What’s the Best Age to Start Modelling?

Teen Modeling
(c) Creative Commons/Lauren Beck

We’ve all heard it said: Models these days are getting younger and younger. But can this really be true? If it were, wouldn’t they all be five years old by now? And what’s the problem with starting early? Surely it’s better than starting too late. Or is it? Talent Management takes a look at the troubles and the trends.

The Quest for the Undiscovered

Twiggy, perhaps the world’s first super model and the epitome of ‘the waif’, was named ‘Face of 66’ when she started modelling at 17. Cindy Crawford was discovered in a cornfield in 1982 at the age of 16. But these days, a model is more likely to be first contracted at age 14 or 15. And if they happen to be the child of one or more celebrities, they can expect to be engaged in the fashion market at as young as 11. Prada and Balenciaga have both recently used very young teens during various Fashion Weeks.

We all know girls aged 14 and 15 who look much older and are very mature. However, fashion houses aren’t looking for 14 year olds who look 18. There are plenty of 18 year olds to choose from. They are looking for something and someone new. And the only way to find new talent is to look at younger girls who the other agents haven’t yet discovered. And this can be the problem.

High-Fashion Modelling: Teens in an Adult World

As Canadian model Coco Rocha explained in a TV interview, she started working at 15 and by 16 was living without her parents in New York. Models have to be willing to take direction, sometimes striking poses that are unnatural to them. As Coco says, they have to be ‘willing to please’ and in an adult world, the lines between personal and professional can easily become blurred. For her, 15 was simply too young to be expected to make decisions and to behave like an adult. And she now counsels models and agencies against starting too young.

Furthermore, younger girls tend to be slimmer than even older teenagers. After going through our growth spurts in puberty, our bodies become more elongated for some time before we ‘fill out’. Some people claim hiring younger girls reinforces an unhealthy obsession with thinness, boy-like figures and other unfeminine physical qualities.

So what about the health and body image risks to a young model? An adult model might avoid gaining weight or might be actively trying to lose weight. But for an adolescent, gaining weight is essential while the body is still growing and maturing. Being told at 15 that you are perfect for a campaign — and not getting it the following year — can send a strong and unhealthy message that maturing and gaining an adult’s body is undesirable. It’s easy to see how this pressure, especially while being away from family and friends, can lead to an unhealthy body image and possible eating and exercising disorders.

When we consider the impact of the choice to use younger models on the wider society, we see it is also fraught with issues. With great skin, fabulous hair and a ton of panache, the models who grace the pages of magazines are highly aspirational. We want to dress like them and, ultimately, be like them. So what message is the industry sending customers — the women who buy fashion?

What’s the Right Age?

Thankfully, responsible industry professionals are taking notice of the issues and setting the age bar a little higher for high-fashion modelling. Furthermore, researchers in Scandinavia showed that customers are less likely to buy a product when they feel the model is nothing like them. This is a finding that many fashion houses are starting to pay more attention to.

But it’s still the agencies who do the scouting. One representative recently remarked that 17 was the perfect age to start high-fashion modelling. However, she also admitted that 16 was a good age, too. And when pressed, that 18 was great as the model would have already finished school. But rather depressingly she went on to say that if a model was discovered at 20 her agent might have to present her as 18 to get bookings.

Keep in mind that we’re not talking about all types of modelling here. The problems associated with young teens and modelling is primarily in the high-pressure, competitive arena of high-fashion modelling. At Talent Management, we offer a variety of modelling opportunities—not just those in the high-fashion industry. For example, commercial photographic promotions for clients looking for `typical teens’ could be an ideal gig for young teens. We pride ourselves with offering diverse opportunities for people of all ages, sexes, sizes and backgrounds.

We also realize that there is no `one size fits all’ approach in terms of setting age limits or determining the best type of modelling opportunity. What is right for one person may not be right for the next. Only you and your guardians know when you’re really ready. If you’re not sure, call us. It’s what we’re here for.