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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Strut, but be smart

Modelling boosts a child's confidence but experts warn that it may teach wrong values too
The Straits Times - March 25, 2012
By: Imran Jalal
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Strut, but be smart

When Tasha Idnani was in Primary 1, she had to make a speech about her ambition. The Tanjong Katong Primary School pupil wanted to be a fashion designer, like her mum.

Tasha, nine, is now living a different sort of fashion dream. In January, she was the only Singaporean model at the inaugural India Kids Fashion Week in Mumbai. Tasha, who entered her first baby contest at nine months old, has also appeared in local magazine Family.

Child models such as Tasha are becoming more common all over the world. But supermodel Cindy Crawford is not too sure if this is a good thing.


Last month, she told fashion rag Daily Front Row that she was putting a lid on her daughter's fledgling modelling career. Kaia, 10, had made her modelling debut in January as the face of the new Young Versace line targeted at children up to the age of 12.

Crawford says: 'At this point, she's too young to pursue a career. There aren't even a handful of jobs for a 10-year-old girl.'

However, about three weeks ago, she clarified to Access Hollywood Live that she would allow Kaia to model again if it is for the right job. 'And she doesn't need to do it at age 10, but if there was some incredible opportunity, why not?,' she said.

Industry players say the number of children signed to talent and modelling agencies here is at least 1,200, a tenfold jump from 10 years ago.

Impact Models, which began in 1989 with adult models, chose to focus only on child models in 2001 because of growing demand. Today, it manages about 1,000 children aged from four months to 12 years.

To tap the demand for child models, there are at least three children talent hunts here held by retailers such as Gap and malls such as Marina Square.

The Fox Kids Model Search, renamed Fox Factor Talent Search this year, was launched in 2005. It looks for about 20 amateur models once a year from the ages of four to 10 to join its biannual fashion shows. To date, about 1,000 kids have entered the event - a 50 per cent jump since its inception.

At American label Gap, its Gap Casting Call has seen more than 3,200 entries since its debut here in 2010. The event, which is also held in Malaysia and Indonesia, is for newborns to 10-year-olds. In each country, the two winners appear in a poster in Gap's shops and get $1,000 worth of gift cards each.

While modelling can build a child's confidence and self-esteem, some parents see it as a shortcut to stardom and money. Industry sources say there are even parents who buy fake pageant titles overseas to boost their child's credentials.

There are other potential harmful effects on a child who is exposed to the emphasis on looks, as shown on Toddlers & Tiaras, an American reality TV series that explores the world of child beauty pageants. This is especially so with commercial images which sexualise children.

Last year, French Vogue raised the ire of parent watch groups and child psychologists with its January issue. Guest-edited by fashion designer Tom Ford, it featured 10-year-old Thylane Lena-Rose Blondeau in adult outfits and posing seductively. One image had her topless, with just a beaded necklace over her chest.

French Vogue did not respond but in her defence, Thylane's mother told a French newspaper: 'The only thing that shocks me about the photo is the necklace, which is worth €3 million (S$4.9 million).'

Model-turned-model coach Cale Chew has seen her share of children who are shoved into the limelight by their parents. She knows of one teenager who ran away from home after her mum forced her to enrol in Ms Chew's class to curb her tomboy ways.

Child experts caution parents against courting fame at the expense of their children's well-being.

Associate Professor Daniel Fung, chairman of the medical board and senior consultant at the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Mental Health, says: 'Parents need to be careful about exposing children to the demands of any job. Modelling is an industry that focuses on appearances and may teach them wrong values.'

But most parents and agencies LifeStyle spoke to say the accusations of exploitation and overt pressure to perform are exaggerated - at least in Singapore. For them, modelling is just another extra-curricular activity for their children.

Teacher Wang Li-Sa, whose four-year-old daughter and 16-month-old son are signed on as modelling talent, sees the stint as a way to hone her children's social skills and work ethic. 'My daughter comes home and tells me, 'Mummy, I'd like to do another photo shoot because I want money to get more stickers and, maybe, the tools that my class needs for our garden'.'

At the end of the day, parents have to decide if modelling is in the best interests of their children.

Dr Ian Gordon Munt, a visiting consultant psychiatrist on child and adolescent mental wellness at the KK Women's and Children's Hospital, says: 'Parents need to consider if the skills their children gain, such as being able to walk down a catwalk or pout on cue, are really going to help them feel as if they have achieved mastery over a task.'

Tasha, for instance, is still enjoying modelling. Ask her what the toughest challenge of the job is and she deadpans: 'Backstage. All wires that can trip you.

'And I hate the shoes. They itch.'


Be realistic

Being a child star is not easy. Kids Cover Looks Studio director Rovin Wong says: 'Modelling contests and portfolio shoots are good for exposure. But the market doesn't need so many child models. If everybody wants to do it, many would be disappointed.'

Also, that elusive X factor matters. 'Just because your child is good- looking doesn't make him a good model,' he adds.

Ultimately, the child's welfare is paramount, says modelling agency Mint director Serena Adsit. 'If your children don't like to pose for pictures and are not comfortable with meeting new people, then it's not a good idea for them to model. Modelling is like any hobby - the kids have to like it.'

Be flexible

Remember that it is the client hiring the child for a job who calls the shots, says Ms Eileen Koh, manager of Impact Models. Parents should not dictate the timing and schedule of the photo shoot or commercial production. Also, the children must be ready to commit to long hours.

Be alert

Dr Marcus Tan, medical director and psychiatrist of Nobel Psychological Wellness Clinic, warns of stress signs such as tantrums, increased irritability and anxiety, and an excessive focus on appearance.

If a child seems to be overly precocious or starts to have unrealistic expectations of fame, parents should consider if modelling is suitable for his emotional development, he adds.




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