Monday, January 23, 2012


Yet again, the question of very young (think too young for middle school) fashion models is phrased in Think of the Children terms. Guardian writer Viv Groskrop at least offers, as an afterthought, a look at what it means for adult, female consumers that a model has to look 12 and if she also is 12 so be it.

Tucked away at the very end of the piece is, I think, the real story:

How young, then, is too young for fashion? And what's too old? "Sixteen is a good age to start," says [modeling agency director Carole] White. "Seventeen is the perfect age for a model, because most girls feel comfortable in themselves by then; 18 is good too, though, because then all their schooling is out of the way. If a girl started at 20, she would find it difficult to get work. Her agent would probably lie about her age and say she was a year or two younger."
As a 28-year-old full-time student with plenty of student friends my own age or older, I'm tempted to address the bit about all plausible "schooling" being finished by 18. But I will instead highlight the bit about what happens should "a girl" begin modeling at the decrepit age of 20. I will, at the risk of repeating myself, note that the very language of the industry assumes a grown woman couldn't model clothes. I mean, 20 is old for a "girl."

No doubt, the telling-it-like-it-is response would be something about how, for men, for the usual evo-psych reasons, a woman is past it as soon as she's no longer a girl. But it's not clear how this would relate to the preferred looks in images very clearly directed at women, not men. Even if men prefer 15-year-olds (and I'm not saying they do), they wouldn't be the same 15-year-olds.

It would seem, then, that having ever-younger models is a way to draw as many consumers as possible into the insecurity tent, to make even college juniors feel inadequate, and how else to address that inadequacy than by buying crap?


Rachel @ Musings of an Inappropriate Woman said...

I'm always mystified by this "20 being too late to start" stuff, too. Most of the working models I've known have been in their mid-late 20s. Many even (*gasp*) started after 20.

Even someone like Victoria's Secret model Miranda Kerr, who started modelling for teen mags in Australia when she was 13, didn't start to hit the big time until she was 24 - she'll be 29 this year, and she's doing better then ever.

This idea that women age rapidly and unforgiveably, and that we peek in our teens is clearly bullshit. So why do we persist on peddling it?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I think, when it comes to the high-fashion runway, or Vogue-type editorial, the age thing is real. Victoria's Secret is about "curves," and is a brand aimed at men at least as much as women. Indeed, any time straight men are the audience, female models who look like they could be 11-year-old-boys aren't really an issue. (Not, to be clear, that gay men are attracted to women who look like boys!) Kerr in particular is someone who... must have one heck of a publicist, given that the Daily Mail is 50% her trips to the supermarket, but, more to the point, a kind of celebrity crossover to high fashion. So it's not that 30-year-olds or D-cups or whatever are never on the runways. It's that any model without a backstory is 16 and straight-up-and-down.

As to your final point, it seems clear enough that women don't "peak" at 16, given that most 16-year-olds couldn't be any kind of models and look far better at 26, given that in terms of options when it comes to dating, 26 is much better than 16, etc. If men, in their heart of hearts so to speak, would prefer the best-looking 16-year-old girls over all else, this doesn't really matter, because even if it could be scientifically proven that the most lust-worthy individuals were three 16-year-old girls, it's not as if random 30-year-old men have access to them, or are devastated to be in relationships with anyone but.

Which is why the extreme youth and androgyny of models in media aimed at women and not at men is a separate issue from when female beauty, as generally understood in terms of attractiveness to men, "peaks." I think the point of models being as they are isn't so much that women want to look like the models, as that women are insecure about being "too" old, "too" heavy, and it's somehow more efficient when it comes to getting women to buy stuff to use models who are as thin and young as possible, as opposed to thin (but curvy), young( as in 25), and also conventionally attractive.

PG said...

I had the same question about Victoria's Secret -- I'd be very surprised if they are hiring 16-year-olds. And if it's clothing that's specifically made to rouse male desire that gets modeled by adult women, while clothing that generally doesn't appear to have that goal that gets modeled by teens, I don't think the evo-psych is relevant.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


It's not that evo-psych is relevant. More that male desire - or, rather, perceived male desire - is relevant in an indirect way when it comes to fashions not aimed at directly pleasing men. Women still want to look thinner and younger, in part if not entirely to appeal to men. So those ads, while they don't feature bombshells, still manage to tap into/profit from female insecurity.