Child modelling no worse than the grown-up kind

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
July 10, 2012 /

Click here to view original /

In the latest incarnation of the sexualisation of children war cry, the modelling industry has come under scrutiny.

The signing of ever young girls to modelling agencies is being questioned; calls to ban the under-16s have circulated.

Modelling, by its very nature, is an ugly, ugly game. It’s a window-dressing, smoke-and-mirrors world where the genetically gifted are rewarded on the most superficial of criteria.

This industry, however – like all money-making ventures – thrives because we continue to consume their wares. We buy the clothes, spray on the perfume, and perpetuate the insanity.

Insane the production may be, but it’s real. Every fashion week, in every city, there will be condemnation of emaciated catwalk models. Parade organisers, rag houses, magazine editors will each, on cue, pledge to fatten them up next time, and of course, nothing ever happens.

Former models will confess to diets of Coke Zero and cigarettes to maintain their physiques, healthy wannabe models will be called fat on reality TV, and the status quo will remain.

Skinny, scantily clad women on runways, teenagers hocking anti-aging elixirs in magazines, and kids of all ages touting the deliciousness/trendiness/fun of the latest consumable on TV is nothing new.

Modelling itself might be a wretched profession, but the involvement of children doesn’t make it more so. Pretending that child modelling encapsulates all of society’s ills and that banning it will serve as the remedy for our youth fetishising, beauty-obsessed, weight-preoccupied culture is both naive and incredibly far-fetched.

Calls to ban child models are rarely framed as a critique on modelling, or on the ills of the fashion industry, nor even on the shallowness and superficiality of our culture. They’re seldom expressed as concerns for child labour, narrow beauty ideals, or shallow career pursuits, either.

Instead, these calls are continually premised on the so very tired sexualisation of children argument.

Children, apparently, are being perpetually pimped-out by a pop culture machine intent on obliterating innocence. Adult fantasies are allegedly being projected onto young’uns for the benefit of those in raincoats. Someone, somewhere, just has to step in and think of the children.

Sexualisation of children arguments rely on some highly suspect ideas. One, that children have no sexual thoughts or feelings of their own; and two, that children need to be hidden from the public eye to safeguard them from Uncle Ernie.

Children of course need protection from risqué posing, from inappropriate product association, from handsy production staff. But this is what parents are for, managers are for, and why our very legal system exists.

Shielding them from the thoughts and fantasies of paedophiles is the most hideous of all assertions. Such bans are based on an idea that temptation needs to be removed from the paedophile; implies that children are the problem.

Victim-blaming is unpalatable in any kind of sex crime; to assert that child models are more likely to explain and encourage criminality is unethical and grossly offensive.

My interest is not in defending the fashion or modelling industries – egregious entities, both – but to contend that arbitrarily suggesting that pint-sized models are somehow more troublesome, more depressing and more heinous than their fully-grown counterparts is a weak assertion.

Besides, the alternative – ageing folk modelling school uniforms in the Target catalogue or playing with Barbies on Saturday morning television – would only give the thought police a whole new set of palpitations!

© Lauren Rosewarne