This month at Melbourne Westfield Fountain Gate, Elodie Russell beat 500 other teens to be named Victorian state finalist in the new Dolly Model Search.
The Geelong student and 500 other girls competed in the model search resurrected after 10 years.
Elodie is 14. But girls as young as 13 can enter. The winner will receive a modelling contract, fashion shoot and cover shoot for Dolly, and be a “Dolly ambassador.”
The would-be models, many just in high school, are told they can be the next Miranda Kerr. The month’s Dolly has the Victoria’s Secret model in a red dress with words and arrow: ‘This could be you!’
Kerr is touted as an “inspiration” for young girls. (I’m not sure it’s just girls who find online images of Kerr semi-naked inspiring).
I asked editor Tiffany Dunk why the original search was shut down. She said: “I understand it was over concerns about negative body imaging”.
Dunk is right. Former Dolly boss Mia Freedman told me she was responsible to putting an end to the competition back in 2002:
“One of the first things I did when I became Editor In Chief of Dolly was to axe the Dolly Model Contest. At the time I felt strongly it was a negative thing for the readers and a negative thing for the Dolly brand.
I wanted the magazine to make a strong stand against the idea of valuing teenage girls purely for the way they look. Because no matter how you try to dress it up, the modelling industry is 100% based on external appearance, something few girls can ever change about themselves no matter how much they torture themselves. Girls who are able to model are a tiny tiny minority who were simply born with certain genetics.
No matter how you dress it up to be about ‘inspiration’, modelling is simply a beauty contest. And I’ve always felt – as a mother, a woman and an editor – that this was the wrong message to send to young girls when they are at their most vulnerable. Aren’t there better things for 13 and 14 year old girls to aspire to?
So why revive the model search when things are even worse now? In an age of rampant body hatred and eating disorders, the timing seems off. In a video of the scouting session in Sydney, girls are asked why Kerr is an inspiration. “She’s got a great body!” is one of a number of similar responses.
Which shows us, no matter how many times words like “role model” and “inspiration” are thrown around, it’s still all about bodies. Even now girls will be comparing themselves to Elodie and thinking they are just not good enough.
Body image and eating disorder specialists I spoke to are concerned about the ability of a 13- year-old to navigate the world of modelling. Why is Dolly including such young girls when globally there is a move away from younger models?
In 2005 there was a storm over having a 12-year-old as the face of Gold Coast Fashion Week. Three years later Australian Fashion Week organisers bowed to pressure and dropped a 14- year-year-old Polish girl as the face of the event.
Australia’s Body Image Code of Conduct recommends only using those over 16 to model adult clothes or work or model in fashion shows targeting an adult audience.
The idea that 13 or 14 is too young to model is often met with “But Miranda Kerr started at that age and she’s doing great!”
But how many girls fell by the wayside, how many were damaged due to the harmful consequences of internalizing the message that their value as a person is in how others view and judge their bodies?
The revamped comp has a special spin. “Become a Model Citizen”. Dolly wants “more than a pretty face”, it wants a “great role model for Dolly readers.” It wants girls to “Have fun, don’t let looks rule your life!” (at the same time Chadwick’s judge lists ‘looks” first in what he’s seeking).
Dolly has enlisted the help of The Butterfly Foundation. They’ve prepared “an awesome body image tip sheet” and will also conduct a workshop with finalists. Dolly also says it will have strict rules on how its winner can be used.