 17 years, while the flower shaped bottle is lodged between her legs–a pose which censors deemed too sexually suggestive, particularly in light of the model's young age.
Rival modelling agencies are jumping into the fray and strongly disagreeing with Fitzgerald de Grave's claims by saying that models are unlikely to be taken on by European agencies until they are at least 16 or 17. And yet, a whole new generation of doe-eyed beauties are now coming through the ranks at even more alarming ages. Just look at Thylane Loubry Blondeau. The French 10 year-old who has been working since she was 4 has already starred in various campaigns for major children's brands, graced the cover of Vogue Enfants, walked in a Jean-Paul Gaultier show, and featured in a Vogue editorial which explored the exploitative side of fashion's relationship with extreme youth.
But that's exactly it, isn't it? By employing such young girls, the fashion industry is not only cashing in on the insecurities of aging women determined to hold on to their youth, they are also exploiting the naivety that is inherent in anyone that has not yet made it to adulthood. Fitzgerald de Grave might not be wrong about European agencies' proclivity for hiring young girls, but should she be encouraging it? I think not.
-Briar A. Barry
Girl Museum Inc.