Models are in the news this week. A 13-year-old won the Girlfriend model search and a model agent (not connected to that competition) was quoted as saying that 16 is considered ‘old’ for a model.
This is not untrue.
I’ve done several media interviews about this and I thought it was worth recapping on something I wrote recently on the subjects of girls and modelling:
THE MODELLING MANIFESTO
If you do not want to be judged on how you look and what you weigh, do not become a model.
If you do not want your daughter to be judged on how she looks and what she weighs, do not let her become a model.
Same with your son.
If you do not want your daughter to be photographed looking sexy and made to look much much older than she is, do not let her become a model.
If you don’t want your daughter’s self-esteem to be DIRECTLY and inextricably linked to her weight and appearance, do not let her become a model.
If you don’t want your daughter to believe her value as a person is determined solely by how she looks and what she weighs, do not let her become a model.
If you don’t want your daughter’s self confidence to be smashed to smithereens by an industry that rejects her 99% of the time based on how she looks or what she weighs, do not let her become a model.
It is not the responsibility of the modelling industry to take care of your kids or boost their self-esteem.
There. Got it? It’s pretty damn simple.
You see, there is no way around it. Modelling is by its very definition a superficial, unstable, unforgiving and temporary profession. I can think of very few other professions where you get worse at it the longer you do it. Modelling has an expiry date and it is frighteningly early.
The National Body Image Advisory Group (of which I was a part and which finished its work last year when we presented our recommendations to the federal government) advised that only age-appropriate models be used by magazines and advertisers.
So what does this mean, exactly?
Well, a 13-year-old appearing on the cover of teen magazines Girlfriend is totally age-appropriate. The problem is that there aren’t many teen magazines or products aimed at teenage girls. Not enough to sustain a career. Worse than that, publications and products aimed at far older women – in their 20s, 30s and even 40s – quickly pounce on teen models to use for their photo shoots and campaigns.
I once had a nanny who was a successful part-time model. She was 21 and had already started to be cast as the ‘mother’ in some of the commercials she did. And not the mother of a baby – the mother of a primary-school aged child, sometimes as old as 10 or 11.
You do the maths.
Do these girls look their age do you think? Remember that all these images come from adult magazines including Vogue and ad campaigns that are clearly aimed at grown women.
Kate Fischer on the cover of Dolly when she won in 1988, aged 14.
So when I heard that the 13 year old winner of the Girlfriend model contest was going to New York to meet with agents as part of her prize, I shuddered a little bit. Actually a lot. Just as I did when I heard the editor (the truly lovely Sarah Tarca who used to be my PA when I was at Cosmo) say that getting into the industry so early would give Chloe ‘a headstart’.
Photographic and commercial shoots are very grown up places inhabited by adults. So are castings. My mother-self is hugely concerned for the well-being of any child (13 years old is a child in my mind, yours?) in that kind of environment. Heck, most 13 year olds still have some of their baby teeth. And their self-esteem and self-image is still in its infancy. They’re barely through puberty – some haven’t even started it yet.
Here’s what Australian model agent Naomi Fitzgerald de Grave (the one who is now sending young teen girls overseas to work) said about her OWN time as a model at 13 and how it led her to develop anorexia:
She began competing in modelling competitions in Australia in her early teens against the wishes of her mother who wanted her to focus on school. At 18, Ms Fitzgerald de Grave went to Paris on holiday and was spotted by a model agent. She signed with one of the five agencies who wooed her, but soon after starting her international career her weight and self esteem began to plummet.“My agency asked me to lose 10 to 15 kilograms. I’m five [foot] eight and I was competing against these six-four Russian girls that were 12 or 13-years old,” she said. ”My agency asked me to lose 10 to 15 kilograms and basically said ‘you need to have the body of a 13 or 14-year-old’.
”They sent me to a nutritionist and a dietician. The reason why is I was competing against those six four models who were a lot younger than me. The youngest at our agency was 12-years-old, and I was one of the oldest models at 19.”
At her slightest Fitzgerald de Grave weighed 38 kilograms.
Of her own work with GEAR model management (I’ve never heard of them), sending girls as young as 13 overseas to model?
Her response: ”I know many people think 13 is very young but it’s what the international brands are looking for in Europe,” she said. ”Models are too old now at 16.”
She said her motivation was to equip younger models to deal better with pressure than she did at their age.”That is what’s pushing me,” she said. ”If they are wanting international exposure they do heavily focus on size, and if I can prepare them for it mentally before they step into it they might be able to make a better judgment than I did.”
OK, so if that’s not setting alarm bells off for you about the welfare of these girls then you’ve probably never met a 13-year-old girl. Or been one. Remember that time in your life? Imagine being put on a plane and sent into a very very adult world where your entire worth depends on your weight, your height and how pretty you are.
The next problem is this. The winner of this contest – and any other model under the age of 16 – is not going to be used to advertise kids clothes or products. They will be wearing adult clothes in adult magazines and that’s where it becomes not just about their welfare but ours too.
If you haven’t watched this video by Jean Kilbourne where she talks about why the advertising and magazine industries have an affect on us (whether we like it or not), can I strongly suggest you do? It’s been shared thousands of times on Facebook and Twitter by MM readers because it’s THAT GOOD.
I know some commenters will say “Oh Mia, stop banging on about this” but I’m sorry, I can’t do that. Because I think I have a responsibility to use my voice to speak out about something I feel so passionately about and something I feel is so damaging to women.
When 13-year-olds and 16-year-olds are being held up as the a reflection of what’s ideal and desirable to women of all ages, and when the only body type that’s being reflected to us as ideal is size 6 and close to 6 foot tall (sometimes taller after the image is stretched as it so often is these days), well, that’s going to fuck with a sister’s head, isn’t it?
I wish model contest winners no malice. This isn’t about them. This is about stopping to think about what it means when a 13-year-old girl is not just considered an adult but the ideal physical representation of a woman.