Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tall Puppy Syndrome: What do we do with ambitious children?

Bindi Irwin has been a hot button topic in Australia since Steve Irwin’s death. No surprises then perhaps, that most of yesterday’s flack on this blog about Bindi’s new fashion range focused on her age. But any residual controversy surrounding Steve Irwin notwithstanding, the subject of professional or celebrity children is fascinating – if only because of the fact that our intolerance appears to be somewhat selective.


Under-16 model bans are gaining momentum in fashion, an interesting off-shoot of the ‘skinny model’ debate. London Fashion Week mooted imposing an under-16 ban on its spring/summer 2008 showcase, from September 15-20. The Melbourne Spring Fashion Festival recently dropped a 15-year-old as its advertising face.

Italy has also floated legislation banning under-16s from its runways. In France, an unofficial under-16 ban exists, however that may be circumvented via a children’s work license and lots of paperwork.

Fashion is a fast-paced business whose primary stock-in-trade is images of women. Many of these images advertise sexually provocative clothing. Sexually provocative poses in even standard fashion imagery are also increasingly common.

There is however plenty of other work which does not require under-16s to ‘sex it up’ for the camera. So, if a young girl wants to model, has the opportunity to do age-appropriate work and is chaperoned, should she be prevented from doing so?

An under-16 ban at London Fashion Week would have precluded both Twiggy and Kate Moss from working there. Both started at 15.

In Milan, it would have prevented 15-year-old Australian Gemma Ward from getting her first big break at the September 2003 shows.

Yes, fashion is a fickle business but it is what it is. Ward was in the right place, at the right time, with the right look. And at 19, she is now a multi-millionaire.

Two other Australians, Tallulah Morton (pictured above) and Samantha Harris, started modelling at 13.

Morton’s mother reports having initially been the subject of much tut-tutting about her daughter’s age – from those concerned Tallulah should have been in school (which she was) and that her mother may have pushed her into it. Amber Morton says she resisted sending Tallulah to an agency for a year – but was eventually worn down by approaches from agents and photographers, and eventually, also Tallulah herself.


But are those parents who drive their athletically-endowed children to the track, or pool, at 6am each day for training subject to the same criticism? What about the 160 girls aged 7-12 currently in four Australian Institutes of Sport, being groomed for Gymnastics Australia’s elite squads?

The Institute has an under-16 ban in every sport bar women’s gymnastics. This exception was made, according to the AIS, because the international careers of female gymnasts are generally over by the time they are 19 or 20.


And what about child entertainers like Bindi Irwin? Lindsay Lohan, Drew Barrymore, Macauley Culkin and Michael Jackson all entered the entertainment industry at a very young age – and all subsequently experienced problems.

Nicole Kidman, who started working professionally at 13 and Ron ‘Opie’ Howard, who was younger still, haven’t done too badly for themselves. It’s early days yet for Dakota Fanning.

So is it horses for courses or should all under-16s be banned from every arena for the following ‘sensible’ reasons:

1/ They’re in no position to make an informed choice at that age.
2/ It’s their parents pushing them – and the parents are only interested in the $.
3/ There’s no way minors can handle that type of pressure.

What do we do with ambitious children?

Original post and comments.


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