Why Are 13-Year-Olds Modeling Adult Clothing?

Last week, Cindy Crawford’s 13-year-old daughter Kaia Gerber made her modeling “debut” in no less than two publications. The first, an editorial spread for Vogue Italia, was in black and white and shot by the legendary photographer Steven Meisel. Then she appeared in shots released early from ex-Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld’s magazine CR Fashion Book.

While there’s no disputing Cindy Crawford’s daughter’s beauty and poise, the question is: what is a 13-year-old doing advertising women’s clothing in a magazine that isn’t aimed at teens?

The black and white photo shoot, which coincided with the news that Kaia had signed with IMG Models, is tasteful and Kaia is dressed in chunky coats and even a tie. However, in one shot for CR Fashion Book, Kaia is lying on a bed, and it has a distinct sexual undertone that I think is incredibly dangerous for a 13-year-old to be tapping into.

My issue is that in glorifying the beauty of Crawford’s barely-in-her-teens daughter, not only are we suggesting that the stunning Crawford (49) is too old to model herself, but it also puts even more pressure on women to maintain their youthful looks. Something that is impossible. Why is youth considered the prime factor in beauty when age experience and character are not?

My other question is: what are we saying when a 13-year-old is posed lying down, staring down a lens, her lips moist, her eyes in a come hither gaze? Is this acceptable? In a society where daughters can buy the same figure-hugging swimsuits as their moms and makeup designed for the under 10 crowd, are we not sexualizing children long before they come of age?

The shot of Kaia with her older brother Presley looks far more innocent. Obviously, with a mother as savvy as supermodel Crawford, Kaia will be well-versed in the pitfalls of the fashion industry and will no doubt be shielded from any of the more unsavory elements that other young models have encountered. But is it right that a 13-year-old is advertising adult clothing? Wouldn’t this be a different fish entirely if it was in Teen Vogue or some other teen magazine?

In fact, Kaia has modeled before: in 2012, she was the face of Versace’s children’s line. Previously in 2006, Kaia also modeled children’s bikinis by Melissa Odabash. At the time, the shots caused an outcry, as the then 5-year-old was shot topless, staring over her shoulder with a temporary tattoo on her lower back. Crawford naturally defended her choice for her child, saying it was just a “fun photo shoot.” Yet the pics were quickly deleted from Melissa Odabash’s website.

Crawford, after all, began modeling at the age of 16, with Elite taking her on their books at 17. In the past, Crawford expressed that she’d like her daughter to wait until she’s 17 to begin following in her footsteps, but it seems she has changed her mind. Kaia told Teen Vogue late last year: “She doesn’t want me to start a career too young. She started modeling when she was 16, but that world is very different now.”

Yes, it is wildly different from the days when Cindy started out. Images in the press are no longer “today’s news, tomorrow’s fish and chip papers” — they’re online and will remain there indefinitely. Photos that appear on the Internet are accessible to everyone, so surely there’s a need for greater caution than ever before when it comes to what images of our kids are available on the Internet or social media?

I’m not for a minute suggesting that Crawford doesn’t have her daughter’s best interests at heart. In fact, Crawford, who was the highest paid model in the world at one time in her career, would no doubt ensure her daughter was photographed by trusted and experienced professional photographers in the safest of all environments.

But just as 16-year-old Lily-Rose Depp has been announced as the latest Chanel ambassador, fronting the campaign for Karl Lagerfeld’s Pearl eyewear collection, it feels like we are casting aside the stunning moms (Lily-Rose’s mother Vanessa Paradis has been a longtime face of the brand) for the much lauded prize of youth. What about letting kids just be kids, instead of letting them walk into the lion’s den that is international fame and celebrity?

Perhaps these kids, having grown up with paparazzi trailing their every move, are used to it. But it feels like the incredible beauty of these girls’ moms is no longer “in vogue” (excuse the pun) and instead, the fashion set has simply traded them in for their younger counterparts.

How depressing. Beauty isn’t just for the young and the thin. Nor should we be trying to shove teenage girls into womanly attire or makeup that a clown would balk at. It’s time we found a new set of beauty rules — where face lines, cellulite, stretch marks, and saggy bits are all acceptable. But with a beauty industry worth billions, all telling us to buy XYZ creams for the promise of eternal youth, I doubt they’ll be changing the ages of their models any time soon.

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