ESSAY: AGE IS MORE THAN A NUMBER IN MODELING

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Kaia Gerber for Chanel Handbag spring-summer 2018 campaign
Kaia Gerber, 16, for Chanel Handbag spring-summer 2018 campaign

When it comes to the world of fashion modeling, we already know that the industry favors the young. If you look at any of today’s top models, most of them were discovered as teenagers. Recently, Kaia Gerber made headlines by appearing as the face of Chanel’s spring-summer 2018 handbag campaign at 16-years-old. Many on social media questioned whether it’s appropriate to feature a teenager in advertisements which appeal to adult women.

There’s not only the question of what message it sends to society, but also the idea of young girls being put into dangerous situations.  The average career of a model is 5 years and by 16-years-old most models begin their careers, according to PBS. That means that by the time a model is in their early twenties, they can easily have already seen the peak of their career.

Despite seeing a major push for diversity in terms of age, race and size in modeling, there’s still a long way to go. At 64-years-old, supermodel Christie Brinkley even has to deal with age discrimination. “I have to constantly be reminding people that my age group matters, that we are relevant, and that we want to be represented,” she said at a recent panel. Brinkley even went on to talk about how older models will be offered lower fees than younger ones.

Thylane Blondeau at 13-years-old on Jalouse April 2014 Cover

HOW YOUNG IS TOO YOUNG TO MODEL?

One must look at those on the other side of the spectrum--those models starting out at 16-years-old or younger. In recent years, the industry has taken steps to protect young models. For instance, luxury conglomerates Kering and LVMH joined forces to sign a model charter which states that models under 16-years-old can not be hired.

Likewise, after a rash of sexual harassment accusations were directed towards top photographers, publisher Condé Nastunveiled a new code of conduct to protect underage models. The company will not work with models under 18, and models will not be left alone with photographers or other creatives on set.

Sociologist and former model Ashley Mears gave an interview to NPR in 2011. Mears spoke about the challenge of employing teenagers. “What makes it problematic in modeling is that you have a lot of young people that are the labor force, young girls especially. And you have young girls that don't necessarily have their parents with them. Modeling agents prefer to have models who are at least 16 years old. However, certainly they can start much younger, and they do start much younger. “

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