The media loves a good model debate!
I'm a little late to the party with this one, and expect to cop a bit of flack for my comments, so I'll just start with a quick ceveat: yes, I worked for Girlfriend magazine ('04-'07) and, yes, I still occasionally write for the magazine. I'm also quite fond of its staff. And its editorial. Enough said.
I am in two minds about the controversy around the inclusion of 12-year-old Karla Reid in the finalists' lineup for this year. 'Underage modelling' is the issue, according to The Australian, an argument which loses weight (no modelling pun intended) when you consider that Girlfriend is a magazine read by 11-17 year-olds.
In the context of the magazine, Karla doesn't look out of place. This is not a 12-year-old posing provocatively in the pages of Vogue or Russh (or Art Monthly, for that matter), or being ogled on the Fashion Week catwalk. Most models cast for Girlfriend's fashion shoots are aged 13-18 (though they're most often older teens, making them 'aspirational'), with young actors from the likes of Home and Away (former H&A girl Indiana Evans is popular) and 'real girls' also modelling clothes.
Karla has secured herself a two-year contract with Chic Model Management (as have the five other finalists), though I'd say Chic would be more inclined to align Karla, given her age and girl-next-door good looks, with its Scoop Management division (which specialises in models for advertising, TV commercials and 'mainstream' fashion – as apposed to high fashion). When I was casting for Girlfriend shoots, I'd often hire girls from Scoop based on their healthy schoolgirl appeal. Of course, the winner of the competition (to be announced on November 19) also wins a contract with Chic's affiliate New York agency Next – if Karla were to win, we may have more cause for concern.
The international world of modelling, which, as Patty Huntington goes into on her blog, can be a harsh, cruel world, where young girls suffer depression, eating disorders and isolation, is no place for a 12-year-old. Though many would contend that today's 12-year-olds are an entirely different proposition to the ones of 10 or 20 years ago, at that age the brain and emotions are still underdeveloped, though the girls' bodies might suggest otherwise. Even at 18, a fragile constitution and personality (perhaps an inclination towards depression) combined with the pressures of modelling can be catastrophic.
Modelling competitions in general also don't sit well with me, though I was obsessed with them (and their winners) as a teen, and would have given my right arm to model in a magazine (because, as I was led to believe by said magazines, modelling was, like, the ultimate aspiration! And models had perfect lives... and boyfriends like Johnny Depp!).
When I sat on the panel of Girlfriend's 2007 Model Search Sydney event, I looked on despondently as many pretty, lovely girls, who desperately wanted to be models (more than anything they wanted to be the next Miranda Kerr!) had their picture taken, only to be sent to the bottom of the pile based on their height (and height potential) and hip size (and hip potential).
It is a superficial, looks-based competition with very specific criteria, just like Australia's Next Top Model (remember the furor over bitchy finalist Demelza?), where personality counts about as much as your grasp of the periodic table. How disheartening to be sent to castings by agencies only to be turned away time and time again, let alone be told that you are fat (as was the experience with young American model Ali Michael). Not fabulous for the self-esteem, as Mia Freedman contends.
That said, winning Dolly's modelling competition in 1997, aged 13, doesn't seem to have done Miranda Kerr any long-term psychological harm (the girl's even writing a holistic health book!). With the right kind of upbringing and family support, as well as an empathetic agent, one could assume that the potential for a girl to get lost in the world of fashion is minimised. Perhaps securing modelling mentors like Kerr would help alleviate any parental or industry angst about sending girls into the modelling world... while more magazine editorial around building a wider sense of self would help the majority of girls left behind (self included) whose looks just don't cut it.
Would love to hear your thoughts.
Girl With a Satchel
P.S. I also think Girlfriend has to be commended for choosing girls who appear to be in a healthy weight range for their ages.