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Sex & Low Beach
At age 10, when most kids are just becoming aware of sexuality, Thylane Blondeau was the epitomized it. In last summer’s August issue of Vogue Paris, images of the child model posing on a leopard-print blanket with a full face of makeup and larger-than-life jewelry caused outrage so intense that British Prime Minister David Cameron held a summit to address the issue of child sexualization in the media. Mothers weren’t the only ones expressing anger and concern over the photos of Blondeau in low- cut shirts and sky-high heels: Vogue received heavy criticism from news sources, bloggers,
and the general public.
Despite the controversy surrounding Blondeau’s racy photo shoot, using young—even preteen—girls as models has become increasingly popular in high fashion in the past year. Elle Fanning posed for Marc by Marc Jacobs when she was 13 years old, and Hailee Steinfeld was the face of Miu Miu advertisements at 14. Most recently, the 10-year-old daughter of supermodel Cindy Crawford, Kaia Gerber, has been chosen as the face of Young Versace, a line targeted at consumers age 12 and younger. Though her image in the line’s promotional photos is not explicitly sexual, Gerber appears much older than her 10 years in a studded skirt and leather jacket.
At first glance, girls Blondeau’s age seem far too young to understand the realms of fashion and sexuality in which they’re becoming involved. So what could be the motivation behind designer labels’ interest in having children represent their adult clothing lines? Perhaps these girls symbolize something other than sex appeal, according to Anna Cooperberg, editor in chief of Hoot magazine and past intern at Vogue, Teen Vogue, and Elle. “The way they wear their clothes is fresh and new,” Cooperberg says. Teens like Fanning and Steinfeld were already runway favorites before becoming label representatives. Modeling for high fashion companies may be the next logical step in their journeys as rising icons in the world of fashion.
However, even if there is a legitimate argument for using these especially young models, a preteen parading around in attention-grabbing clothing suggests exploitation. Witnessing little girls acting like older women may be shocking, if only because these photos stray so far from notions of girlhood, in which the closest 10-year-olds get to mature clothing is borrowing their mothers’ high heels for a game of dress-up.
Moreover, these models aren’t the only ones affected by youth-centric standards of beauty. The older women who are presented with these images of adolescents in the willowy (read: especially skinny) stages of puberty have to question how far they’re willing to go to meet fashion’s near impossible expectations.
Still, the fashion world revolves around innovation, reinvention, and audacity. The goal of fashion campaigns is to provoke visceral reactions in order to ensure that fashion labels’ latest collections maintain a strong presence in the minds of consumers. These photos, questionable though they may be, seem to meet all these criteria. Some, like Cooperberg, insist that the photos “cross a line” in that they “prompt young girls to grow up too quickly.” But because the fashion world is constantly evolving, it might be worth considering that this is simply its latest development.
However, because the majority of women seem to be disturbed by the content of these very public campaigns, it might be time for high-fashion labels to reconsider the way they appeal to their customers. Cooperberg suggests a compromise between the labels and consumers. She contends that the fashion world can find a way to allow preteens and teenagers to be fashion icons without turning them into sexual objects. Fashion fascinates many young girls such that keeping them entirely separate from it seems impractical, whether they’re celebrities or not. “Talented young actresses like Chloë
Moretz represent a new generation of young girls taking a stronger interest in fashion,” Cooperberg says. Celebrities such as Moretz could “serve as role models to fans and younger girls [and show] that they can be stylish with- out wearing a bandage dress and high heels.”
Giving young female models creative license over the way they dress might even inspire ingenuity instead of insecurity. Younger fashion fans aren’t the only ones who can learn from these juvenile style mavens. Actresses such as Fanning are intriguing to the heads of fashion labels because of their unique ways of presenting themselves. They “act as muses,” Cooperberg says, and if they can inspire designers to push the envelope when it comes to fashion trends, then maybe older women can be inspired by their fashion choices as well. Rather than focus on the age gap between these models and themselves, women could take note of these young style icons’ fearlessness when it comes to less conventional clothing.
While the sexualization of young models is still a concern, putting creative girls in the spotlight could promote innovation for women of all ages. Perhaps once women recognize that insight on fashion can come from even the youngest of sources, high-fashion labels will accept that they no longer need to rely on sexuality to be noticed by consumers. The creative force of these young muses can be powerful enough to gain recognition in its own right. As Cooperberg puts it, “Having preteens representing a brand meant for women can be unsettling, but it is a trend due to the talent of these young ladies.”
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