MINT Magazine
Stanford Fashion & Culture


How Young is Too Young?

Child models. We see them everyday. Babies giggling and clapping as the cameras zoom in on their experiences with Gerber’s or Pampers. Smiles splatter across commercial catalogues for department stores, such as Macy’s and JC Penney. For generations, young kids have been displayed on magazine prints and commercials, advertising joyous and upbeat emotions in comfortable clothes. But what happens when it is not only GAP beckoning for those innocent faces? What happens when those once joyous smiles transform into demure, adult expressions?

Photo by Andrea Wen-Yu Lim

In 2011, Thylane Blondeau shocked the fashion industry and its consumers when she posed for the editorial spread of “Cadeaux” in Vogue Paris, styled by Tom Ford. It was not the heavy use of makeup and jewelry or the risqué factor garments on display that turned heads. It was the fact that she was ten years old, and yet donning very adult looks, ranging from deep low-cut dresses to topless altogether. As suspected, several critics sent backlash to the magazine for allowing Blondeau to be displayed in this demeanor in as such a young girl. Surprisingly, however, some critics ignored the juxtaposition of a ten-year old posing like she’s a woman, and mainly praised her arrival as the modern Brigette Bardot, the legendary French model.

Fast-forward to March 2014. Blondeau returned to the fashion world with a bang by landing the coveted cover ofJalouse magazine, a trendy French fashion book. The cover was much more toned down compared to her previous work, featuring the young model in very light makeup, a demure expression, and a knit sweater. What stands out on this cover is not that the magazine dubbed her the “new Kate Moss” but the bold hashtag “bornin2001” which makes light of her tender age. This hashtag raised eyebrows because it ignited discussion about the growing use of child models who were directed to model as if they were twice their age.

The influx of young models stems from the idea of becoming the next big celebrity. Modeling careers tend to have very short lifespans. Models are seen as replaceable as soon as the vision of a designer, editor, or photographer changes. Tapping into the very early stages of youth allows fashion houses to mold and develop children in order to assume credit for discovering the next Gisele or Naomi, resulting in more publicity and a better reputation for the brand. From the perspective of the model, the agent, and the modeling agency, starting the career off fairly young results in the prospect of attaining successful careers. The model has a longer period of exposure and more time to utilize the fresh face fashion designers adore and crave.

The recent spike in hiring young models has prompted several organizations to raise awareness about the dangers of entering the modeling industry at such a young age. The CFDA announced in 2012 a stricter guideline that recommends designers not hire models under the age of 16. The CFDA places this guideline under its Health Initiative project which aims to prevent potential eating disorders and unhealthy body practices. The Model Alliance, an organization that promotes the rights of American models, succeeded in passing the Child Model Act which includes child models under the list of “child performers” for the State of New York’s labor laws. These laws place restrictions on designers, setting standards for the number of hours young models can work. They also work to improve the development of young models through initiatives such as allowing educational tutors on set.

In the real world, there is such a thing as too young. But let’s face it; the modeling sector of the fashion industry is based far from reality. Acknowledging limits on age would result in designers and casting directors reexamining and revising what the industry currently thrives on. In their eyes, it is the loss of unattainably thin body frames, the loss of big bright, innocent eyes, and most importantly, the loss of what is now the majorly exclusive “look” of fashion.