We linger over advertisements and editorials featuring fresh faces. Congratulatory praises echo throughout respected press as runway debuts and campaign placements highlight the peak of a new age. While we bask in the cultural enlightenment of a blooming career, at what age is too young to model?
IMG Fashion Asia Pacific stated it would ban models under the age of 16 following controversy over the published, provocative image of 14-year-old Polish IMG model, Monika Jagaciak. Detailing Jagaciak under a shower in a wet swim suit, a Sydney newspaper ran a cover story—questioning if she was too young for fashion week. Suggestive imagery of a minor definitely constitutes a raised eyebrow, but correlating editorial discrepancy to runway ability seems premature—as one does not directly relate to the other. Placing unnecessary restrictions for corporate comfort does not benefit the industry, it hinders it.
Later the CFDA updated their guidelines to encourage designers and agencies against runway use of models younger than 16. Taking a different approach from the strict enforcement IMG used, the CFDA allowed designers to ultimately make their own decisions.
When Marc Jacobs received backlash for his blatant casting of Thairine Garcia and Ondria Hardin, who were 14 and 15 at the time, he made multiple points that challenged the logic behind the dismissal of underage modeling. “I do the show the way I think it should be, and not the way somebody tells me it should be,” Mr. Jacobs said. “If their parents are willing to let them do a show, I don’t see any reason that it should be me who tells them that they can’t.” Jacobs continued to challenge criticism by acknowledging the universal use of child actors and child models for catalogs and runways, which is no difference to his use of young models.
Beyond the controversial associations, the professional integrity and moral upholding of the general public seems to be pushed more than the creative freedom of both the designer and the model. If there is parental consent and personal interest, should public responsibility supersede creative rights?
Understanding opposing perspectives, the issue doesn’t rest on the singularity of age but the territory that comes with the profession. “This is the day that modeling moved from being a girls’ profession to a women’s profession,” said Susan Scafidi, the academic director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University. “There is no doubt models who have started at 14 have gone on to great careers, but it’s just too young to be subjected to this industry.” The CFDA also noted their suggested age guideline stemmed from the belief that at age 16, models are more likely to have the maturity to deal with being rejected by designers or treated disrespectfully by photographers. Promising to aid in the structuring of mentorship programs and healthy backstage environments, the real matter isn’t the age of the model, but the conditions in which their industry promotes them to work in.