A soft “aww” is the standard response from most people when they see children on the ramp at any fashion event. Yet, last year when the French Vogue published a rather contentious cover with a 10-year-old girl in an overtly sexualised pose, it begged the question of how young is too young.
The Deputy Head of Starcom advertising, Saad Akhtar, for instance, reacted very strongly to Vogue’s images: “I’d seen these earlier and been shocked and repulsed,” he says bluntly. “There are two issues here: firstly, the sexualisation of children is obviously a huge concern; it’s exploitative and disgusting and secondly, it is how at first glance you won’t notice that these are kids. This means that our notion of glamour and beauty is already heading towards flat-chested, pre-pubescence. And I’m very scared about that.”
Innocence on the ramp
Although Pakistan still hasn’t fully capitalised on the idea of using children in ‘adult’ fashion shoots, the issue is now grabbing attention, with the fashion activity in the country at an all-time high. Multiple retail brands are heavily advertising featuring children and also some investing on ramp shows and fashion week participation. Last month, when British retail brands Next, Monsoon and Accesorize’s showed their kidswear collections at Fashion Pakistan Week 3 in Karachi, one cooed at the children, but also observed how professionally these children were imitating the requisite catwalk. As admirable as it was to see these little models deliver well, one couldn’t help but wonder if we are robbing these kids of their childhood.
Designer Nida Azwer was the one who initiated this trend at the PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week 1 in Lahore when she got kids from the SOS Village to walk for her showcasing her range of traditional ensembles for children. “What we did was very carefully monitored and very different from what Vogue did,” spoke Azwer. “Our whole intention was for the kids to look like children and for the show to be age appropriate. Also, nothing was done without the parents’ consent.” Similarly, at yet another fashion week, Karma collection also featured a parade of “mother and daughter” party wear, modeled by the design director, Maheen Kardar Ali’s friends and their children, as reported by British fashion journalist Hilary Alexander on The Telegraph.
Regarding the trend, model-turned-event manager Frieha Altaf makes an interesting point. “The use of children as sexualised objects is not a new thing,” she asserts. “However, fortunately, in our society, modelling contests require copies of the NIC as a pre-requisite to ensure that the model isn’t underage.”
The other side of the picture
On the other hand, Altaf also goes on to give examples of parents pushing their children into the limelight for fame and money, citing instances of international celebrities like Brooke Shields, singer Britney Spears and tennis champion Andre Agassi, who were all forced by their parents into their respective careers at a young age. Without their parents gruelling insistence, would these people be the stars that they are today?
Yet, lawyer-turned-make-up artist, Novera recently put an end to her 10-year-old daughter Zohray’s modelling stints with kidswear brands like Mini Minors. “It was good to an extent as it helped boost her self confidence,” says Novera. “But now that other kids at school just want to befriend her because she’s a model and not because of her personality, we decided to pull the plug on this.” While Zohray herself admits that “it was fun”, she said that she wasn’t too sure of she would like to walk the ramp in the future.
As Altaf rightfully stresses, “Every field can be abused and the ultimate choice should be with the child, if they are comfortable doing something or not. But at such a formative age, their exposure needs to be monitored.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2012.