Children and the Fashion Industry: When are they TOO young?

How many times have you flipped through the pages of a fashion magazine or watched a runway show and thought to yourself that a certain model was too skinny?  Too fat?  Too short?  Too pretty?  Too average?  Too tall?  Too curvy?  Too lanky?  Too old?  Too young?

If at least one of these thoughts has never crossed your mind, I think it’s safe to say that you are in the minority.  At some point, each of these characteristics has caused a stir in the fashion industry.  The continuing curvy/straight sized debate was perhaps one of the hottest topics in 2010 and was covered by numerous media outlets.   I imagine that it will continue to be a much talked about subject in the new year as more and more designers incorporate plus-sized models into their runway shows.

Today, however, I want to move the focus to a different subject:

Is there such a thing as too young when it comes to the world of fashion?

Much like the curvy/straight- size debate, the controversy surrounding youth in the fashion industry is not a new one.  Is it any surprise, then, that one of the first fashion-related controversies of 2011 has to do with a couple of 6-year old models shot by photographer Sharif Hamza?

Image via

Image via

When I first saw the images from the CADEAUX editorial in the December/January issue of Vogue France, the first word that popped into my head was “cute.”   Yup.  Cute.

Image via

Image via

These girls were clearly (in my opinion) styled to look like they were playing dress up in their mother’s clothing.  I mean, what young girl doesn’t do that when she is growing up?  I used to throw on my mother’s size 9 stilettos, my favorite flowy skirt (which I’d style as a dress), one of her long necklaces, a couple of rings and wobble around the house while wearing her red lipstick.  I thought I looked just like her.

Image via

Image via

Image via

When I see these images, that is the scenario I have playing in my head.  Little girls playing dress up – wanting to be just like their mother.

People like Xeni Jardin at boingboing, meanwhile, see “an extensive spread of child models presented more or less like whores.”

Wait.  WHAT?!

Are we looking at the same photos?

Everyone knows Tom Ford likes to be controversial, and as the guest editor and artistic director of this issue of Vogue, he certainly accomplished that with the editorial content.  I can see this editorial as a jab at the Toddlers & Tiaras crowd.  I can also see it as a statement about the sexualization of youth: no matter how hard someone tries to sexualize a little girl, she is still a little girl.  But implying that these young girls were styled as whores?  I shudder even writing it.  I don’t see it.  AT ALL.

Perhaps it is because the words 6-year old children and whore just don’t go together in my vocabulary.  It’s impossible.


Image via

The image above appears to be the one that is causing the biggest stir.  Is she lounging on a fur?  Yes.  Does she look provocative?  It’s a matter of opinion and mine is no.  Most importantly – she is dressed up in mom’s clothes!  Look at those heels – they are too big for her.  She is wearing mom’s bracelet as an anklet.  She is wearing mom’s very expensive clothing.  She is playing dress up, people!  At least that is how I see it.

That being said: are these girls too young to be in a fashion magazine, in this type of editorial?  Clearly some find it provocative and down-right disturbing.  Should fashion magazines avoid featuring young children like this, or is it OK as long as the parents are involved?  What do you think?

Do the rules change as children get older?

A 12-year old… supermodel?

In 2007, the decision to name 12 year-old Maddison Gabriel as the official ambassador of Gold Coast Fashion Week in Australia made headlines.   Then Prime Minister John Howard strongly opposed the decision.  Howard said that “catapulting girls as young as 12 into something like that is outrageous and I’m totally opposed to it…we do have to preserve some notion of innocence in our society.”  He went as far as to suggest that Australia follow the lead of some European nations and ban the use of runway models under the age of 16.

Maddison at the age of 12. I don’t even look like this grown up at the age of 35! (Image via

Maddison, on the contrary, stated her belief that  “it doesn’t matter about age, it matters that you can do the job.  Modeling is all I’ve wanted to do since I was six – I don’t think I’m too young.” She also indicated that as long as she can fit into women’s clothing, there is no reason that she shouldn’t be able to model them.

Her mother, Michelle Gabriel, attributed Howard’s opinion to his age. “He does not know exactly what 13 and 14-year-old girls are like.” she said.  We’re trying to get our teenage daughters to act older. I am so happy that I’ve got a daughter who has got a good head on her shoulders.”

Can someone please tell me why would a 12 or 13-year old girl would need to act like she is older?

Opinions will vary on this subject, but I tend to agree that a 12-year old is too young to work in the fashion industry in this capacity.   There is an inherent sexuality in fashion editorials and runway shows.  As such, the models which participate in them should be of an appropriate age to deal with that sexuality.  Janice Dickinson, the world’s first supermodel, perhaps said it best when she spoke to the Today Show’s Matt Lauer about the personal problems many young children develop as a result of their fame:

“There’s lots of drugs, there’s lots of alcohol, there’s lots of photographers preying on these girls. Thirteen is way too young…”

As if to support Dickenson’s comments, Martin Robertson, a convicted American sex predator, contacted The Sunday Telegraph the following year from his Texas jail cell and requested photos and articles about Maddison.  When this news broke, Mrs. Gabriel criticized the media for reporting on the controversy in 2007 and thereby alerting Robertson of her daughter’s existence.  She didn’t seem to grasp that Maddison’s modeling career was truly the underlying cause of Robertson’s interest – it sexualized her daughter in his eyes.

Hannah Montana not so innocent?

In early 2008, renowned photographer Annie Lebovitz caused quite a stir when she shot 15-year old Miley Cyrus for Vanity Fair.  The most controversial image was the provocative photo below in which Miley appears to be naked and wrapped in a satin sheet.  In the accompanying article, written by Bruce Handy, Miley was quoted as saying “I think it’s really artsy. It wasn’t in a skanky way. Annie took, like, a beautiful shot, and I thought that was really cool. That’s what she wanted me to do, and you can’t say no to Annie.

Image via Vanity Fair

Strangely enough, when the controversy erupted, Cyrus changed her mind about the shoot, and issued the following statement:

“I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be ‘artistic’ and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed. I never intended for any of this to happen, and I apologize to my fans who I care so deeply about.”

Vanity Fair then released a video and behind-the-scenes images supporting their assertion that “Miley’s parents and/or minders were on the set all day. Since the photo was taken digitally, they saw it on the shoot and everyone thought it was a beautiful and natural portrait of Miley.”

Personally, I did not have a problem with Lebovitz’s shots of Miley (for the most part).  Do I think they were provocative?  Yes.  Do I think they were sexual?  Yes.  But I am of the opinion that her parents were aware of what was going on, and they had given their approval for the images.  If anything, the image of Miley and her father together makes me more uneasy because they seem a bit too close for comfort.

What is interesting to me is how Miley’s opinion of the shoot changed once the controversy began swirling.  Do you know what is even more interesting?  That her parents let this happen and then tried to absolve themselves of the responsibility behind it.  There is no doubt that Lebovitz’s provocative images sexualized Cyrus, so why pretend to be appalled when they clearly knew what was going on?

The first Lolita?

(NOTE: though the images below are considered “art”, some may find the images ahead offensive.  Please continue at your own risk)

Just about everyone knows about then 13-year old Brooke Shield’s infamous role as a child prostitute in the film Pretty Baby.  To this day, some consider the film child pornography due to its nude scenes, and most existing versions of the DVD have been edited to avoid showing Brooke’s pubic area or buttocks.

It seems that many people do not know about the photos of a naked 10-year old Brooke Shields which were taken by photographer Garry Donald Gross in 1975, 3 years before Pretty Baby was filmed.  The images were not only taken with the consent of Shield’s mother, but mother and daughter received $450 total in compensation for the photoshoot.  I couldn’t talk about this subject without touching on these photos as well.  Although these aren’t images from a fashion magazine, they do touch on the sexualization of children.

Image via Iconic Photos

Today, some consider the images to be art while others find them to be of questionable taste and even liken them to child pornography.  In recent years the startling image of Shield’s below was displayed at the Guggenheim and even in Paris, but a planned 2009 exhibit at the Tate in London fell through do to Britain’s  strict obscenity laws.


Image via Iconic Photos

Although both sets of photos are controversial, I believe the difference between these images and the CADEAUX photoshoot is striking.   In today’s society, a photographer would never get away with taking photos like these – they would be considered child pornography.  End of story.  Yet due to the history of these particular photos, they are considered art.

Image via Iconic Photos

The CADEAUX images, on the other hand, may cause a stir, but they do not have the same impact as these images do.  The nudity present here adds a whole new level of discomfort and sexuality.  Frankly, I am astounded that Shield’s mother allowed them to be taken and sold!

So what do you think?  Should there be an age restriction when it comes to fashion editorials or modeling?  Or do you think a parent’s permission (which clearly can be questionable) is all that is required?

{ 62 comments… add one }

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Jarrod March 28, 2016, 8:12 AM

    I have seen this post. after seen this one thing that stuck of my mind is these kids are too younger but they are dressed up like a adults. why so?? according to me..We are not doing fair with these kids. I mean they are too young you know. Their parents needs to understand this is not a right time to put them into the modelling business. Education is must in every field. let them play and study for their brightest future..

  • banshee May 24, 2015, 6:40 PM

    I sincerely hope that the author never has daughters; at least not pretty ones. She is clearly too stupid to protect them. E