Being a supermodel isn't easy. Especially when you've not hit puberty. Last week Cindy Crawford's daughter Kaia made her modelling debut, for Young Versace, at 10. Donatella Versace said, "Like her mother, Kaia has a very special gift. The camera really, really loves her. It was a special treat watching Kaia walk on her mother's footsteps."
Child actor Elle Fanning, sister of of Dakota Fanning, has signed
modelling deals with Marc Jacobs at the age of 13. Pic/ AFP Photo
Betty Lowe, daughter of designer Pearl, has been modelling for her mother's range for Peacocks from the age of five. "I know it seems odd that I would let Betty model at this young age. But she loves the limelight. It's not like she's in beauty pageants," says Lowe. She draws the line at make-up, however. "No. Absolutely not."
Meg Mathews, ex-wife of Noel Gallagher, has a picture on Twitter of her 11 year-old, Anais, taken by fashion photographer Mario Testino. The image has been compared to Kate Moss's early pictures. Anais is now signed to model agency Select.
While you're unlikely to make it as a model by the age of 11 unless you have at least one celebrity parent, it's now not unusual to see models barely in their teens on the runway and in magazine adverts.
Carole White, director of Premier, one of the UK's leading model agencies, says it worries her that several of the big fashion houses in New York and Milan, including Prada and Balenciaga, have started using girls aged 13 or 14 to front campaigns or do catwalk work.
"They're looking for a specific image and they want a girl no one has used before." This doesn't really happen in London, she adds. "For London Fashion Week, girls have to wait until they're over 16. We have to provide documentation," says White. "Before then it's possible that they could work, but it would be unpaid, editorial work."
White appeared in last year's TV documentary The Model Agency, which featured premier models such as Darya, 18, signed at 15, and Leomie Anderson, now 17, who was spotted by one of White's team walking home from school. She says it's common for girls to be scouted from the age of 13, although they won't work for a couple of years. "They don't actually do anything (with a model agency) at that age. You tend not to do anything until they're 15. They just get used to having their picture taken in the school holidays. And having lots of Polaroids done," says White.
Fashion PR Debra Bourne is co-founder of All Walks on the Catwalk, which campaigns for diversity of age, shape and ethnicity in fashion. "Hard competition drives them to scout models incredibly young, for fear of losing out," she says. "If models start being used by 15 or 16, this gives the model agency a lead-in period to build the relationship. But I would argue that, emotionally, this is a huge amount to contend with at that age, even though good agencies will argue that they are there to fully protect them."
Renewed controversy about the age of models has been brewing for a while. Last year a Prada campaign featured Ondria Hardin, 13 at the time the advert was made with director Steven Meisel. In November an advert for Marc Jacobs's perfume Oh Lola! was banned for featuring 17 year-old actress Dakota Fanning in a "sexually provocative position". The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that "the actress actually looked to be under the age of 16".
Canadian model Coco Rocha, 23, recently complained in a US television interview that "15 is way too young to be a model". "I was scouted at 14, started modelling at 15 and lived in New York at 16," she says. She has done runway shows for Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui and Stella McCartney and was the face of advertising campaigns for Gap, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. She now feels her early career was too much for her. She says girls are taken out of high school, away from their parents and put into an industry "that treats them as adults, and they do not know how to work with that. They are just thinking, 'How do I please you?'" Rocha also said that a year ago she was losing out on modelling jobs for being "too big" -- at size six and 7st 7lb. More recently she has been told she is "too small".
Sitting next to her on the TV show was actress and model Carre Otis, 43. She started modelling at 16 and now thinks this was too young: "I don't think any young girl should be put in that situation."
Although it is supposed to be hard for girls to get work under the age of 16, increasingly younger girls seem to crop up. The Wall Street Journal recently profiled 15 year-old Valerija Sestic, a Swiss-Croatian model who did 16 shows in 15 days at New York Fashion Week on her first trip to the US. The Council of Fashion Designers of America recommends that no girls under the age of 16 be cast in catwalk shows.
In December, 15 year-old Julia Schneider won the Elite Model Look Contest in Shanghai. Last year, an edition of French Vogue edited by designer Tom Ford featured 10 year-old Thylane Lena-Rose Blondeau in a Dynasty-style outfit slashed to the waist. Child actresses Elle Fanning, 13 (sister of Dakota), and 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld have signed modelling deals with Marc Jacobs and Miu Miu. Victoria's Secret model Behati Prinsloo, 22, has spoken out about what it was like to be "discovered" at 15. "There's no one that helps models figure out what they should do or helps them with their money. It's especially hard for under-age models." She added, "You have to figure it out on your own. It's very stressful, it's a lot of travelling, a lot of time away from family, a lot of dealing with stuff you shouldn't be dealing with at that age."
The preference for younger models also influences the aesthetic: the younger she is, the more likely she will be skinny and boyish. Psychologists at the University of Queensland in Australia and the Centre for Appearance Research at UWE in Bristol are investigating whether we respond as negatively as the fashion industry claims to images of women who don't resemble a slim 16 year-old.
The author of a 2011 paper entitled "Waif goodbye!", Dr Philippa Diedrichs, created a series of adverts using a size eight and a size 12 model and interviewed women about their feelings and likely purchasing decisions after looking at the images. Younger women, aged 18 to 25, reported feeling despondent about the size eight picture. They said they would be more likely to buy something if it was advertised by a size 12 model. This research is ongoing and if it becomes influential the fashion industry may be forced to challenge the mid-teenage aesthetic as the norm for the "idealised woman".
Caryn Franklin, a former presenter of the BBC's The Clothes Show, lectures on body image and works with All Walks on the Catwalk. "I question why the industry is so attracted to the pre-pubescent waif to the point where it seems like arrested development," she says. "Why are we wanting to promote an underdeveloped young woman as a feminine icon? I'm glad that as an industry we are talking about it, but there is a desire from some design labels not to engage in responsible and considerate practice. Fashion likes to think it's making dramatic artistic statements. But it's last in line to understand the impact of its decision-making on the psyche of women both young and old."
How young, then, is too young for fashion? And what's too old? "Sixteen is a good age to start," says 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."