A Chinese modelling agency is under fire after a 14-year-old Russian model Vlada Dzyuba died in hospital on Friday, sparking accusations that she had been overworked and underpaid during her two-month working stint in the country that included Shanghai Fashion Week. ESEE Model Management has vehemently denied that the teenager, who was to turn 15 on November 8 but died without her family at her side, had been exhausted by a punishing schedule. ESEE has given a copy of a hospital certificate that gave the cause of her death as septicaemia, the invasion of bacteria into the bloodstream.
For years, modelling was seen as a silent profession, where women were seen, not heard. Not any more. Famous models are now seen increasingly voicing their concerns about issues troubling their industry such as race, colour, weight, anorexia, bulimia, abuse, harrassment, etc some of which has led to notable changes in the rules and regulations guiding the industry. For instance, now agencies are occasionally seen encouraging plus-sized models and anorexic models are strict no-no, even in the fashion Mecca of Paris.
But even as long-standing norms change, new ugliness replaces it fast. Latest being — teenage models. ESSE president Johney Zheng has said that Dzyuba was indeed the youngest model his firm had ever represented in its 14 years of operation, and part of an accelerating global trend in the modelling industry. “Her face looked young because there is a new generation coming so the brands always want that the models can look younger and younger because consumers, in this internet age, are getting younger and younger.”
Fashion brands are focused on the young consumer — mostly high school and university students. Which means, the pressure grows for girls to look as young as possible. In fact, Japan is a country where baby-faced models are extremely popular. But singling out modelling may be wrong in the age of social media, when the pressure on every layman to look young is really intense. So much of our energies are expended on defying age that it’s tad unfair to question the fashion industry, where so much rides on looks. Perhaps it’s time we start talking about our new found obsession against ageing.