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?

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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?

{ 38 comments… add one }

Leave a Comment

  • MAL October 19, 2013, 9:41 AM

    Great post! Forgot about the Brook pics, was nice to see them again. Wonderfully done photos, and yes, I believe artistic and creative.
    Sexual being can start at any age, I guess I don’t stand by those who view this art as negative. The church has had such an effect on us, that it is difficult to say what is truly at the base of our being. I am no judge of sexuality or the human condition.
    The girls and the photos are lovely, and they don’t effect me in any sexual way. I wonder about those who do find this disturbing? If you see these, and sex enters your mind, you may have a bigger problem.
    As for me, I think beauty at any age should be admired.

  • Colin September 20, 2012, 9:36 PM

    To my mind, Brooke Shields is clearly doing what she is accomplished at ie posing as a model. There is an energy
    to that. It gives a dignity to the picture. The purpose is Gross’s theory that girls have a sensuality which sounds a
    recipe for trouble.
    I have seen pictures I am almost sure have bad intent, probably trying to pass as art, with oversized “Mummy’s”
    shoes. Unfortunately, “obvious” is different to different people and presumably has no legal force.

  • Nancy April 15, 2012, 8:29 PM

    What do you mean, 6-year-old whore isn’t in your vocabulary? What blessed, beautiful planet do you live on? The adult clothing in those photos was irrelevant — but the makeup, poses and facial expressions were horrifying. What in god’s name is the matter with those kids’ parents?

  • Recca March 25, 2012, 12:48 PM

    Fashion is for every one. There is nothing wrong to have a dream in field of modeling career. But a risk will be follow because studies might be affected if children having side line on fashion gigs. Set priorities to avoid conflict that will lead into down expectation of the audience.

  • Kelley Geary January 7, 2012, 5:10 PM

    I believe any child 17 and younger should have a child protective service agent overseeing every photo, every movie, and every meeting between the contract owners, parents, and child. Obviously, many parents are not fulfilling their parental obligation to protect their own child. This kind of media for adults is controversial enough; however, children should never be placed in the middle of controversy whatsoever.

  • kaitlin hassell October 11, 2011, 12:28 PM

    whats the name of the person that wrote this???

  • mode. January 20, 2011, 11:38 PM

    i think these girls are too young, because the focus is making them look older- what i mean is, they are clearly wearing things that were chosen for them by adults to emulate adults in poses and settings adults would be in. consequently, this doesn’t look like dress up to me. however, they don’t look like whores, either.
    <3 mode.

  • Divya January 19, 2011, 7:12 PM

    I definitely think there should be a limit on the age because I just don’t know why anyone would want their kids to work at such young ages. Isn’t it better for them to go to school and get an education and then decide (on their own) that they want to go into fashion as a model? I think as a society, we demand models to be thin and healthy at the same time, to be young and mature at the same time. young people can not keep up with those kinds of paradoxes.

  • Marissa January 16, 2011, 7:26 PM

    I’ve avoided commenting on this post so far because I just can’t quite wrap my head around my own opinions. So without sharing what I can’t articulate yet, I just wanted to let you know what a great job I think you’ve done here. This is fantastic post, B – one of your best.

  • Beautifully Invisible January 19, 2011, 10:20 AM

    Thank you so much, Marissa! I wasn’t sure whether to post it or not because I knew it would be a very heated subject, but I thought it needed to be said. It has led to some great comments, however, so i am glad I did! Looking forward to reading what your thoughts are when you have some time.

  • Veshoevius January 16, 2011, 11:16 AM

    Interesting and beautifully written post. I found the Cadeaux shoot very disturbing. You may not want to associate the word whore or even adult sexuality with a six year old but unfortunately there are people who do and girls as young as six are sold into prostitution or sexually abused in many parts of the world. Children need protection not just from predatory sexual abuse but to protect them from being exposed as potential victims. The difference between the Brooks Shield shoots and the Cadeaux shoot is as you point out quite wide but the effect of both to me is the same. Children are being shown to look like adults and sexualised.

    Like other commenters here I don’t see this as girls dressing up to look like their mums because they are so over styled and the positions some of them are striking, their expressions and direct gazes are not what you associated with six year olds playing in mum’s dressing up box and smearing lipstick all over their face.

    I completely disagree with THE LOUDMOUTH – you do not have to be “into” children to recognise what is provocative. Look at the girl with the low cut gold gown reclining on the bed – that is the pose of an adult seductress. A six year old girl wouldn’t even know how to strike such an adult pose unless an adult directs her to do so. If you imagine your own daughter made to strike some of these poses dressed like this in a room of adult men how would you feel? I personally would be horrified. As adults we are aware of what are sexual signals whereas a six year old is not. We have to take responsibility for that.

    Bring on the over 16 law.

  • Heidi/The Closet Coach August 5, 2011, 1:57 PM

    This comment is spot on and I have little to add other than this: the girls in the Cadeux ads may not look like whores but they are definitely sexualized. Little girls playing dress up smile and stand awkwardly, they don’t stare poutily into the camera and recline on couches. I have a 7-year-old daughter and I would not allow her to be made up and photographed like this.

  • vanessa feldkamp January 16, 2011, 9:01 AM

    I think that 16 is an appropriate age. Not every parent is a good parent. I think sometimes the government does need to step in because you can’t always rely on the actions of their guardians. But, the first set of photos are completely fine with me. They look like they are playing dress up. It would have been better if they wear wearing less make-up, and maybe their hair was more natural. The last set of photos were very disturbing to me, and I can’t believe they were allowed to shot.

  • carlyjcais January 15, 2011, 3:33 PM

    What a great and informative post! I found the images of the children in French Vogue…disturbing, for a couple reasons:

    1) Their makeup is expertly-applied, in the same way as much older models would be made up.
    2) The clothes, in most cases, fit their bodies correctly, and do not hang loosely as if they were just “playing dress-up in their mother’s closet.”
    3) The girls’ gaze at the camera: haunting, serious, and self-aware, is something that obviously mimics the “thousand-yard stare” so many (older) models have perfected.

    Thus, while looking at these photos the viewer isn’t given a sense that these are just kids playing dress-up. The devil is in the details, and in this case the details are saying that these girls are specifically made up, posed, and aware of the camera exactly as older models would be, intending to elicit a response from the viewer. If it were just girls with crudely-applied makeup, wearing baggy, ill-fitting clothes, laughing, playing, and trying their best “model-look” at the camera that’s one thing…but the editorial is presented quite differently.

    Interestingly, Carine Roitfeld shared these quotes with the New York Times in Sept. ( as to why she decided to leave her position at French Vogue:

    Q: How do you feel about the magazine at 90?
    “In 90 years, we haven’t changed the mood of the magazine. It’s still very audacious…But what I can see is that now, the censoring is bigger than it was 20, 30 or 40 years ago. I think we have less freedom. Today some pictures would not even be publishable. It’s not just about the nudity, but when you talk about things politically, the military, kids, it would all be politically incorrect and not publishable today.”
    Q: How does that make you feel as an editor?
    “That we have to fight to keep this un-politically correct attitude of French Vogue, but it’s more and more difficult to be able do that. You cannot smoke, you cannot show arms, you cannot show little girls, because everyone now is very anxious not to have problems with the law. Everything we do now is like walking in high heels on the ice, but we keep trying to do it”

    Since this interview was published soon after that questionable editorial, I certainly got the feeling she was referencing it indirectly.

    I feel it’s one thing to show art and get people thinking about fashion…and entirely another thing to “show little girls” as deliberate eye candy for the viewer. It’s a pretty base shock tactic and something I used to think was above mainstream mags, but nope, Vogue is rolling down and dirty with the rest of them.

    And that Brooke Shields photoshoot is something even Justice Stewart would have no problem labeling it for it it is: child pornography, plain and simple.

  • Health and Happiness in LA January 15, 2011, 7:37 PM

    My problem with the Cadeaux shoot is what some other people mentioned – the facial expressions. If the girls were smiling and laughing, it might be different. When I saw the first picture, I thought it was kind of cute and got the idea of dress-up. But as I looked at all the other pictures and kept seeing that serious, model gaze, I felt kind of disturbed.

    And 12 is really young to be a model but jeez – I;m 22 and that girl looks older than me!

    As for the Brooke Shields photos – I can’t see that those are anything but child pornography. The way she’s standing, with the makeup and hair styling… it’s so adult. That’s showing a kid’s body,made up to look like an adult. It’s disturbing.

  • Ruby Velour January 15, 2011, 1:45 PM

    I agree with some of the others who have commented here that the little girls in the CADEAUX photos look like tiny little fashion models, not like kids playing dress up’s. Especially the one in the gold dress, it’s so low cut and her look is so provocative. If the girls were smiling and weren’t so perfectly styled then yes, it’s be cute and harmless. But they have clearly been designed to look as adult as possible and they really do look much older than 6.
    Meanwhile I think 12 is much too young to be a professional model. I mean c’mon, legally you can’t work in Aus until 16, so why can she model in such a turbulent profession?

  • Ephemeral Maze January 15, 2011, 12:53 PM

    an amazing article, congratulations!

    as to the issue at hand, it’s indeed very complex. It’s hard to draw a line, because art is subjective. Furthermore, yes kids aren’t normally allowed to work but think of all the child actors. they work in a world just as toxic or even more so than fashion. which incidentally I think has long crossed the barriers of art/industry into showbusiness. I think it’s a case-to-case thing here, after all the girl that looked like THAT at 12 really didn’t seem to be that young. therefore it’s different, it’s not like making a 10-year-old that LOOKS like a 10-year-old pose like an adult. it’s about allowing a girl that is different to feel adequate, not shunned because she’s taller/more woman-like than her peers.

  • Liz January 15, 2011, 12:44 AM

    Hm, I guess what bugs me is the seriousness of those little girls. It doesn’t look like they are having fun and dressing up it looks forced and like they’re growing up too fast. As for Brooke, the second photo bothers me the most, she’s wearing makeup and posing like an adult, little girls don’t stand that way, I’m surprised at her confidence at such a young age and more surprised that her mother agreed to this! I also think modeling should be treated like any job and you shouldn’t be allowed to WORK if you are a kid! 16 sound pretty decent, 12, not so much! Phew, great post

  • Katie January 14, 2011, 8:39 PM

    I think the factor that takes the images from “dress up” into some thing slightly more uncomfortable is the make-up. I played dress up, too, but not with professionally done make up. Studies have shown that child molesters tend to either infantalize or mature their victims in their heads, and the addition of such sophisticated make up and hairstyles is a method of maturation.

    Having been told countless stories about what goes on in fashion shoots by a photographer friend of mine, i agree that the under-16 ban is the way to go.

  • Rachel January 14, 2011, 1:42 PM

    I agree with your interpretations of all the images. I was actually looking at that Paris Vogue editorial at the kitchen table in France and though I thought the images were fine, cute and quite cool too my mother looked over my shoulder and thought that they were absolutely horrible!

  • JTWisdom January 14, 2011, 4:41 AM

    Great post. When I saw those pictures of those little girls the first person I thought of was Brooke Shields. I read a while ago when I was in grade school about Brooke Shields and her mother and what she was paid for posing that way. I also remember the controversy with Brooke Shields when she starred in the Calvin Klein commercials when she said “you wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.
    I think these girls are too young to be in these Fashion magazines wearing grown up clothes and by the age of 20 they are to old to model anymore. What is disgusting is that you have pedophiles looking at these little girls in these magazines and feeding into this.
    I say let kids be kids they do not need to grow up before their time.

  • Ms_MJ January 14, 2011, 2:40 AM

    Excellently written post B as usual!

    I just did a post on the Cadeaux photo shoot.

    I didn’t get the sense that these were little girls playing dress up and I that’s where my issue with those photos come in. I personally think these girls are waay too young and waaay too made up as well as some of the poses way too sexual. I look at it from the angle of the potential little girls who pick up this mag and look at this photo shoot. What’s the line of being cute and being too sexual. It’s way to blurred for me and its bad enough that kids are acting older at a younger ages. If these girls were doing more little girl type activities in these photo shoots, I may feel a little bit better. An editorial can be controversial but it my opinion can be controversial with adults, not children.

    I think that the 12 year old is way too young to be a modeling and the Brook Shields shoot – I think we can all agree that’s it just child porn.

  • chantele cross-jones January 14, 2011, 6:30 AM

    I never knew about those photos of Brooke. They are highly inappropriate to be on public show, they are the kinda thing that parents might take but not a professional photographer. I think the kids in the other photos are far too young as well. We don’t expect girls to start wearing any makeup until maybe 13-14 so they shouldn’t be used in advertising with it until that kinda age either. I don’t have a problem with child models, just not with them modelling items that are directed at adults. They are sexualised in most advertising images because ultimately sex is what sells. I studied children in advertising and sexualisation within advertising at university and it is a really interesting subject.

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  • stylethroughhereyes January 13, 2011, 8:36 PM

    I think some of these poses for the CADEAUX shoot are too much on the sexy side. It doesn’t seem right that parents would allow their daughters to be presented in such a way. When I see young girls in beauty pagaents, magazines, etc. it makes me think of how many of the parents are doing it for themselves and not for their children. Often times the children don’t care much for what they’re being asked and even forced to do. Even if they want to do it I think it can be very dangerous for them in all aspects but especially the mind. What if they grow up thinking this is what beautiful is supposed to look like? Will they get too consumed in the fasion world that they lose sight of what is truly important in life? There are so many things to wonder about, you know?

    As for the nude photos, that’s just completely on another level. Obviously people have different opinions and views on whether it’s right or not to show your body to the world. In most cases it will be taken as a sexual thing because of how sick our world is. I’m a firm believer in modesty and also believe that our bodies are the Lord’s temple, and so I can’t really accept those images as “ok”. It reminds me of the verse “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Cor. 6:19,20 NKJ). This verse would leave me to believe that taking sexy and/or nude photos and sharing them with the world isn’t glorifying God with your body. Not to mention that these kinds of photos greatly tempt man and lead them astray in ways I’m sure are quite obvious.Yes, God created us with these bodies but is it for everyone else to see? I realize nudity is often used as an art on sculptures, etc. but these photos seem completely different to me. I think people need to remember that nudity isn’t very often considered an art as it once was.

  • Katherine Woods January 13, 2011, 11:51 PM

    This is honestly one of the best fashion posts i have read in a long time. Thank you! And congrats on being listed on the IFB Links a la mode.
    I agree with you on the photographs taken by Sharif Hamza of the 6-year old girls. I think they are so clever, not only are they interesting to look at and are really beautiful but they tell a story and one that all girls know, dressing up in their mothers clothes! I think they are so cute but so clever as well.

    Your comments on Miley shoot were really appropriate. That particular photo you have posted i think is beautiful and is in no way offensive to me. However the photograph of her and her father is weird and not even a particularly good photograph. That photo is just too weird

    Thank-you so much for sharing all this with me. I only just found your blog and i have started following straight away!

  • CamilleA January 13, 2011, 10:23 PM

    Hi – The main issue for me is the sexualisation of young girls. The Cadeaux pics are fab but that’s irrelevant as well as not a good look. Where do you draw the line. This does give paedophiles more eye-candy for obvious reasons. If i had a child who could be a model from a young age (under 16) I wouldn’t let him or her. I also modelled from 17yrs old and know what goes on behind the scenes. Much less how deprived you are from a proper diet to keep the agents etc happy and you in work. But anyway, everything in its own time is what I say.
    Love this post. Thank you.

  • Grit and Glamour January 13, 2011, 3:36 PM

    Another classic BI post…thought-provoking and conversation-inspiring. Personally, the Brooke Shields photos are shocking, and I blame her mother 100%…shame on her. She was WAY too old to be doing innocent nudie kid shots, and far too young to be presented wearing makeup, in an adult backdrop without a stitch on. We didn’t approach things the same way back then, though when it comes to photos of children, we should have. I can’t fathom my mother ever thinking it would be OK to have allowed a man to photograph me like that. Right then, her mother stripped her, literally and figuratively, of her right to a a childhood…for 450 bucks. She may have been a child star from birth, but she should have at least been afforded the right we all have to not be exposed to the world on every level. Those photos really make me sick. They are a child predator’s dream. Her mother should have been prosecuted. Thank God England had the presence of mind to put the smackdown on the exhibit.

    I think children under age 16 should be prohibited from participating in any aspect of the fashion industry. I don’t care what statements are being made by editors or photographers, or how deceptively old a 12-year-old may look. Tarting little girls up is wrong at its core, sends the wrong message to other girls who see these images, and gives the children involved the wrong impression. Girls under age 16 (and really, up to age 21) do NOT know the true repercussions of their actions, and do not have thick enough skin to participate in an industry that often shuffles, prods, and parades women like pieces of meat, an exterior and nothing more. I’m sure many a girl has dreamed of modeling from well before age 16.

    If I had a daughter, I wouldn’t stand in the way of her dream…she’d just have to wait until she turned 16 so she’d at least have the ability to work or drive without assistance. Then I’d still manage all her professional commitments until she turned 18. Teens think they know best. But we ALL know they don’t.

    As a society, we now know well the dangers of allowing our children to play adult well before they are supposed to. How many child actors need to self-destruct before people will see that CHILDREN need to be encouraged to be CHILDREN?! That it is OK? Why can’t we as a society just let our kids be kids?


  • THE-LOUDMOUTH January 12, 2011, 11:01 PM

    Alright, first off — whoever thinks that the little girl with the fur looks “provocative” is clearly into children. Like, sexually. I mean, seriously, who else would take it that way unless you WANTED to!? I don’t think there is anything wrong with that first shoot. I think the photos are gorgeous, actually!

    Putting the photoshoot aside, though, and looking at what’s going on behind-the-scenes: these girls are probably growing up too quickly and missing out on their childhood. It’s similar, I think, with child movie stars: they’re focusing on a career, and money, and looking good for the camera instead of ACTUALLY playing dress-up in their mom’s clothing (or playing with dolls, as I did for way too long when I was younger — I wanted to stay a kid forever, still do).

    As for Miley, I just don’t like her in general. At the risk of sounding bitchy, she has zero talent and is just riding the wave of her father’s career. So when I saw the photos, I simply thought, “Welp, there’s Miley doing something stupid for attention again.” And I think it’s more disturbing than sexual; her skin is pale and shadowed, as if she’s sick or on drugs or something. It’s just unattractive and I can’t think of it as anything but.

    And Brooke Shields… Just… What the hell? Haha, I don’t even know what to say. They are CLEARLY supposed to be sexual, especially the second one with the steam and skin. Gross.


  • Fashnlvr January 12, 2011, 8:42 PM

    Wow – this was such a thought-provoking well-written post. I am in awe and I bow to your blogging skills. Great job!
    As far as the pictures in Vogue – I read the comments and I agree that I used to dress up in my mother’s things and wear her lipstick and blush and 70’s blue eyeshadow – and I looked ridiculous!! These girls looked like “little women” – I won’t use the other “W” word as I don’t think it should apply to 6 yr olds. So I think they can be used but should be shown more realistically if it is going to be dress up – less perfect makeup and “too big” drapey clothing.
    Brooke Shields – wow! disturbing photos sold way too cheap. But I have to say she is a VERY well-adjusted adult. That moves me to Maddison. Perhaps she is the next Brooke that will come out ok as she moves thru life. If ya look like that at 12yrs old > What will 20 bring? Now might be her window to fulfill her hopes and dreams. I think her mother should be very selective about what jobs are accepted and the situations Maddison is exposed to. Here is the opportunity for “over protective stage mom” to have her day.

  • oranges_and_apples January 12, 2011, 1:34 PM

    I am reading this at work and all the images are blocked, so I can’t comment on the individual photos, but I just wanted to leave a quick comment in case I don’t get a chance to come back to this post this evening.

    My view is that a ban for under 16 is the way to go regardless of what the parents and the children themselves think. That is what child protection laws are for.

    Though I also think there is also a huge role for the fashion industry to actually make itself less harmful. It’s not a god given law that runway models have to be sexualised and that drugs and abusive behaviour are common. That’s not right at ANY age!

  • oranges_and_apples January 12, 2011, 1:35 PM

    oh, and great post, even without the pictures!

  • kristy eléna January 12, 2011, 1:57 PM

    wow, B! first of all, my hat off to you for writing a truly exquisite and well-rounded article on this subject. you touch on all different points, present all perspectives clearly and then give your opinion in a very fair and unbiased fashion. truly, truly well-done. i think this is among my favorite articles from you to date.

    as for my opinion, i actually agree with you on every point you’ve made. i’m a bit shocked that Shields and her mom would do a photoshoot like that and sell the photos. but at the same time, you’re right, the context and history of these photos can cause them to be viewed as art. personally, i look at them and feel uncomfortable, but sometimes good art does that. and art is all about perspective.

    the infamous miley cyrus photoshoot! i despised miley’s and her family’s reaction to it. i GUARANTEE they saw the images on set and loved them. i’m sure she thought she looked hot and people would be all like “ooh thats so artsy and hot miley!” when the controversy started to swirl she totally did a 180 b/c her only true care is her PR. the shot of her and her dad IS disturbing AND overly sexual and personally i get no artistic value from it. but the photo of her in the sheet is beautiful. it makes me think of a painted portrait from an era long ago. it is controversial, but mildly so, in my opinion. her reaction however, taints it. because now i look at it and see a brat – not a young girl coming into womanhood and exploring her sensual self which is what i originally got out of it. she should have stood behind it and helped people see why it was artistic, but to be honest, i think this was annie’s vision and miley never fully got it. i just don’t think she’s that smart. annie lebovitz however, is a genius.

    i see nothing wrong with the cadeaux photoshoot. i totally get that sense of dressing up in mom’s clothes as well. it reminds me of specific childhood moments, playing dress up with my friends. it reminds me of barbies and dolls and loving and aspiring to fashion as a young girl. i love being brought back there. anything that can bring back that wonderment from childhood is awesome in my book. do the girls look dressed up to be innocent in the photos? no not necessarily. but i don’t think i looked “innocent” in heels too big for me and bright red lipstick either. if there is any criticism i can make its just that maybe they did a little too good of a job fitting the clothes on the girls at points. i’d have love to see a bit more of that “drowing in the clothing” feel. but that’s a really inconsequential note in my opinion and doesn’t alter my perception of the overall shoot.

    i am always one of the first people to say that age is arbitrary and society should be less obsessed with it. age does not dictate what a person can or should be doing. and usually when i’m saying that i’m thinking of the industry always opting for youth – but we have to remember that it goes both ways. though on average i think 12 is too young for a supermodel, i also think that there can be exceptions to the rule. there are child prodigies in many different fields from science to literature, why should an exceptional gift at modeling be any different? its like when people criticize tavi gevinson and say things like “if i was her parents i’d smack her, tell her to get off the computer and go play outside!” but why? tavi is really good at what she does and has proven she can both handle it and herself remarkably well. better than people thrice her age in some instances. so what’s the harm? i think people get offended because they think back to when they were that age and can’t imagine themselves having done anything like that. at age 8 i had my first photography exhibit and there was some “criticism” against it just like what people say towards tavi. and it always bothered me. i still played outside with kids and had a great childhood, but i also really liked being creative and learning about photography. why should anyone be allowed to tell me i can’t? and though modeling may come with a certain sexuality, i think we need to realize that maddison might be 12 but she has the body of a woman. she’d get oggled on the street and mistaken for a much older woman, at least on the runway it’s more about the clothing than her… or at least, it should be. what exactly are people trying to protect her from? on the street she’ll get cat calls on the runway she won’t. the majority of people on the runway are there to see the show, not her. and though i think what her mom said is kind of dumb, and i don’t think we should all be expecting 12 year old girls to act older than they are, i can also see that maybe this girl doesn’t really fit in with most 12 year old girls who would tease her for being different. since she is that different, why not let her go be in a world where she fits in and her talent and overly developed body are exalted, not viewed as weird. i think the “average” 12 year old life would be far more damaging to her psyche than the modeling lifestyle. but people don’t always see that. they think everyone has to fit into the mold predetermined for their age, but nature chose a different path for this girl.

    ANYway… sorry for the long response but i really loved your article and wanted to touch on all your points!

  • fuyume January 12, 2011, 6:37 AM

    an excellent post B. As a mother I feel really strongly about children in the celeb world. I found the cadeaux shots immediately disturbing especially the 8th pic where the little girl is posed in an especially provocative way with her dress arranged to show some thigh and the expression on her face has been sexualised. I think its disgusting and entirely inappropriate. The brooke shield pics were even worse and it turned my stomach to see them. children need protecting and some parents cant be relied upon to do this. i feel that 16 should be the min age for models as the modelling world is rife with drugs & eating disorders. There are a lot of celebs who started as child stars that have had big problems especially with drug abuse. children should be allowed to be children and not made to act or dress like adults.

  • Courtney January 12, 2011, 5:51 AM

    Wow! Great piece. I liked the progression from the Vogue editorial to Brooke Shields. It gives an interesting history. When I saw these images on another blog, I couldn’t decide it they were a social commentary or Toodlers and Tiaras gone awry.

    My initial feeling as I was reading was, “Oh, but the parents approve, so it must be OK for a 12 year old to be a model!” By the end, I was struck by the feeling that so many (though not all!) parents of child stars/singers/models/actors view their child as a meal ticket. I’m sorry, but it’s just true. I don’t think parents can be trusted to ALWAYS have the best interests of their children in mind, though many do.

    I think the fashion industry has to become better about self policing and making their own policies on these issues.

    I’m torn, because I look at that 12 year old girl and find her to be absolutely stunning. Why shouldn’t she model if she wants to? Such a complex issue!

    You should definitely submit this for IFB’s Links a la Mode. Very well done!

  • THE-LOUDMOUTH January 12, 2011, 11:01 PM

    Agreed, you should submit this if you haven’t yet B!

  • Bonita Vear January 12, 2011, 3:05 AM

    ~ * ♥ * ~

    A thought provoking post as usual; thank you B. Personally, I do not like to see children in fashion; particularly high fashion, no matter how ‘innocent’ the shoot/spread looks. The CADEAUX spread, while although better than some photographs of children in fashion {or art for that matter} isn’t necessarily still a good thing.

    Those children are so young and exposing them to such a dangerous world such as the fashion industry is {I say dangerous because it is due to drugs, alcohol, the extreme sexuality at times, and industry pressure to be thin} really not a responsible thing to do in my mind.

    I do think that Australia should have laws giving an age restriction on modeling ~ to me there is no doubt that Maddison’s career brought to the attention of the US pedophile, and goodness knows what other sick people out there.

    And as for the Brooke Shields photos ~ when we will stop calling something art just because it was done by such and such artist, or done at such and such time? Those photos are what they are ~ child pornography. They should not be displayed for any reason at all in my opinion.

    I find it sad enough that so many ‘child stars’ end up ruining their lives from their exposure to the Hollywood industry ~ even the ones that are so called ‘successful’ still have a multitude of problems. That’s not to say that they wouldn’t have these problems if they weren’t celebrities, just like a thirteen year old girl who may just as well struggle with anorexia even if she never went in front of a camera or modeled in her life.

    But common sense tells us that the odds are higher. Exposing any child to industries were the adults themselves that work in them have so many issues can only mean that the child has higher odds of coming out on the wrong side. And that’s basically the reason why I think we should protect the children from modeling/artistic shoots {like Miley} for their sake.

    bonita of Depict This!
    ~ * ♥ * ~

  • Bonita Vear January 12, 2011, 3:05 AM

    ~ * ♥ * ~

    A thought provoking post as usual; thank you B. Personally, I do not like to see children in fashion; particularly high fashion, no matter how ‘innocent’ the shoot/spread looks. The CADEAUX spread, while although better than some photographs of children in fashion {or art for that matter} isn’t necessarily still a good thing.

    Those children are so young and exposing them to such a dangerous world such as the fashion industry is {I say dangerous because it is due to drugs, alcohol, the extreme sexuality at times, and industry pressure to be thin} really not a responsible thing to do in my mind.

    I do think that Australia should have laws giving an age restriction on modeling ~ to me there is no doubt that Maddison’s career brought to the attention of the US pedophile, and goodness knows what other sick people out there.

    And as for the Brooke Shields photos ~ when we will stop calling something art just because it was done by such and such artist, or done at such and such time? Those photos are what they are ~ child pornography. They should not be displayed for any reason at all in my opinion.

    I find it sad enough that so many ‘child stars’ end up ruining their lives from their exposure to the Hollywood industry ~ even the ones that are so called ‘successful’ still have a multitude of problems. That’s not to say that they wouldn’t have these problems if they weren’t celebrities, just like a thirteen year old girl who may just as well struggle with anorexia even if she never went in front of a camera or modeled in her life.

    But common sense tells us that the odds are higher. Exposing any child to industries were the adults themselves that work in them have so many issues can only mean that the child has higher odds of coming out on the wrong side. And that’s basically the reason why I think we should protect the children from modeling/artistic shoots {like Miley} for their sake.

    bonita of Depict This!
    ~ * ♥ * ~

  • Elle January 11, 2011, 11:39 PM

    Once again, a great post that brings up many important points and raises many valid questions. B, you’re a fantastic writer. Now for my opinion… I never knew about the shots of Brooke Shields, I’m shocked- to me it’s far too young to have those taken. But yet it’s nothing new- some of the paintings and sculptures from the Greek and Roman time periods are also modeled after children- and no one has ever had a problem with those. I found the Vogue spread “cute” and not sexual- however I did have a problem with some of the photos- some of the children were wearing far too much make-up- and it was perfectly done too. I think it might have sold better if they let the girls be little girls- and do it themselves- then it would have shown a more childlike (and more age appropriate) innocence. Now whether those belonged in a world reknowned magazine, is another story… That said- I think for teen models- anything under 16 is far too young because of many of the things found in the modeling world- particularly bad self image- I feel like there’s much too much an emphasis on size and this could be damaging to an impressionable young teen girl, already self conscious…