Will you buy what the kids are selling?

Dakota Fanning for Marc Jacobs Lola perfume

 

There has been a lot of controversy lately surrounding the use of very young actresses as the faces of campaigns for everything from makeup to perfume to high end designer clothing. Dakota Fanning was the cover girl for a Marc Jacobs campaign at the age of 12, and now at the age of 17 she is the face of his Lola perfume ads. Her younger sister Elle (13) is showcasing his Marc by Marc Jacobs line. 14 year-old Hailee Steinfeld, best known for her Oscar nominated role in True Grit was the face of the 2011 Miu Miu campaign. 15 year-old Chloe Moretz (Kick Ass) has just been named the MaxMara 2012 face of the future and is doing an advertising campaign for them. 19 year-old Emma Watson has been doing campaigns for Burberry since 2009. Using young celebrities in advertising isn’t a new concept. In 1980, a 14 year-old Brooke Shields was the young centerfold in Calvin Klein jean ads, alongside the very suggestive logo “Nothing gets between me and my Calvins”. However the number of underage girls in the media seems to be increasing, and their age decreasing. Also, with the technology of today, media reaches a much broader demographic of people. It is hard to believe there is any race, culture, economic class, religion or age of person who is not affected by advertising today.

Hailee Steinfeld for Miu Miu

 

It is true that a lot of models are ‘discovered’ at a very young age, sometimes as young as 13 or 14. They can be doing runway shows and booking fashion shoots while still going through puberty. But let’s face it. When you see a stream of models walking down a runway, one angular, expressionless girl after another, you can’t really distinguish a teenager from a 25 year-old.  No one has any of the features that distinguish them as women, such as breasts or hips. These girls and women are alike in their androgeny. Case in point: one of the biggest models in the runway world right now is Andrej Pejic, a gorgeous Serbian who has walked numerous high-end women’s runway shows this last season. He is a man. Looking at him in the stream of other models, one would never guess he was any different from any of the female models on the runway. It is bizarre that designers believe their clothing looks best on women who look nothing like women at all, but instead like prepubescent children.

So why is hiring very young celebrities for designer ad campaigns any different? First, my soapbox: In general, I think that the modeling world is very hard on young girls, and when a teenager is put in a position where her success is based solely on how she looks, it can set her up for a lot of disappointment, rejection, and self-esteem issues. It can also send the wrong message to girls regarding what is really important. But if a parent wants to allow her daughter to model at a young age, I think it is important to look at the appropriateness of each job with respect to what that girl is selling and how she is selling it. It’s appropriate for a teenager to model a teen clothing line. If a teenager is modeling for an adult line and she is made up to look like an adult as many teens can, it may be appropriate as long as she is not placed in inappropriately adult or sexualized poses. When it comes to celebrities, these girls are household names. People are aware that they are young, underage girls, so automatically people are going to question the appropriateness of hiring them for adult clothing lines, even if they are made up to look older. The reality is that for a lot of these campaigns these girls are purposely painted and posed in order to highlight their youth and innocence. They are put in pretty dresses, or in silly, childish poses. In some of the more sinister photos, such as the Lola perfume ads featuring Dakota Fanning, there is a juxtaposition of Dakota’s youthfulness with her ‘sexuality’ where she is sitting in a cute frilly dress looking innocently at the camera, holding the bottle of perfume with a large flower top in between her legs. There are other ads that use a similar juxtaposition showing extremely youthful celebrities wearing very adult clothing and posed in a very adult manner. The Lola perfume ad was banned in the UK for sexualizing a child. The company that makes the perfume, Coty, responded that it did not feel the perfume was inappropriately sexualized because Fanning is over the age of consent (16), and also because no body parts and no sexual activity is shown. To them, the ad is “provoking, but not indecent”. Hmm. A Miu Miu ad featuring Hailee Stenfeld was also banned in the UK because it showed her wearing a very short skirt and sitting on a train track. It was banned not for the skirt, but because it showed the child in a hazardous or dangerous situation. They are referring to the railway track and not the fact she is 14 and already a sex object.

Casting a celebrity for an ad campaign is very different from hiring a beautiful yet unidentifiable model. When hiring a model, the designer is only looking for the person whom they feel will best showcase the brand. Is she beautiful? Will the clothes look great on her? When hiring a celebrity, that person will be recognizable to the general public. Celebrities have predetermined reputations to take into account, and designers have to additionally think about whether the person will affect the integrity or image of the brand. Often that is why celebrities are used, to reach their vast number of fans and help to expand the brand’s consumer base. One has to wonder what a designer is thinking when he decides to hire a child for a women’s clothing campaign. What message is it designed to send, and what message are women receiving? I can only speak for myself, and when I see a 14 year-old in a dress on a billboard, it doesn’t make me want to go out and buy that dress. It might make me say “Awwwwwww…”, but I don’t know any 30 year-old women who want to show up at a party in the same dress as their 15 year-old niece. Are these designers then trying to reach out to a younger client base? Are they trying to expand to the preteen/teen crowd? This could be a risky move. While these starlets will likely attract the attention of girls in this age range, I don’t know that a lot of them will have the allowance to purchase the digs from Marc Jacobs, Miu Miu, or  Burberry. The demographic most likely to buy these brands would relate much better to actresses that have been in movies that do not begin with Twi and end in light. Many women who covet these labels may not even know who these younger stars are, and therefore would not be swayed by their use in ads. It has been suggested that a reason for using such young stars in ads is because our culture is obsessed with youth. There may be some truth to that. But I certainly have no desire to relive my teenage years. Looking at a girl in an ad campaign who is 13-17 years of age doesn’t make me think: “Oh, to be young again”. It makes me think: “That poor girl, she doesn’t know what’s going to hit her”. (I mean emotionally, as in those hard teenage years, not literally, as in that train that is apparently going to hit Ms. Steinfeld on the railway track). Show me a 20 year-old in an ad with gorgeous, wrinkle-free, flawless skin, hair that shines, and a radiant, youthful glow, and yes, I’ll buy what she’s selling. I may even get the urge to run to the next Botox clinic. But when I see a kid gyrating against a bottle of perfume in a magazine? I just want to call her mother.

Chloe Moretz for Max Mara

 

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One Response to “Will you buy what the kids are selling?”

  1. Rian Says:

    This is an interesting topic. People are naturally drawn to contrasts–the crossroad of sexuality and innocence is compelling, sure (and totally natural–a 15 year old is a sexual being already)– but that doesn’t mean we should be promoting and fetishizing it in the media. Dakota Fanning, for instance, is old enough to do what she wants. But the issue with her ad is that she looks much younger than she is. You could easily mistake her for a 12 year old, which is why the ad was banned. And shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras” are taking things to a whole new, disgusting level. The bottom line is that we’re brainwashed into thinking (super) young and skinny is the pinnacle of beauty. We don’t stage protests or stop buying the clothes because we’ve been exposed to these images over and over again. We think they are normal. That’s why it’s important to have conversations like this one. Nice job, Kendra. I really like your blog!

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