When in 2011 the 17 year old actress Dakota Fanning posed for a perfume campaign shot by Juergen Teller for Marc Jacobs, many adults raised their eyebrows at the result. She sits holding a bottle of the ‘Lola!’ perfume in between her legs, looks straight at the camera in an almost beckoning manner, and has her delicate prom dress hiked up to expose her pale thighs. The advert was eventually banned in Britain for ‘sexualising children’ - but why would a creative director approve this advert in the first place? It would seem that innocence, for companies, is bliss.
The idea of virginal, natural beauty may be one that stretches back millennia to when vestal virgins embodied the purity of the goddess of the hearth. But in today’s fashion industry, it is one that risks exploiting children and sexualising them in imagery - all for the sake of making sales. This ‘shock-tactic’ is employed repeatedly by companies who crave the extra media attention and can now get millions of individuals talking about them via social networking sites. This implication that only ‘pure’ and childlike features are beautiful is just as damaging to grown women, who could be encouraged to regard their daughters with a sense of jealousy. The notion that the ageing process leads to a loss of beauty is also a contemporary idea, where ‘growing old gracefully’ has been replaced with a battle against time manifested in the multi-billion anti-ageing cosmetics industry. This new attitude to youth means that girls are idealised and seen as ‘in their prime’ earlier than they can fully form adult bodies, and opinions. This phenomenon can also spawn a worrying attitude in men, who could increasingly feel justified in their sexualisation of young girls.
Above: Controversially young 13 year old model Thylane Blondeau (she was 10 at the time of this shoot) poses in Vogue for an adult fashion editorial. She has recently been featured in other ‘adult’ publications such as Jalouse Magazine and S Moda. Furthermore this sexualisation, in spite of how implicit it may be, will serve as a ‘normal’ perception for of the young for childrens and adults alike who now think nothing of seeing sparkly bras for prepubescent girls hanging in their local supermarkets. The concept of the ‘Lolita’ has now become a worldwide fashion trend, and thus shed it’s perception of being borderline pedophilic.
Whether or not the physical practice of using young female models in adverts and fashion shows is morally sound, I would argue that a lot of importance should be accorded to the concept and overall look of the final shoot. Children’s clothing catalogues need to be made - and yet there is a certain spectrum of poses, clothing and photographic angles that can be seen as acceptable.
The difficulty with quantifying a border between exploitation and art when it comes to using children, is that they are essentially unable to consent to anything. Even if their consent is given, the understanding that accompanies that decision might not be there. As a child I thought wearing a ‘sexy princess’ sparkly pink top was rightfully pointing out how glamorous and girly I wanted to be, but looking back at it reveals a sexualised motto that I don’t believe should be sold to 8 year olds as aspirational! Sadly, fashion will always be an industry that exploits and courts controversial imagery, and without the proper precautions put in place to protect the best interests of children and indeed help to mould the public perception of youth in a positive light, will continue to do so unchallenged.
I'm Lou, a business owner living in Newcastle. I founded the curated fashion marketplace for Vintage and Preloved, TrendListr.com. Can I count 'cats' as an interest/passion? Because they definitely should be.