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Forever Young: Why The Fashion Industry Is So Obsessed With Young Girls

There is something distinctly unsettling about watching a pubescent girl stalk down the runway, styled to look beyond her years and wearing expensive clothing intended for adult women.
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Last month, 14-year old Israeli model Sofia Mechetner opened up for the Dior show. In what has been described as a "Cinderella story," Mechetner has traded her impoverished life in Tel Aviv for a $265,000 contract with Dior. The only troubling part of the story? Mechetner's young age. In 2012, all 21 international Vogues signed a pact pledging they would not use models under the age of 16. However, fashion's obsession with all things youthful -- including the use of underage girls to model expensive clothes intended for adult women -- could not be stopped, regardless of any signed pacts.

This is nothing new. Sofia Mechetner is just the latest in the ongoing fixation of youth within the fashion world. In the 1980s, a 15-year-old Brooke Shields proclaimed, "You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing." Fast-forward to today, where the daughters of famous celebrities are now in the fashion spotlight, regardless of however young they may be. Lily-Rose Depp, the 16-year-old daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis, is the face of Chanel's eyewear campaign. And Cindy Crawford's daughter Kaia Gerber -- who has been signed to IMG Models -- was recently in a photoshoot for Vogue Italia and had a photo spread in the September issue of CR Fashion Book, Carine Roitfeld's magazine. Oh yeah, and she's 13. These two young girls showcase the frenzied need from the fashion industry for younger faces. Their newly found spotlight has the possibility to replace their famous model mothers who, perhaps precisely because of their mature ages, could be considered irrelevant, as now there is a much younger look-alike to take over the throne.

There is something distinctly unsettling about watching a pubescent girl stalk down the runway, styled to look beyond her years and wearing expensive clothing intended for adult women. Sofia Mechetner's young age, with her height of an adult and body of a child, serve to distort reality and expectations of what a woman's body looks like. These young models who have yet to enter puberty -- lacking hips and a chest -- puts pressure on other, older, models to achieve and maintain a stick-thin physique. It also sends out a strong message to the American public at large. The models are meant to be desirable -- beautiful, sophisticated, more elegant and cool than you could ever possibly be -- and the everyday woman is encouraged to imitate that body type, to uphold it as a beauty ideal.

For young girls styled into models, the demands of working in the fashion industry can be confusing and incredibly uncomfortable. Young girls are subjected to endless judgments and critiques over their bodies, as casting agents and designers -- and eventually the model in question -- reduce a model's worth to her measurements. Young models also have to deal with being presented and viewed as sexual objects; a difficult concept to understand, let alone handle.

The employment of young girls in the fashion world is indicative of a broader cultural belief and fascination: to look good, you must look young. Advertisements on television, billboards, and magazines bombard us daily with messages solidifying that getting older is something to avoid and dread. For women specifically, there is an expectation to cling to younger years and do everything possibly to look younger. It's no surprise that plastic surgery and anti-aging products are multi-dollar industries in the United States, especially because of the perception that only young women are desirable or deserve attention. Just look at the women in the media -- from actors to talk show hosts to models -- and you will find young women almost exclusively on show. A woman over 35? Sorry -- she's expired.

As younger models appear on catwalks and magazine spreads, one must wonder: Is it really such a crazy idea for an older women -- as opposed to a pubescent minor -- to model products intended for an older woman? Considering that older women -- including Joni Mitchell and Joan Didion -- modeled in campaigns earlier this year, one might dare interpret this as a sliver of hope. I mean, Dolce & Gabbana even featured three grandmothers in their spring 2015 ads! Come on! However, given fashion's track history, the answer to such a question is already very apparent: Don't count on it.