Sep 14, 2007

A Model Argument

The naming this week of 12-year-old Maddison Gabriel as the “Face” of Gold Coast Fashion Week has prompted yet another outcry from the moral majority. In this case, it’s a fairly justifiable majority, as most sensible Australians object to the sexualisation of young girls, including this one.

You can feel a "but" coming, though, can't you?

Let me be quite frank. I loathe and despise the modeling industry. Some of the time it features beautiful clothes on beautiful bodies – both of which I could never afford. Most of the time it features ridiculous clothing on horrifying bodies – both of which I’m perfectly happy to live without. The fashion industry should be more responsible for the health of its models, and do more to encourage a wider range of fashions for those unfortunate enough to have developed breasts and hips.

That being said, the modeling and fashion industries are the whipping boys de jour, when really, the industry is so fake, fawning, self-congratulating and slimy that we’re fools for paying any attention to what they say about anything. Yet we gasp when something like this happens - when the industry openly flaunts its adoration of youth. The problem is the rest of us have that too, but try to pretend we don't. It's admirable and important that society sets boundaries around "childhood". But it also needs to recognise its genetic bias towards youth, rather than try to isolate the young from it. We live in a digital age, and it's near-impossible to maintain the unreality bubble around them. The best thing to do is accept our failings, try to improve them, and responsibly guide the next generation.

The modelling industry certainly has great potential to be damaging to young women, and I would certainly advise young Morgan to tread carefully. But aren't the problems of eating disorders, body image issues and drug & alcohol abuse prevalent in the acting and music industries, not to mention sport? The potentially corrupting influences on children extend far beyond the catwalks.

But back to the essential issue with Morgan – her age. She turns 13 on Sunday. Kate Moss had her first magazine cover at 13. We love to judge Morgan’s parents for allowing her to pursue this dream so young, but how are we to know the inner dynamics of her family? Perhaps they have discussed the issue thoroughly, and have agreed that one of them will always be present with her at shows and photo shoots, and they will have final say on what she wears. Perhaps she has agreed to commit to achieving a certain academic standard at school in order to be allowed to model. I’m not trying to praise them, simply to say every family is different, and maybe they’ve chosen this path because it’s the right one for them at the moment.

If they try to “JonBenet” Morgan, then hell yes, I’ve got serious concerns. There’s nothing more terrifying than those teeny pageant girls in the trowelled-on mascara. But from the photos published in papers and online today, she looks like a pretty young girl “dressed up”. Yes, it’s a generalization, but most girls like to dress up. Yes, just because she looks 20 does not make it OK. But had nobody said anything, would we have been conducting ID checks? Had the announcement simply been “This is Morgan, model contest winner”, would we have thought “Outrageous! It simply will not do!”. We might have thought “She looks a bit young”, but we would have assumed a competition like that would have had an age requirement of at least 16 or more, and we would have carried on with our day.

If any freak wanting to get his rocks off had happened upon the picture, he would have been satiating his desires over a young girl he would have thought was in her mid to late teens, not thirteen. But chances are, if he was a paedophile, he might find uglier, sicker and all-round abhorrent places online to find images to his liking. Worse still, he might find the little girl next door, or his niece, or his daughter. The irony is, that if anything, this publicity has simply piqued the freak interest in Morgan. For that, I am truly outraged.

Based on a suggestion from Kiesten.

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