Mia: "Why I axed the Dolly model contest"


The winner of the Dolly Modelling Contest has been announced. She’s 13 years old.

Here are the finalists of this year’s modelling contest, including 13 year old winner Kristy Thatcher. [Post continues below gallery].

The media has been calling me for comment all day and here it is.

One of the first things I did when I became Editor-In-Chief of Dolly in 2005 was axe their annual Model Contest. I knew this would not lead to an increase in circulation (as the Great Lisa Wilkinson once taught me: you don’t gain readers by taking something away, you gain them by adding something new to the mix) but I did it anyway and I’ll tell you why in a second.

Miranda Kerr when she won the modelling contest at age 13.

The Dolly model contest has always been pretty iconic. Miranda Kerr won it when she was 13  and you’ll hear this a lot whenever the subject comes up, as a justification for why it’s OK and even a good thing. ‘Miranda Kerr won it at 13 and look at her now!’ etc.

But for every Miranda Kerr, there are thousands of teenage models who don’t go on to become Victoria’s Secret Angels and marry Hollywood stars (side note: is becoming a Victoria’s Secret Angel something we want to encourage girls to aspire to anyway? If that’s the pinnacle of your career, what does that say about the values of the modelling industry?).

So why did I axe it? Because I thought the message it sent to girls – that the most important thing about you is how you look – was an appalling one. A negative one. A damaging one.

It’s not just Dolly. Girlfriend is the same. A 13 year old won their model contest last year too.

Remember being 13? At the most mentally and emotionally vulnerable time in a girl’s life, why on earth would you throw her into a world that judges and rejects you exclusively on how you look? And what you weigh.


Here’s a clue that the modelling industry is messed up: the winner of this year’s contest was the youngest finalist. Why? Because if you want to be a model, 16 or 17 is too old. As Girlfriend’s editor said last year about her magazine’s winner, her tender age would give her ‘a headstart’ in the industry.

That’s why girls as young as 13 – like the Dolly and Girlfriend model contest winners – are sent overseas to meet with agents and go on casting. As one model manager said about this practice: ”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.”

Dolly and Girlfiend’s editors (both of whom I’ve worked with during my mag career) claim their winners will be used in ‘age-appropriate’ ways in their magazines and I believe them. After all, they are magazines for teenage girls whose average reader is probably 13. The models in their pages SHOULD be 13.

So why not call them ambassadors instead of models? Because there aren’t enough teenage mags or products to sustain the career of a 13 or 14 or even 15 year old model. So they are invariably used to model clothes and products aimed at adults.

Modelling itself is an adult industry. Run by professionals, sure but photo shoots and castings are adult places. Nobody cares about the self-esteem of the girls they’re seeing. Nobody cares that they are smart or funny or kind. And modelling is an industry based on rejection. Adults looks at your face and your body, peer intently at the photos in your portfolio and then say “thanks” and you never know why you didn’t get the job. And you’re 13.

It baffles me why anyone would think modelling was a good idea for themselves or their daughter.


Here’s something worth considering:

1. If you do not want to be judged on how you look and what you weigh, do not become a model.

2. 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.
3. Same with your son.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. It is not the responsibility of the modelling industry to take care of your kids or boost their self-esteem. They will judge and reject them based on how they look. In fact, that’s their job.

I think magazines like Dolly and Girlfriend can play a great role in educating, inspiring and energising the teenage girls who read them. Which is why I wish they wouldn’t hold up modelling as the ultimate prize, a career to aspire to, a life to covet. Because the reality is very very different.

Here’s what happens when teenagers, modelling and the fashion world collide.

UPDATE: Some commenters and others on social media have pointed out that Dolly won the inaugural Body Positive Award earlier this month. I was part of the National Body Image Advisory Group who suggested these awards as part of our comprehensive recommendations to the Federal Government about how to combat the growing problem of body image among young Australians.

I thought it was inappropriate to be involved in the judging, nominations or presenting of these awards but I went along to show my support. We’ve written a post that details the overall winner (Dolly) and the highly commended nominees which included Girlfriend magazine and Dove. You can read about that here.

Make no mistake – Dolly and Girlfriend ARE doing some positive things like banning Photoshop on the images they produce and other great initiatives driven – according to the editors – almost entirely by their readers. “They’re demanding it” said Dolly Editor Tiffany Dunk when she accepted her award and credited Dolly readers with forcing the change.

I am completely supportive of any initiatives for mags to reflect a more realistic and diverse image of girls and women (and boys and men!). But I don’t think model contests are a positive body image initiative, no matter how they’re dressed up.