Kaia Gerber’s rise to the spotlight was nothing short of meteoric.
Mere days after turning 16 – the legal age limit for models walking on the catwalk – the lookalike daughter of Cindy Crawford made her show season debut at the spring summer 2018 shows, walking for Calvin Klein.
Since, Kaia has made a fledgling name for herself in the industry, walking in all the major shows and racking up an impressive amount of campaigns for her young age.
Provocative posing, minimal clothing and stage-worthy makeup all come as part and parcel of the job. But, how young is too young?
Kaia’s latest campaign for Chanel has been the subject of this very question, with critics slamming the French fashion house for “sexualising” the young model.
In the most talked-about shot, Kaia wears a short, tweed mini dress while reclining on a chaise longue.
A post shared by CHANEL (@chanelofficial) on Mar 27, 2018 at 9:31am PDT
One ">commenter on Facebook wrote: “Seriously? A 16 year old? What exactly are you promoting?”
A second Facebook user added: “She is beautiful. A beautiful girl. Too young.”
Another said: “It is no doubt that she is a beautiful young lady… too young, too barely dressed as a 16 years old in Gabrielle Chanel owned apartment [sic.]”
Is Kaia’s Chanel campaign teetering on the edge of over-sexualisation? Have we made any improvement since the 1980s when a 15-year-old Brooke Shields uttered “Do you know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”
It’s up for debate.
Think of Thylane Blondeau, arguably the face of child model sexualisation who caused controversy back when she wore heels and a full face of makeup as a 10-year-old.
Now, aged 16-year-olds, it’s socially acceptable to think she’s a ‘babe’.
A post shared by Thylane (@thylaneblondeau) on Mar 22, 2018 at 11:53am PDT
In 2012, Ondria Hardin made headlines when she walked for Marc Jacobs at age 15.
Only three years ago in 2015, Dior had 14-year-old Sofia Mechetner, an unknown Isreali model, open their catwalk show.
It’s clear fashion’s obsession with youth still exists.
אז כן אני פתחתי את תצוגת ההוט קוטור של דיור!! תצוגה ראשונה בחיי היה מדהים ומרגש נהנתי בטירוף רוצים לדעת איך זה קרה? מחר בשמונה בערב ערוץ 2 כתבה עלי שווה צפיה✌ #dior @dior #opentheshow #supermodel #paris #rafsimons #channel2news #sofiamechetner #rotemgur #vivamodels #hautecouture #fashion #peterphilipsmakeup
A post shared by SOFIA MECHETNER (@sofia__mechetner) on Jul 9, 2015 at 2:33pm PDT
But as Kaia’s celebrity status far outweighs those of other 16-year-old working models, it’s important to look at how these girls are protected in the industry.
Legally, in the UK 16-year-old models cannot go to jobs without a being accompanied by a responsible adult.
According to Models Connect, this means the parent or guardian will attend. When the parent or guardian isn’t available, the agency has to apply for a chaperone licence.
Yahoo Style spoke to Models 1 Managing Director and chairman of the British Fashion Models Agents Association, John Horner, about the other steps agencies take to protect the youngest on their books.
“We always find out the nature of a shoot before booking anyone,” he says.
“It is made 100% clear to any model that, under no circumstances, must he or she do anything which makes them uncomfortable.
“If a shoot requires a level of nudity, the model will first have to agree as well as to the nature of it.
“All models are told to call their agent if there is anything untoward or over which they feel uncomfortable or unhappy,” he says. “Model welfare is paramount.”
In the US, the Child Performers Protection Act of 2015 was passed and places models in this category. The act passed legislation specifically intended to protect child performers.
It’s fair to say that fashion’s relationship with super young models is changing. For an industry with an age-old obsession with youth, recent years have seen an improved attitude.
In 2012, all 21 international arms of Vogue signed a pact pledging they would not use models under the age of 16, and in the years since, a refreshing new age of age diversity has come about.
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