In the financially-strapped world of fashion, younger and younger girls are appearing in adult fashion ad campaigns.
A 10-year-old so-called "supermodel" recently graced the glossy pages of French Vogue, all dolled-up, suggestively positioned on a couch with a sultry stare. 13-year-old actress Elle Fanning posed for high-fashion designer Marc Jacobson, looking wise beyond her years as she glared vacantly into the camera clutching a purse. Her sister Dakota, at 17 an industry vet, is featured in an ad for Marc Jacobs’ new perfume “Oh Lola!” with the flower-blooming bottle positioned between her legs.
Then there’s 14-year-old Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfield sporting feminine ensembles as the model for the Miu Miu August/Winter 2011 campaign, and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” starlet Kendall Jenner inking a deal to become the face of Australian swimwear label Leah Madden's Summer 2012 campaign “Pirouette.” As for Prada’s fall campaign? It features a bevy of young beauties suggestively stroking their clothing. One of the models was reportedly 13 years old when the ads were shot.
So is it just plain creepy that fashion labels and magazines routinely use such young girls to market to an adult audience?
"The fashion industry shouldn't be using kids, tweens or teens in mature fashion campaigns because it sexualizes young girls in the name of art. Portraying young girls as fully sexualized adults obscures the fact that they are only 'posing' in adult roles,” pop culture expert Jessica Wakeman, blogger for TheFrisky.com told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “This contributes to a society that's desensitized to the inappropriateness of making little girls into Lolitas for the enjoyment of adult men. I question why young girls are dressed up like adults in revealing outfits, hair and makeup. Do the ad campaigns have nothing else going for them so that they have to resort to sensationalism?"
Former model turned “Cover Girl Culture” documentary filmmaker Nicole Clark says the trend borders on pedophilia, although that concept, while getting worse, is nothing new.
“Brooke Shields was only 14 when she appeared in the controversial CK ad of 1980. It garnered a great deal of press for CK and for her. This ‘shock and awe’ or pushing the envelope method is what drives the ad campaign world. The envelope has to be pushed further and further to get the same impact from audiences. Now we have this 10-year-old girl vamped up to appear as a woman, highly sexualized, and I can honestly say that anyone who backs these images is a pedophile, period. No other logic can explain why these images are acceptable,” she said. “Pedophilia is a mental illness – not a marketing tool! Again, Vogue is pulling the shock and awe stunt and it has worked. Perhaps this instance will push enough people into an outrage that something will get done to stop this mental illness from being glamorized.”
French Vogue could not be immediately reached for comment.
However, Los Angeles-based fashion and business reporter, Anne Riley-Katz, said that while such campaigns and couture-driven spreads do push boundaries, that doesn’t automatically make them distasteful.
“The creative and artistic direction in the fashion world is intended to be far afield from traditional commercial advertisement, often by being outrageous. The photographers, makeup artists and stylists will most certainly be adults, and for luxury and high fashion ads, will be very experienced – they want the best for the ads. Does that make them pedophiles? I would strongly disagree,” she said. “The ads make more of a statement. Whether that translates into sales for a luxury label is harder to measure, but it creates unmistakable - and valuable - brand awareness. There may be questionable innuendo in the ads, but short of pornography or something actually illegal, it's near impossible to regulate taste level.”
Clark disagrees, saying government regulation on models' ages and an amendment on advertising towards youth would be a big step in the right direction. For now, though, she says the onus is on parents to take control of what their young ones do.
“There are plenty of very kind, sweet people in the fashion world who haven't forgotten they make clothes and they love designing clothes, but they know their place in the world -- their egos are in check,” she added. “The true solution lies with parents and educators.They hold the keys.”