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“Youth and sex sell baby,” designer Charlie Brown.

This week’s Sunday Life (an insert with the Sun Herald) was a dedicated fashion issue. I was particularly keen to read the “Rewind, 1999” article on designer Charlie Brown’s decision to use plus size model Sophie Dahl (a size 14) for her 1999 fashion show – had it been motivated by a desire to offer women real alternatives? How much has changed now in the industry – would such a move still be considered shocking?

The answers were simply sad.

Ms Brown’s only motivation was to get exposure for her brand, “I knew she would interest the public and the press….(it) brought me lots of attention.” Was she concerned that the media had been so rude to Dahl; one journalist had the hide to ask her “…what was it like to be a freak in the fashion industry?” Only in as far as it may have impacted on her own show -“I wasn’t very happy either because they asked (Sophie) this five minutes before the show started.” 

What did the gorgeous Dahl make of this event? Ms Brown tells us Sophie spent the trip ” …fighting her own shit about her weight…she pushed a lot of lettuce leaves around.”  

Why I am shocked at the insensitivity and overt and unabashed exploitation of a young and obviously vulnerable woman? This same designer produced a range of t-shirts last season that boasted “Trophy Wife” and made the much criticised decision when she hooked up with partner Danny to set up another home across the road so her own 11 year old daughter could live there with a Nanny and not with them. Perhaps there may be more to this parental decision than meets the eye, and I hate getting into the judgement game with other women as no-one wins it, but surely that seems insensitive too? Yet despite knowing this background, I still find the complete lack of empathy and respect shocking.

And so to Charlie Brown’s proclamation that “Youth and sex sell baby.” Can’t argue with that – and Sophie certainly caught on to the latter when she made the infamous advertisement below for Opium perfume. Strike a pose indeed…

Sophi and Opium…strike a pose!

Recent events at a Gold Coast Fashion week highlight that our obsession with youth is also getting dangerously out of hand. The Queensland fashion festival has been accused of child exploitation after choosing a 12-year-old girl as the face of the event.

The selection of Year 8 student Maddison Gabriel, as ambassador of the first Gold Coast Fashion Week has sparked condemnation from within and outside the modelling industry. Maddison’s mother and organisers of the Gold Coast show have defended the move, she said Maddison, who turns 13 this weekend, had wanted to model for years but had been forced to wait until she was considered old enough.

“I’m very proud and excited for her,” she said. “Some 12-year-olds are very young but I think Maddison is a woman in her own right. The judges themselves didn’t know how old she was. They just saw her as a model against other women.”

Models this young should be protected, she may well be mature but this particular “playground” is notoriously nasty and would challenge even the most worldly of girls. It certainly damaged 22 year old Sophie Dahl who, not long after her trip to Australia’s Fashion week, dramatically lost a lot of weight and sparked concerns for her health. However, I also think there are broader implications that are equally as alarming.

The reality is that Maddison will not be the only one at risk here. The fashion parade is an adults event, the audience are adult women and the clothes are aimed at women not small girls. Every women watching the fashion show will inevitably start to compare themselves to Maddison ( “Gee…my thighs don’t look that great actually…maybe I can’t get away with this look… oh I guess if I dieted hard enough I could shave a few centimetres before summer…”). WHY would a prepubescent girl be selected to model clothing designed to sell to women?

Society is becoming obsessed with youth – and this is not just hurting women as they desperately try to turn back the clock, but our children, who are being put forward as the desirable ideal. Rush and La Nauze’s 2006 Report “Corporate Paedophilia, the Sexualisation of Children in Australia” gives a disturbing account of how showing images of young girls dressed as sexual adults feeds men who prey on young girls – it “feeds them”.

Maddison should do herself (and every other women and girl) a favour and strut and pout around home for a while first. Surely there is time later in her career for modelling women’s clothing…

Published inAdvertisingBeauty IndustryBody ImageFashion IndustrySexualisation of children

7 Comments

  1. kelliemack

    what a shame Charlie Brown wasted this opportunity to say something positive!

  2. I’m shocked at your report about Maddison and the Gold Coast Fashion Week event. This is unfortunate and sad from so many angles – and frustrating to think that a parent can’t see the damage that this can have on a young mind.

  3. It is my understanding that Melbourne Fashion Week won’t accept models under 16 years of age, perhaps this should be a national standard?

  4. Francesca

    I really share your frustration with the fashion industry’s obsession with youth. Maddison is 12, barely a teenager let alone a woman. If I was to watch her strut down the catwalk it would not inspire me to buy the garment. Her youth would be so obvious and really quite distracting to me. What might some women around her be thinking as she struts past- ”I really should reconsider botox.”, “…time for a facelift.”, “ …fat injections to the cheeks…”, “What did that dress look like again?!” It is such a shame that there is so much media pressure for girls to go from Bambi to Bombshell.

  5. Lucinda

    It is a real worry when the messages we send young women are related to their looks and body size rather than on their achievements. It would be more useful to show women of all shapes and sizes and show that we are all beautiful …..inside and out!

  6. I was outraged when I read this and what I found even more disturbing was Madison’s mother stating that she was a mature 12 year old. At this age, as Danni states, she should be enjoying the ‘playground’ with girls not adults.

    On Difference of Opinion next week on the ABC, Sept 27th at 9.30pm, they are presenting an episode on the sexualisation of children in the media for all interested. It is titled “Sex Sells – but at what cost to our kids?” Lock it into your diary!! I have cut and paste the following blurb from the website;

    “Are we sexualising kids and young women through ads, magazines, video clips and popular culture? It’s claimed eating disorders and body dissatisfaction amongst young women are now at plague proportions. Popular culture is being blamed for these developments, but is the issue more complex, and indeed worth getting worried about? Are we overreacting to a cultural shift and being naïve about young teens ability to see past the sexy ads and billboards and decide what’s right from wrong?”

    If you are unable to watch it you can download the podcast the following day.

  7. Thanks for the tip Sonia! Will be watching. 🙂

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