STYLE

Do We Need To Ban Underage Models From Catwalk Shows?

28/02/2011 14:09 | Updated 22 May 2015

Oops. You could almost hear the collective sigh coming from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), the governing body of the fashion industry, as it emerged that their president, renowned designer Diane von Furstenberg, committed a major fashion faux-pas.

No, it wasn't a case of too many sequins on the catwalk. Von Furstenberg accidentally violated her own guidelines, issued to help regulate and protect models working in the fashion industry, by allowing an underage model, Hailey Clauson, to walk in her catwalk show during New York Fashion Week.

The CFDA guidelines were launched to help "change the aesthetic on the New York runways and in magazines from extreme thinness to a more realistic ideal," and were designed to encourage those in the fashion industry to ensure models were properly fed, keep the backstage environment healthy and smoke-free and make sure that girls under the age of 16 didn't walk in runway shows.

We know they're trying, but does it look like every model on the New York catwalks is bursting with health and old enough to go to a pub? Just asking.

Since realising her accidental faux-pas, von Furstenberg has publicly apologised to CFDA members in an email, saying that she is "horrified and embarrassed" that this happened and wants to change the casting process so that her casting agents demand IDs. We think she needs to go one step further if things are to change: Ban underage models from walking in shows.

Guidelines – at least these ones – are clearly meant only as suggestions. If the president of the CFDA can't enforce them, then what hope is there for everyone else? For the record, Clauson also walked for Oscar de la Renta, Donna Karan, Badgley Mischka, Herve Leger by Max Azria, Marc Jacobs, Jason Wu, Thakoon and others during NYFW. Maybe the casting agents for these designers tried to adhere to the guidelines, maybe they didn't even try. But really, if no one is bothering and or capable of enforcing them, then why should we expect anything to change? And it's time for things to change.

The CFDA may not want to "police" designers, but frankly, somebody has to. The fashion industry keeps pushing itself to these new extremes – of thinness, of youth, of the provocative (two of the leading models this season in terms of editorials, campaigns and general media obsession are a transgender model and a boy who looks like a very beautiful girl). In this industry, being too young, too thin and too hard to define is what makes you a success.

It's exhausting to constantly hear talk of change in the modelling world and see no results. "Curves are back," papers shout - heralded by "plus-size" models like Crystal Renn – and then it emerges that the model in question is actually (down to) a size 12.

We talk about designers making clothes for "real women," but we never actually see these alleged women walking down the catwalks. Mostly, we see prepubescent girls. Enforcing an age limit is at least the first step in not only supporting and protecting the models in question, but in creating a wider-reaching vision of what it's acceptable to look like in our society. I'm not saying 16-year-olds are women – far from it – but designers have to start somewhere.

There is no need for what designer Michael Kors has dubbed an "army of children" to be marching down the catwalks. Sixteen is plenty young (um, aren't most of us supposed to happy just watching Skins and waiting for our first kiss at that age?) and if the model a designer is desperate for hasn't reached that age yet, the designer can wait a season or two. If there were legal repercussions for using girls who were underage, then maybe people in the industry would start to listen.

Guidelines are great, but they will always be compromised. Legislation is what the CFDA needs Influential figures in fashion also need to continue to challenge the status quo, and examine why the industry continues to perpetuate these warped images of what's fashionable.

Sure, kids playing dress-up is super cute. But trying to get a model who hasn't yet gone through puberty to walk in your show isn't. And the modelling industry may have great rewards to give, but disillusionment and lost innocence (not to mention a disregard for labour laws), aren't among them.

For all those 14-year-olds desperate to kick-start their careers on the high-fashion catwalks, you only have braces and awkward first kisses once. You can have fashion – and hopefully a positive experience from it – for the rest of your lives.

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