There’s been a lot of uproar in the fashion world over underage, underweight models – particularly female models. Media and consumers are increasingly outraged by companies that market designer clothing to grownass women using pre-pubescent girls.
Governments have taken notice: France recently moved to ban ultra-thin models and photoshopped campaign images. The U.S. Congress also introduced a bill that extends workplace safety regulations to young professionals, including models.
So, what do design houses do? Do they have an epiphany that leads them to cast adult, healthy-looking women? Nope. They decide to cast teen boys instead. In September, Acne chose its creative director’s 11-year-old son to model women’s clothing in the brand’s fall campaign. Now, Louis Vuitton taps 17-year-old Jaden Smith for a new women’s wear campaign.
Underage boys with no hips, boobs and nary a pound of fat on their bodies are being used to sell clothes worth thousands – sometimes tens of thousands – of dollars to grown women. But instead of being lampooned by critics and body image activists, designers have somehow spun the narrative in such a way that they’re actually being applauded for this trend.
Sure, there’s a lot to be said for fashion’s newfound acceptance of genderless clothing, androgyny and trans models. It’s also fantastic that young men (albeit one percenters with famous parents and nothing to lose) are willing to dabble in women’s clothing. But the sorts of ads Louis Vuitton and Acne are creating aren’t furthering those causes- they’re continuing to force unrealistic body ideals down women’s throats, cleverly disguised as progress.
Theses brands aren’t trying to sell their women’s wear collections as unisex or genderless – they’re still very clearly targeting the same female consumer base they always have. In teaser shots for the new Louis Vuitton shoot, Smith poses alongside three other very young, extremely thin girls. There’s absolutely nothing subversive or noteworthy about the image other than the fact that we all know he’s actually a dude and Will Smith’s son.
If designers are serious about supporting the LGBTQ and genderless movements, perhaps they could start by no longer designing separate male and female collections. They could cast models who represent diverse backgrounds who aren’t already notable rich kids. They could make a genuine effort to represent their clientele in ads by, at the very least, hiring models over the age of 18 who look healthy. They could – gasp – actually do something new and creative.
It does no good to applaud major brands, that have all the power and capital in the world to take risks and push the social envelope, for Trojan horse campaigns that misrepresent themselves as progressive. They can do better. They must do better.
*** This column originally appeared in 24 Hours.