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October 25, 2014
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Thylane Blondeau. Source: lvbt.net.

It's understood that a modelling career, more often than not, comes with an early "best before" date. The fashion industry relies on the celebrated beauty of youth, curses age and fights it and its effects until the bitter end. As Heidi Klum has said more than once on Project Runway, "In the fashion industry, one day you are in and one day you are out."

According to The New York Times, Condé Nast International, Vogue's parent company, announced on May 3 that from their June issues forward, the 19 international editions of Vogue would "not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder. We will work with models that, in our view, are healthy and help to promote a healthy body image." Condé Nast International chairman, Jonathan Newhouse, said on Thursday, "Vogue editors around the world want the magazines to reflect their commitment to the health of the models who appear on the pages and the well-being of their readers."

Paris Vogue Tom Ford Cadeaux
Cadeaux editorial in Vogue Paris.
Source: lamodadubai.com.

The announcement may well have been brought about by the controversy surrounding Vogue Paris' use of Thylane Blondeau, a 10-year-old model who had already appeared in Vogue Enfants, for its December 2010/January 2011 issue. Blondeau was seen posing provocatively, in a Brigitte Bardot style manner, in a spread with other models in the magazine, both young and old, which caused a stir not just in the fashion world but with wider audiences as well. Parents and fashion critics alike protested against the Tom Ford-edited issue of Vogue Paris and his use of six-year-olds dressed up in furs, high heels and glossy make-up. 

Vogue's decision may change the face of Fashion Weeks everywhere and the concept of the size zero models who are still lingering on catwalks. According to the Washington Post, model Coco Rocha applauded the release by Condé Nast saying, "Not every model appears in Vogue, but every model and every magazine looks up to them as the standard (bearer). I can only imagine this will be a solid step in a direction that will benefit models for generations to come."

Sara Ziff, a former model who was discovered at 14 and has since founded The Model Alliance, said, "The use of underaged models is linked to financial exploitation, eating disorders, interrupted schooling, and contributes to models' overall lack of empowerment in the workplace. We simply believe that 14 is too young to be working in this very grown-up industry, and we're glad that Condé Nast International is making this commitment."

But, will the Vogue initiative be effective? The "six-point pact" was peppered with vague words such as "not knowingly," "encouraging" and "help," which raises questions about the extent to which Vogue editors will go to enforce it. While some of the 19 editors might enforce the rules to the best of their ability, what happens if one or two slip through the cracks? More details are needed about the protocols designed to carry it out. At the end of the day, it's an ethics policy, not a legal one, and it may well become an initiative that weakens over time unless clear procedures and consequences are set. 

...if we nip this issue of child modelling in the bud now, will there just be another radical change in the world of modelling in another six months time?

The most encouraging news of the announcement was Vogue's commitment to "help to structure mentoring programs where more mature models are able to give advice and guidance to younger girls, and we will help to raise industry-wide awareness through education, as has been integral to the Council of Fashion Designers of America Health Initiative," and "be ambassadors for the message of healthy body image." But by using the same ambiguous words, we can only wait to see how Vogue will go about these initiatives and whether we'll be seeing a very different shape of model gracing the pages of Vogue in the months to come. Perhaps there will be a collective change in the way we see modelling and a return to the athletic and healthy shapes we saw in the likes of Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford and Helena Christensen back in their modelling prime, all of whom have slimmed down considerably, possibly in response to the beauty standards put forth by the magazines they used to feature in, including Vogue.

It seems Ford created a window of opportunity to address the issue of age in the modelling industry with his December 2010/January 2011 issue of Vogue Paris, but perhaps it wasn't the right time. Libby Banks, editor of British fashion site MyDailyUK, had a few opinions on why Ford used these young girls as models. In a piece entitled, "Why Tom Ford was right to photograph vamped up six-year-olds," Banks wrote: "Ford has created a dialogue about the fashion industry's attitude to age; in an industry where teenage models are encouraged to have the physique of a small child in order to promote women's clothing, surely the next 'logical' step is to use a small child to model grownup fashion. It's meant to be absurd and offensive."

Sara Ziff model alliance
Sara Ziff. Source: businessinsider.com.

Maybe it's a question of understanding what Ford had supposedly intended in his guest-edited edition of Vogue Paris: that we expect models to be so child-like in their features and angles that it's almost our own fault that children are being used. We're being played by our own game. The photos are shocking and provocative, but are they any worse than some of the other changes that we have seen occurring over the last five to ten years, with the Gucci Guilty advert of simulated sex or Lara Stone and Kate Moss being completely nude in the 2012 Pirelli Calendar? There is always going to be another shock or rebellion around the corner to turn heads and using children in these ways is an obvious ploy for publicity that has - let's face it - worked.

The concept of using a child to model in this day and age is absurd to the general public and maybe they're right to think that way. But at the same time, if we nip this issue of child modelling in the bud now, will there just be another radical change in the world of modelling in another six months time? It may just be a case of not giving publicity stunts like this the attention they crave to make the world of child modelling obsolete.

 

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