Posted by Tina Karimi
Tuesday, March 06, 2012 08:00 PM EST
Marc Jacobs violated the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s guidelines against using models under the age of sixteen when he featured two fourteen-year-old girls in his Autumn-Winter 2012 show during New York Fashion Week.
Far from showing any kind of sheepishness over being caught, Jacobs brushed off the subsequent slew of criticism. “I do the show the way I think it should be and not the way somebody tells me it should be,” he said. “There are children actors and children models for catalogs and stuff, so I guess if a parent thinks it’s okay and a kid wants to do it, it’s fine.”
Ondira Hardin at Marc Jacobs, Autumn-Winter 2012
Courtesy: Vladimir Potop
Fair enough. But it must be said, Marc, child stars are not exactly known for being incredibly well-adjusted later in life. We can all rattle off the names of kids who went off the rails due to the pressures of holding such bizarre, high-profile jobs at a young age, or received so much adulation that they are now totally out of touch with the real world. But that’s not really the issue here -- not the heart of it, at least. High fashion modeling is an entirely different beast.
Just look at the job title: model. You are literally presented as the prototype of the ideal woman. It doesn’t matter that you’re barely out of middle school, or that you may not have even hit puberty yet -- already, you have been branded, cast as physical perfection, and grown women are clamoring to turn back time and revert to their skinny pre-adolescent selves to resemble you. Maybe being in that position comes with a sense of power at first. The admiration, yes, it would please practically any young girl; it could go to your head too. Especially if you’ve been through rounds of meetings with agents and designers, enduring constant scrutiny, receiving “professional critiques” day in and day out as fashion moguls assess your height, the circumference of your waist, your facial features, and the shape of your bones. After that, you might relish the other side of the attention, which manifests itself in the yearning of the girls who marvel at you and the boys who gaze at your catwalk pictures (yes, BOYS; maybe you were a stunner in school or perhaps they considered you gawky and awkward, but either way, they’re eating their hearts out now). But sooner or later, on some level, you realize that the person they adore isn't you. You’re just standing in for the true model. And she is someone you can never best, for while she is very real, she doesn't have a body of flesh and blood that can grow, change, feel, and falter.
The true model is an idea, constructed by the fashion industry, the media, the longing of every woman -- no matter how capable she is, how smart, how kind -- to be considered beautiful, and by men who want nice things. All these people have come to a degree of consensus on how the standard of beauty is defined. There must be some kind of set manufacturing procedures in this industry, after all, and the current prototype of beauty -- long and lean, sometimes artificially curvy “where it counts” -- is a stable product that can be packaged, sold in units, quantified. As long as you fit that imaginary girl’s measurements, you are one of the units; your own image can be bought and sold.
You’re fourteen. And according to Marc Jacobs, you’re unaffected.
The money, glamour, and perks help. Modeling is good “work” if you can get it, and keep it throughout your adolescence and maybe your twenties, possibly fighting your own body to keep it marketable. I think these guidelines represent the fashion industry’s grudging and reluctant concession to a small but guilty conscience. The professionals know that what we love about them -- their creativity, the fact that they produce art we can live in—isn’t the full story of their business. Unfortunately, they also trade in insecurities. The age requirements represent their attempt to try to shield the most vulnerable from a world that is so narrow, a waist an inch too wide can mean the end of a career. It’s unfair to subject young girls, who have enough to deal with as it is, to all this, and it’s heartbreaking for women to try to squeeze themselves into the size and shape of the so-called model for perfect beauty. I can’t say I see a definitive solution to this problem. But Marc Jacobs is certainly not helping.