Earlier this week, Chanel announced that Ondria Hardin is its new face of spring 2013. On the surface that sounds like exciting news but there’s one caveat: she’s a spring chicken. Hardin, 15, has been a poster child of the underage model controversy since she was 13 when she shot her first Prada campaign. Then in February, she made more headlines when she walked in Marc Jacob’s show (shown above) at age 14. While she certainly isn’t the first girl this industry has tried to pass off as a woman, this stands as a striking reminder that she won’t be the last.
For a while, the future was looking bright and healthy for models. In 2007, the Council of Fashion Designers of America introduced a Health Initiative that promoted healthy model standards. The principle outlined a code of ethics for designers, including this one geared toward age:
Support the well-being of younger individuals by not hiring models under the age of sixteen for runway shows; not allowing models under the age of eighteen to work past midnight at fittings or shoots; and providing regular breaks and rest. (Consult the applicable labor laws found at www.labor.state.ny.us when working with models under sixteen.)
But it was merely a suggestion that designers could take or leave, and thus little changed. Then in June, all 19 international editors of Vogue announced the Vogue Health Initiative, which banned the use of underage models in their magazines. Unfortunately they couldn’t even play by their own rules: Vogue China used Hardin in its August issue while Vogue Japan used 14-year-old Thairine Garcia for its upcoming December issue, according to The Daily Beast.
This isn’t the first rodeo for underage models. As Jezebel recently pointed out, supermodel Carmen Dell’Orefice was only 13 when she was discovered in 1944 and landed on the cover of Vogue two years later. And let’s not forget Brooke Shields’s controversial “Nothing” ad for Calvin Klein jeans when she was 15. What’s more, just last year, 15-year-old Valerija Sestic walked in 16 runway shows during fashion month, after her agency admittedly lied about her age. Despite her being a child, she took the catwalk during the Ports 1961 show in a sheer dress that exposed her left breast. She had to sit out London Fashion Week because they actually adhere to their policies, but then it was business as usual in Milan.
The implications here are endless: kids playing dress up, the objectification of girls, warped senses of beauty, and on and on and on. The Fair Labor Standards Act — i.e. child labor law — doesn’t really protect underage models because of its various exceptions (which is also the case for child actors), so they seem to slip through the cracks. Thus, we are left to self govern, but that doesn’t really seem to be working out, does it?
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Image: Model Ondria Hardin/Peter Michael Dills/Getty Images