Are these kids too young to be professional models?

 

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How young is too young for the fashion industry?

That’s the question that’s being asked since a string of controversies involving underage models ignited the debate over the sexualisation of young girls in the fashion industry.

Marc Jacobs continues to cast teen models in his runway shows, Chanel is using Ondria Hardin, 15, as the face of their brand, Vogue reneged on their pledge not to use underage models in the December issue of Vogue Japan using 14-year-old Thairine Garcia in an editorial spread. And you may also remember the outcry over the use of 10-year-old Thylane Loubry Blondeau in a provocative shoot for Vogue.

Ondria , Thairine, Thylane and their contemporaries, Monika, Anais and Kaia are the fashion industry’s ‘army of children,’ a term coined by designer Michael Kors to describe models younger than 16 who the fashion industry are holding up as the ‘next big thing.’

 

Nineties model Yasmin Le Bon recently weighed in on the underage model debate, telling British Vogue the reason designers use children has little to do with aesthetics and more to do with being cheap.

“I think that it is wrong that young girls are now opening shows. It’s hyped up as a discovery of the next big thing, but actually the designers are penny-pinching. … These young girls don’t get paid very much, and they don’t have the experience or the confidence to demand to be treated any differently by the industry.”

And the pressure to conform to the modelling industry’s thin ideals is even worse when it’s directed at kids.

“We were slim [when I began modelling], but there was a bit more on us, and we were older,” she says. “This kind of practice doesn’t make good for business,” Le Bon says.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation yesterday that categorises fashion models under the age of 18 as “child performers” making it harder for designers to use teen models.

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Ondria

“Having once been a child model myself, I know all too well that, until now, underage models have worked with very few legal protections in New York,’ said model Coco Rocha.

‘The fashion industry’s attempts at self-regulation have not been enough to ensure a safe working environment across the board for its minor models.”

Locally, in March last year Federal parliamentarian Amanda Rishworth said it was time to look at regulating the use of young children in advertising and other media, like magazine shoots, particularly if advertisers refused to heed calls to stop sexualising kids.

“I don’t think we have broad enough standards and guidelines that encompass the whole area,” said Ms Rishworth, who has campaigned against the commercialisation and sexualisation of children.

“Parents are struggling with this. I don’t think it is as simple as banning things but industry does need to take some more responsibility and start responding to parents’ concerns and the government does have a role in that.

Mamamia’s Publisher Mia Freedman has written about underage models plenty of times before, here’s what she thinks in part:

“I am forever baffled by any adult who consents to their daughter becoming involved in modelling. Just. Don’t. Do. It. The people in the industry are not monsters but they’re also not interested in the welfare or self-esteem of models. They just want pretty pictures. Sexy pictures. Pictures that will conform to their impossible ideal of perfection in the hope it will make people buy things.

“Oh but she really wants to do it” I hear parents say. Sure she does. Kids and teenagers REALLY want to do lots of things. Surely our role as parents is to help guide them towards good choices and away from those that can damage them physically, mentally or emotionally.

I think modelling ticks every one of of those damaging boxes.

So whose responsibility is it when it comes to the welfare of models and particularly the way underage models are depicted? Who wins when a 14 year old girl who sleeps with her baby blanket is dressed up to look 24 and told to spread her legs by a room full of adults?

Would you like to see more regulation around the sexualisation of children in modelling? Or is it the parents responsibility? 

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