dressed up like a lady: The Adolescent Look in High Fashion Modeling

Oct 26, 2011

The Adolescent Look in High Fashion Modeling

There was a great post yesterday on Fashion by He about the disturbing number of what appear to be underage girls showing up on the fashion community Lookbook.nu. I started to write out a comment about why I don't find this surprising, but quickly realized that I was writing a post-length response. So why don't I just subject you to my thoughts right here?

I feel like a discussion about girls who are potentially inappropriately young being marketed to and possibly exploited in the world of fashion is one that goes WAY beyond the policing of a single fashion site. This is a basic matter of what the women who are used to sell fashion already look like. Clearly there's a massive pull in high fashion modeling for pubescent features.

You can see the trajectory for this demand pretty easily if you look at the flagship models who've made the most money and gotten the most name recognition over the past 20 years. 

In the early 90's, Christy Turlington and the other Glamazons represented the epitome of high fashion beauty -- with womanly bodies and knowing expressions. 

By the mid-90's, Kate Moss became the epitome -- with a much more lean body and comparatively child-esque face, with enlarged eyes and a comparatively blank expression.

By the time you get to the reigning popularity of Gemma Ward, you're dealing with a model whose face is downright cherubic in its roundness, with huge, anime-esque eyes, and an extremely thin physique. 
Don't get me wrong, I love Kate Moss and Gemma Ward. They photograph beautifully, pose with extreme skill, and transform fluidly from one look to another. That's why they're supermodels. But you can see how the desirable features that the fashion industry is looking for have skewed very young. So it's not surprising to me that younger and younger women are bound to identify with high fashion -- marketing wise, it would appear to a 12 year old girl that high fashion is meant for her. 

But of course, it often shouldn't be, not when its inherent themes are overly sexualized, or even simply overly adult. The development of little girls and young women into adulthood is supposed to include a proportionate amount of what I think you might call "being a kid." In addition to it being damaging to a girl's developing sexuality, identity, and feelings of self worth, it's also just plain unfair for a kid to be deprived of precious moments in life where the structures and strictures of beauty, body, and style do not yet apply. Every girl deserves the right to arrive at and own her sexuality on her own terms, but I tend to think the same right applies to adulthood in general.

However, I have little to offer in terms of remedying this situation, as far as the fashion industry is concerned. Aside from petitioning for Giselle to do more fashion work.


  1. Very well thought out and written. I have often found myself wondering how Cindy Crawford worked for so long considering she looks SO different compared to todays standards of beauty. It's as though in my late 20's I have aged out of what is considered beautiful so where does that leave us as women?

    Should I not feel sexy even though I have more right now than ever to evoke that emotion? Just some thoughts raised by your post...thank you.

  2. could not agree with you more...no changing the modelling world...but if a website can hold off 12 year old girls from posting pictures..they probably should

    -He approves

    Fashion by He

  3. I highly recommend you check out the film Miss Representation: http://missrepresentation.org/

    Women have 86% of the purchasing power in the U.S. I have this crazy dream that we *can* actually change the fashion industry if we use our power as consumers to make fashion and our standards of beauty more inclusive.

  4. I am not a fan of lookbook nu, mostly because of the young age marketing they seem to do- there's great looks on there of course, but do I want to hang with 12 year olds? Nope.

    Marie @ Lemondrop ViNtAge
    I'm having a giveaway...


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