High fashion consistently chooses a very specific type of person to stride the catwalks and appear in the pages of style publications. Where do these women come from, with their height and thinness and angular features? Do they appear, fully-formed, with the correct measurements at age 18, as if emerging from an industry-standard chrysalis? The most famous and highest-earning models are often scouted when they are children, adolescents under the age of Gemma Ward was discovered in Perth, aged 14, at an Australian modelling competition called Search for a Supermodel.
In an interview with Teen Vogue , she described her scouting as aggressive and unexpected. They forged my mum's signature [for mandatory parental consent], and pushed me in front of the cameras.
Then her body changed, and all bitchy hell broke loose. She was 19 at the time. She no longer looked like a 14 or 16 year old and fashion thought this was unacceptable. The highest-earning models in the world were discovered at similarly young ages: Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Lily Cole were scouted at 14, 15 and 14 respectively.
The fact that fashion favours young girls is intensely problematic. In , Kate Moss said that she hated posing nude when she was a teenager. The Model Alliance is a non-profit labour organisation that represents American models. These children are often working in adult environments with adult pressures that they may not have the maturity to handle on their own. This is particularly problematic when it comes to younger models, who may not be as knowledgeable about their legal rights or as confident about speaking up when something is unacceptable.
If you are a child-model of under 16 or even under 18, you will be praised for having particular body measurements. You may feel that these measurements are preferable to any other, as they bring modelling work and the promise of recognition.
You may then resist the natural changes that occur in your body, and feel pressured to maintain your adolescent body shape as you grow older.
The expectations placed on models to maintain their measurements in order to get work are well-documented. I've got four girls in hospital. The fashion industry has come under more serious scrutiny since , when Luisel Ramos collapsed on the catwalk and died of heart failure caused by anorexia nervosa. Conde Nast International, owner of Vogue, Vanity Fair, Glamour and GQ , responded in May by creating a six-point pact that included the agreement that Vogue would not work with any model under 16, in any of its editions.
This suggests Conde Nast and Vogue itself understands that there is a relationship between the proliferation of size zero models, anorexia nervosa, and the use of girls under All these girls were 15 years old.
Thairine Garcia, age 14, was shot for the September issue of Vogue Japan, although her editorial never made it to print. Her age is clearly displayed in all of these sources. The directors of The Model Alliance believe that this kind of behaviour has gone on too long.
New York law stipulates that models must meet certain health standards before they can gain the required child model permit. This victory for The Model Alliance should be used as an international standard. Models should be able to work in an environment where they are safe and protected, and this is particularly important for those under the age of It is wrong to use the bodies of under 16s to model adult clothes.
I will say this without hesitancy and without exception. The use of children and child-like body shapes on catwalks and in the pages of adult fashion magazines feeds into an industry culture that glorifies youth and thinness to the point of sickness.
This obsession on the part of fashion puts the health of models and those who consume fashion media at risk. The work that organisations like The Model Alliance do is key to reversing this trend and protecting the women who work in the fashion industry.
She blogs about feminism, fashion and mental health, and tweets harriepw. Sign up. You are browsing in private mode. Model Lily Cole, seen here in , aged 24, was scouted at the age of Photo: Getty. Harriet Williamson is a freelance journalist and full-time copywriter. Related articles. Can the Israeli left reinvent itself?