Thanks to a new guideline issued by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, no toddlers will be walking the runways at New York fashion week this time around. Last week, the council recommended that models produce IDs verifying that they are sixteen or older the day of the show. But before we celebrate the end of the fashion industry’s unseemly obsession with youth, let’s read the fine print.
The move comes hot off the heels of last season’s fashion-week scandal, when CFDA President Diane von Furstenberg got a slap on the wrist for allowing an underage model to walk in her show. Given the context, the guideline appears to be more about enforcing child labor laws than combating the sexualization of young girls or cultivating a healthy beauty standard in the industry. Of course, you can’t have one without the other; advocating for labor laws is important, and it’s a good start to combating the other exploitative tendencies of the industry. But to target the problem of underage models on the runway without acknowledging the troubling explosion of tween models being depicted suggestively in print and video campaigns for top luxury brands this year is to ignore the underage elephant in the room.
This year, Marc Jacobs hired thirteen-year-old Elle Fanning to be the face of his fall campaign; Prada cast thirteen-year-old model Ondria Hardin along with two other teenagers in its sultry, voyeuristic video promo for its fall line; and French Vogue featured ten-year-old model Thylane Loubry Blondeau looking pouty and seductive in a controversial editorial spread. The use of young girls in fashion ads is nothing new (remember the Brook Shields “nothing comes between me and my Calvins” campaign of the 1980s? She was fifteen), but it seems to have reached fever pitch and the ick factor is only getting ickier as the girls get younger and the ads get more salacious. We can’t help but feel the Diane von Furstenberg and the CFDA are missing a great opportunity to use their sway, and the platform of fashion week, to promote a dialogue on the subject of underage models in advertising and the spread of the Lolita syndrome. But maybe Diane and her friends will surprise us—we’ll be watching.
What do you think? Should the fashion industry set age limits for modeling in ad campaigns? Or is the glorification of young beauty perfectly natural?