Peyton Knight graced the Alexander Wang runway with a walk that will put her name next to models such as Karlie Kloss and Coco Rocha. She was beautiful, powerful and only 17 years old. Moreover, Peyton was breaking boundaries in W magazine at only 13 right after being signed with the infamous IMG model management.
Young girls are starting their modeling careers exponentially earlier as time progresses. Kate Moss started at 14, Barbara Palvin at 13 and Lindsey Wixson at 12. The list goes on and on. But how young is too young?
While most supermodels are in their 20’s, the majority of girls, nearly 55% (according to the Model Alliance), start their careers between ages 13-16. In 2013 Model Alliance passed a new child labor bill, requiring that models under the age of 18 be protected with the same health and education rights as child actors and dancers. And the Council of Fashion Designers of America mandated a minimum age of 16 for runway shows.
There was a large controversy when 12-year-old Maddison Gabriel walked at Gold Coast Fashion Week in 2007.
Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, was strongly against the decision. “Catapulting girls as young as 12 into something like that is outrageous and I’m totally opposed to it…we do have to preserve some notion of innocence in our society” said Howard to news.com.au in 2007.
Gabriel responded and said “It doesn’t matter about age, it matters that you can do the job. Modeling is all I’ve wanted to do since I was six – I don’t think I’m too young.” She also stated that as long as she can fit into women’s clothing, there is no reason that she shouldn’t be able to model them.
Modeling presents opportunities to girls that would not otherwise be available, such as the option to financially support their families quickly. For example, 14-year-old Sofia Mecheter walked at Dior’s Paris show last season and was paid equal to 22 years of her mother’s paychecks.
However not all are as fortunate as Mecheter. At 12 years old, Los Angeles-based Gerran Taylor strutted the runway for legends such as Alexander McQueen and Betsey Johnson, but by 18, her hips had filled out to a size 4 which forced her to leave the industry.
There are pros and cons to any career. But at the root of this issue, it comes down to what you believe fashion to be. If fashion is an art, then models are a medium for expressing this art form just as child actors express art through film.
There will always be controversy over age requirements for this industry. It has many nuances to this argument and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. As the fashion industry continues to evolve, there will hopefully be be a place for girls with the talent and dedication in the modeling world, without physical discriminations.
Madison Reis is a contributing writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.