Guiding Younger Models
Dan Grant, Publisher
Technically, in Ontario, the definition of a "Child" (as it relates to the protection of children) stops at 16. In other words, once a girl is over the age of 15, she is much more vulnerable in the eyes of the law.
Morally, however, we all share an obligation to protect 16- and 17-year-olds from being put in situations where their breasts are being photographed by dozens of strangers.
Every agent has dealt with younger models anxious to show just how mature they are by whipping off their clothes. We can't be everywhere all the time, and most of us have been embarrassed to learn about a girl that has gone too far in spite of our direction. This isn't just a modelling thing agents need to contend with. Just say "Facebook photos" and "teenagers," and see what your mind conjures up. Agents can't control teens, they can only suggest what is and isn't appropriate within the industry.
I bring this up because sheer seems to be a big trend on this season's World Mastercard Fashion Week runway. I'm no prude, but I do find it disturbing that anyone – in the name of fashion, or even art – would send a 16-year-old down a Toronto runway with her breasts in plain sight (and let's be honest, most of these collections are more about commerce than expression).
It's the more experienced models who brought this up with me – the ones who have spent a few years dealing with people trying to coerce them into various states of undress. They seem to be the most protective of the younger ones. It's cases like these, where agents aren't speaking up, that drive model-led movements like The Model Alliance, sites like Models X Models and documentaries like Agency (Canadian ex-model Meredith Wright's look at modelling in Osaka).
I'm not pointing fingers at any particular agency, but I would suggest that anyone who feels they're qualified to manage a teenager should at least know that nudity is entirely avoidable and unnecessary – especially in a market like Toronto.
This is not the same as the Amanda Todd case, but if there's a lesson that we can all take from that tragedy, it's that sometimes girls feel pressured to expose themselves in order to gain acceptance. In our industry that may mean the acceptance of a client, or it may be the acceptance of an agent they don't want to disappoint by acting like a child. In either case, once the photos are public there's an expectation that the girl is comfortable with nudity. No 16-year-old should have to weigh the consequences of exposing herself or disappointing her agent.
Every agent needs to be very clear with their younger models that nudity – even parading around in sheer with nothing underneath – is not necessary. Worse than that, it's offensive. Seeing a 16-year-old's breasts on the runway may not be illegal, but it's disturbing, and any agent that says otherwise doesn't care enough about teenagers to be deserving of a position to manage them.