Friday, 8 February 2013

The Fetishisation of Youth in Fashion

This is an issue that comes back again and again, but I felt that the time was right for it, having just read Lolita and also after Rachel Ramirez posted this amusing article on Thought Catalog. Before I begin I'd like to say that I don't know everything about this issue and I know it's a delicate one. I'll preface my own opinions with a 'personally' or similar.

What I found most disturbing about Nabakov's masterpiece was not simply the subject matter, but the description of young girls and particularly what aspects of them the protagonist finds attractive. Many of these struck me as attributes which tend to be considered beautiful by today's society: her lack of hair on her legs, her soft skin, and her undeveloped boyish shape.

Models are getting younger all the time. Controversy flared up around Thylane Blondeau in 2011 when, at the age of ten, she posed for French Vogue in poses and outfits which were decidedly adult. While her case seemed to particularly shock the world, she was not that far off in age from some girls making their runway debuts that season. I remember a flurry of blog posts at the time discussing the morality of using such a young model in the shoot. Some defended it as a piece of art, others quickly condemned it, but the majority agreed that it might have worked if it had been more like a girl dressing in her mother's clothes, but as it was, the shoot became unsettling. Whatever your opinion, it certainly highlighted an obsession which the fashion industry has with youth.

This obsession has two different problems associated with it. The first one is that in pursuit of this aesthetic, young girls are going to be put within an adult context and judged by mature concepts of 'beauty'. More and more young models are being used to show clothes off to their best advantage, because they have that thin boyish shape which seems to be so sought after by designers. Personally I don't see much of a problem if girls want to start working early, since it's a very similar case to that of young actors. However, a line needs to surely be drawn, because getting a pre-teen involved in the strange and stressful world of the fashion industry is not a good idea. Most magazines won't use girls under 16, but they many are often picked up by model agencies at about 14 in order to ensure that that agency is the first to 'discover' them. I see no problem with an interest in fashion at a young age, since I myself have been writing this blog since I was 15 and was reading fashion magazines well before that. It's just a question of how young is too young to begin working in the industry, especially when the job involves tremendous pressure on looking a certain way.

On the other side of things, as models get younger and other factors like airbrushing allow for an ever more youthful look on the front cover of every fashion magazine, so followers of fashion feel that they must go to extreme lengths to achieve this look. Of course this has been going on for thousands of years; the ancient Greeks valued the pale skin of a young woman above the weathered skin of an older one. Furthermore it's perfectly understandable to want to regain something of one's youth. It's just that there comes a point when it can appear somewhat...well...creepy for an adult woman to want to look like a little girl.

The problem seems to lie in the fact that the current silhouette in fashion is the 'boyish' look which, while there is nothing wrong with it, necessitates the use of young models. It also means there is a lack of celebration for other looks which lend themselves more naturally to adults. This is a fairly recent phenomenon. In the 1950s, models were usually grown women wearing clothes which emphasised the kind of figure one only has after puberty, thanks in part to Christian Dior's 'New Look'. Of course, their flawless make-up and impossibly tiny waists still made the look somewhat unattainable, but that will always be a part of fashion; it's something to aspire to. However, there is always the opportunity to take a look at what kind of image we are glorifying and reflect on the extremes to which people will go to attain it. If aspects of youth continue to be celebrated, are we not in danger of forgetting the kind of beauty which comes with maturity?

Please do share your opinions on this, I'd love to hear them.


Shug Avery said...

Quite interesting article.

A few months ago, I wrote a piece on my blog after watching the video clip "Settle Down" by Kimbra and made a parallel with the photo you put in your article.

Though at that time I didn't push my reflection further, I think you tackle a great issue which is the acceptance of maturity in the fashion industry and in general, in life. Fashion and especially women's is giving us an image of eternal youth. To me it seems like embracing age, maturity is more accepted when looking at male models (and men in real life)since some who are catwalking are in their 40's sometimes. I do feel like even in a field like fashion, there is a categorization of the woman. A woman should be like this or like that whereas for men it doesn't seem to be the case.
I think we should be more careful about the images fashion are conveying since consciously or inconsciously we are influenced by them.

Shug Avery of Incognito

Khadijat said...

I totally agree with you and Shug Avery. Not only is this piece well written, its really well thought out. Its interesting that little girls need to look older, but older women need to look younger, and everyone needs to look to be between the ages of 17 and 23. It may also follow that fashion is portrayed as very carefree, allowing the wearer to do whatever they want, whenever they want, especially with the rise of impracticality in such aspects as shoes. This is the age range where one has no responsibilities, and can wear impractical things for no good reason.
Interesting point Shug brings up about the difference between males and females when it comes to aging, and that should be further explored soon.

Morwen Anjelais said...

This post is amazingly well thought out and well-written. You raise some very important points about today's society and what is considered "beautiful" on a grown woman. I personally have the child-like boyish look - but mostly because I suffered from malnutrition as a child. As I've grown older, I've learned to love my body (and the fact that my body type is "in" did help), but I also have an almost jealous appreciation of strong, curvy, womanly figures. I will never have the privilege of looking physically strong, healthy, and womanly. I think our society definitely needs to appreciate mature beauty much more, especially in fashion.

Pardon My Fashion said...

I prefer a WO-MAN to a little girl. To me, a little girl is just...boring. She hasn't lived, so what story does she have to tell? The fashion industry is just OBSESSED with you, but maybe that school of thought is dying out, and our generation won't be so into that? I take every fashion image I see with a grain of's just a fantasy. Great post...killin' it!


Swati Ailawadi said...

A very well written piece. I read the article on Thought Catalog too, just to be sure of the context. While Rachel there has of course expressed herself in a humorous way, you have delved into the seriousness of the subject. I, by no means support the whole fascination with youth either. And as far as a particular body frame is concerned, I am sad there are standards due to which perfectly beautiful people feel inadequate. And even the balance is unfairly tipped towards the young, when I read Advanced Style, and about other people aging maturely.... I just can't wait to reach there. ( I sit just me? ) because being young and fashionable is everywhere.... being old ( err mature? )and daring and fashionable.... now that's a combination I love.

Agree with Shug too, the standards are so relaxed for men. But I hope more and more of us could concentrate on the images that bring us happiness and not the ones which make us feel insufficient, regardless of what visuals are being thrown at us by a money hungry industry at all times.

A very excited new follower you have here on bloglovin :)

Swati @ The Creative Bent

Unknown said...

No, no and no. CHildren are meant to symbolize purity, not be dressed in high heels, wearing sexy dresses and not to mention make-up. Although the picture above might seem nice, it's horrifying to even think that I might have a daughter that at the age of 10 would pose like this.

It's nothing different form Toddlers and Tiaras ( maybe except the kitsch)


Lauren@Styleseer said...

Good thought-provoking article. Congratulations on being featured in IFB's Links a la Mode.

The Photogramps said...

Great post. It is a bit disturbing, and such a broad subject someone could really write an entire thesis paper on it.

: Green Chic Life : said...

I love that you posted this! I remember when that ad spread came out and the crazy hype over it. I have no issue with kids getting into modeling while they were young, as I myself, modeled as a child, but when photographers, producers, agencies, etc. want to grow these children up by burying their perfect complexions in layers of makeup and lengthening them in high heels, I have a problem. Kids need to be kids. They grow up too quickly as it is. We don't need to see little Lolitas in our fashion magazines. We'll do just fine with grown women.

Kate said...

TOTALLY agree with this. Well-written and needed to be stated!

Kate from Clear the Way