All little girls do it, put on mum’s stilettos, beads and lipstick to pout at the mirror and make-believe they are sophisticated adults. For most little girls, it ends the moment mum walks in and shoos them away to wear sensible shoes and wash off the war-paint.
A handful of mums, however, see it as a career opportunity and send their little girls off to model-training and Bollywood-style dancing schools in the hope of seeing them make it big in the glamour industry. To make them look the part, they dress them in babikinis and padded bras for 7-year-olds, which, no surprise, can be bought online.
While such underage glamour-aspirants rarely make it beyond reality TV in India, little girls in developed countries find instant moolah and notoriety. Last year, 10-year-old Thylane Loubry Blondeau got to sprawl seductively on leopard-print bedcovers for a sexually-charged spread for the French Vogue. And model Ella Flannning, 13, followed her actress sister Dakota Flanning’s footsteps when she became the new face for Marc Jacobs. Dakota, now 17, also modelled at 13 for Jacobs’ spring/summer 2007 collection and became the face of his perfume Oh, Lola! Again, last year, Miu Miu chose 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld as its new face to sell designer clothes to grown women.
It’s no surprise then that even the fashion industry, which declares models over-the-hill and retired at 21, was outraged enough to seek change. Last season, the Council of Fashion Designers of America publicly urged runway designers not to hire those younger than 16. According to the Model Alliance, the first union set up to protect the rights of fashion models in February this year, over 54% of working models start working between the ages of 13 and 16.
This week, Vogue, which till now pretty much celebrated the baby-model trend, announced models under 16 are banned from its pages. In a statement released on Friday, Vogue publisher Conde Nast announced that all 19 editions of the magazine around the world would use only healthy models no younger than 16 in an attempt to shift fashion’s detrimental approach to body image. It also pledged not to knowingly work with models “who appear to have an eating disorder.”
“Vogue believes that good health is beautiful,” said Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Conde Nast International and a scion of the New York publishing family that privately owns the fashion title. “We will work with models who, in our view, are healthy and help us to promote a healthy body image.”
The editors will instruct modelling agencies not to send them underage models, require casting directors to check models’ ID prior to photo shoots and encourage “healthy backstage working conditions,” including food options. Fashion designers will also be encouraged to “consider the consequences of unrealistically small sample (dress) sizes... which encourages the use of extremely thin models.”
In a world where trends are set by bloggers such as Tavi Gavinson — now 14 — and faceless twitterati, the fashion world is under pressure to step out of its glossy bubble into the real world where women don’t look like underfed boys or paedophiles’ poster girls.
The very thin run about the same risk of early death as the very obese, reported a Study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It said in the US alone, 33,000 deaths a year can be avoided if the thinnest 2% of Americans were of normal weight.
In a generation where thin is considered too fat by adolescents and young women, it’s wonderful that some attempt is being made to hold up a mirror to an achievable body image. All the more because young women starve themselves not because they are dumb and ignorant about what’s healthy and what’s not, but simply because when given a choice between healthy food and a healthy social life, they choose popularity every time.