Young at Heart
Is Sofia Mechetner, 14, Too Young to Model for Christian Dior?
The media proclaimed ‘outrage’ over young Israeli model Sofia Mechetner on the catwalk—but fashion’s obsession with youth is long-enduring.
It’s been weeks since 14-year-old Sofia Mechetner headlined Christian Dior’s haute couture show in a diaphanous white chiffon gown.
Look closely and you can see a pair of nude boy-shorts beneath the sheer gown and the Israeli teen’s jewel-like, salmon-pink nipples.
Or are they more mauve-pink?
Never mind, because you should know better than to look closely.
Shame on you for indulging a “pedophilic” industry, in the words of former teenage model turned anti-teenage-modeling activist Dunja Knezevic.
You’d do better to avert your eyes and take up cudgels against the exploitative fashion industry and its exploitative, male head honchos like Dior chief Raf Simons.
This is the narrative that gained traction over the weekend in the British media.
The sanctimonious Huffington Post UK blurred out Mechetner’s barely-visible nipples (calling even more attention to them) and ran a long headline declaring “Outrage As 14-Year-Old Dior Model Sofia Mechetner Wears Sheer Dress On the Catwalk.”
The story highlighted two tweets as proof of this outrage: a random Australian man condemning Vogue for showing “deeply unfashionable” images of the too-young Mechetner; and a California-based “Writer, Speaker, and Mental Health Advocate” expressing similar disappointment.
The Daily Mail piggybacked on the outrage narrative and its attendant panic, blasting Dior’s hiring of Mechetner as “Proof that fashion never learns…What happened to all the vows to end child exploitation and stop setting impossible body ideals?”
She’s too young! the author cried, giving readers a particularly grim and apocalyptic description of the model gliding down the Dior haute couture runway: “the new ‘face’ of the label bore the solemn and inscrutable expression of a death mask.”
Mechetner will surely buckle under the pressures of being scrutinized at such a young age, the author argues. Her body is still developing and she’ll starve herself, as all models do, and stunt her growth.
Maybe so, maybe not: It’s impossible to know and deeply unwise and insensitive to speculate so wildly.
Perhaps more instructive is to bear in mind the example of Kate Moss, a success story who got into the business at 14, and who has admitted she suffered a “nervous breakdown” while modeling during her teenage years.
The current, negatively slanted conversation surrounding Mechetner taps into other anxieties surrounding women, age, and body image.
The nearly 6-foot-tall Israeli beauty is a poster girl for that alluring period between childhood and womanhood. (Models like Brooke Shields have captured it over the years.)
We’ve sexualized these young women, but that doesn’t make us all perverts complicit in a pedophilic culture.
Is it really perverse to be enchanted by beautiful young women before they’ve fully bloomed into adults? If yes, then some of the best poetry and art throughout history might as well be written off as pedophilic pornography.
Fashion is also coming off a period of fetishizing older models, too. In 2014, Dolce & Gabbana ran glossy advertisements featuring 85-year-old Daphne Selfe.
Jessica Lange, 65, was the face of Marc Jacobs makeup. 70-year-old Catherine Deneuve was the face of Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer 2014 campaign. And Joan Didion appeared in a Céline ad campaign this year.
Amidst criticism from former models and activists, the industry has been taking steps to protect young models from a job that isn’t always kind to its catwalk muses.
In 2014, the British Fashion Council (BFC) banned models younger than 16 from walking in London Fashion Week, conducting “spot checks to ensure that these contractual obligations are adhered to.” The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) has cracked down on the industry, too.
But along comes 14-year-old Mechetner, with her luminescent skin and ethereal futures she hasn’t fully grown into, and those guidelines go out the window. Especially in Paris, where the big-name designers have always had the final say in such matters.
In the days after Mechetner’s coveted exclusive with Dior, media coverage focused on her Cinderella rescue story.
She was living in penury in a suburb of Tel Aviv, taking care of her two younger siblings while her mother worked long hours, until a chance encounter with Simons landed her a $265,000 contract with the fashion house.
Dior declined to comment to The Daily Beast. Mechetner told Style.com that she only learned she was opening the show “two hours before—it’s a big honor, and I was just so happy and grateful.”
“I’ve fallen in love with modeling,” she added, “so I want to keep doing it and develop a big career.”
There is no getting away from fashion’s unsettling contradictions. With Dior’s use of Mechetner we have a major fashion house using teenagers to sell clothes to adults, her body on uncompromising display to the flashbulbs.
There are certainly risks of getting into the fashion business at a young age, and those risks should be acted upon as sensibly and practically as possible. But fashion, inescapably, has always loved youth, and it always will.
Before we make panicky, hyperbolic declarations about Mechetner being corrupted by an industry that will exploit her beautiful face and turn it into a “death mask,” let’s at least wait and see how she’s doing next season.