In light of a new ad campaign that shows 10-year-old girls posing as famous supermodels, journalist Anna Pollitt explores why these pictures may sit uncomfortably with many of us.
PR stunts that piggyback off the hype around fashion weeks are often painfully tenuous (want to eat like celebrity designers? visit eatfirst.co.uk!) but a watch firm’s campaign featuring two pre-teen girls parodying supermodels is enjoying an element of success despite its potentially divisive nature.
Dressed-up, made-up and posed to emulate eyebrow queen Cara Delevingne and veteran cheekbones Kate Moss in Burberry’s famous rain-sprinkled mac adverts, the 10 and 12-year-olds are promoting a £119 activity tracker for children.
Harley Chapman, the 10-year-old described on her popular Instagram account as a “mini” Delevingne, is quoted in a press release from watchmaker Withings as saying, "If I can be half as successful in my career I'll be really happy.”
A few things about this campaign left us slightly baffled and questioning how disassociated from the kiddie winks of today we’ve become. When did 10-year-olds start needing fitness trackers? And having careers? And more saliently, did we miss when it stopped being creepy for them to be dolled up like grown-ups?
We jump at the chance to condemn America’s bouffanted, feather boa-frothy child beauty pageants, but these shots of children aping Cara and Kate’s seductive camera-gaze for Testino were met with collective “oohs and ahhs” over the “cute, ickle mini-mes”.
Yet both, at their heart, are frighteningly uncanny miniatures of grown women.
The welcome response to the ad also comes days after Amanda Holden was maligned for sending her nine-year-old to school on a '‘90s day' dressed as Julia Roberts’ Pretty Woman prostitute Vivian. She later backtracked and claimed the image posted on her Twitter account showed her daughter dressed as Cindy Crawford - but either way, surely it was the brash red bandeau frock, make-up and glamorous overtones on the youngster that sent the Twitter police over the edge? Would she have attracted such ire if the child had been dressed as Anne Hathaway’s tragic scrub-faced skinhead prostitute Fantine in Les Miserables? Or even Vivian’s demure polka dot dress and hat when she turned “high-end” in the film?
There were also inevitable comparisons to Little Ant and Dec, the TV presenters’ ever-evolving infant sidekick franchise, that went little way to justifying Withings’ underage lookalikes. Whatever your view on children having jobs in the showbiz industry, Little A&D emulate performers who entertain people with a cheeky chappy brand of primetime comedy, they don’t stay frozen behind a lens, inviting people to admire their sought-after looks.
We know the girls’ wind-swept blowdrys and expertly contoured faces were meant to be tongue-in-cheek homages, designed to generate, as they did, satisfied exclamations over their remarkable likenesses to the iconic British Supers. The problem is that the age gaps between Harley and Maya Koski-Wood - the 12-year-old made up to look like Kate Moss - aren't really big enough from the youngest catwalk models to make it truly cute.
Parents may look at the girls and disagree. They may view the ad as tasteful and playful, making parting with a generous amount of cash for the watches (they are in the adverts somewhere) that bit easier. But really, it’s the kids that hold the cards in these deals and it is them that the ad is ultimately appealing to. By mimicking the fashion powerhouse Burberry pose-for-pose with girls the same tender age as their target audience, Withings is encouraging children into the very grown-up world of fashion. If some adults have a hard time dismissing the pressures placed on us to look a certain way, where can children escape when their world is invaded by these images?
Fashion is (arguably) an art form that is afforded the flexibility to push social boundaries. Bare-breasts that have no business on Page 3 are sent down the runway in sheer tops no-one would realistically wear without bras, girls aged 14 are put to work modelling clothes for grown women and the dominance of thin white girls on the runway is pretty evident. But wiping a high fashion gloss over the faces of children shouldn’t make using them to sell products exempt from scrutiny.
Images: Withings, Burberry
Stylist's fashion and beauty teams are reporting from the shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris at Stylist.co.uk/fashion-week