If a Teen Wants to Model...

Anita Murage

Reports of young girls being lured to fake modelling auditions have raised questions on how to protect teenagers aspiring to start careers in an evolving industry.

With false promises to work for top brands and get a chance in the industry, desperate teenagers have found themselves in trouble.

Foreign countries start training their models young, and by Lucy Rao, the head designer and founder of Rialto Fashions’ observation, the lifespan of the model usually ends quickly after a few fashion season runs.

“The sooner you start, the better,” she said. “I wouldn’t say that’s the case here as well, but perhaps most people do not fully understand what modeling involves, and this exposes a gap where people now come in to take advantage of the children’s ignorance and beauty,” she said.

Coupled with the fact that parents today are busy with work and essentially locked out of their children’s budding social lives, teenagers online become increasingly vulnerable to such scams.

While the children must stay in school, get knowledge about how and when they can join the modelling industry in the right way helps to fill the gap of information that these gangs typically exploit for their scams.

Jeffrey Wilson, founder, and director of The JW Show told BDLife that part of this fashion show’s core business is talent scouting, where the team visits different counties around the country looking for models and photographers to contribute to the show. Some of these models are under 18, but the standard procedure is to have a parent or guardian present throughout the entire process to guarantee the child's safety.

Companies like The JW Show also scout talent by working with verified institutions in the industry.

“We use the media to advertise casting calls, or reach out to fashion institutions like Vera Beauty College who also market their auditions,” Mr Wilson said.

“We don’t necessarily reach out to models on social media. It’s up to the models to respond to the casting call by either calling or coming to the venue to be auditioned.”

“We also make sure not to expose them to a side of the industry they are not ready to understand,” Lucy said.

To this effect, young models are seldom mixed with older ones until they have attained the age of majority.

Having a parent or guardian present is standard practice for Debbie Oyugi, founder of children’s modelling agency, Debbie Oyugi Kids as well.

The company hosts beauty pageants for children, with some getting their start from as early as three years old. Older children will reach out to the company themselves after conducting their research but are later instructed to procure the permission of an adult. Even so, a framework within the fashion industry that seeks to protect children from modelling audition scams is yet to be established.

“The frameworks are not yet in place, and the rules of engagement still vary from agency to agency - but at DOK we believe in children being children,” Debbie said.

“We are not raising superstars, we are raising young achievers. For gifted children like these, it is important to instil the value of self when they are young so that they can stand by themselves and for themselves,” she added.

To enforce this, part of the pageant hosted by DOK involves a parent-child presentation, which demonstrates the parent's affirmation of the child's path. But beyond parental involvement, more can still be done within the industry to fill this informational gap.

“It is important to know who to entrust your children to,” Debbie said. “We need a central repository where people can see an agency's track record that could also help parents choose the right one for their child,” she added.

She also emphasised the need for parents to research the entertainment industry as they would other careers. An association would also be a relevant authority to weed out potential criminals and figure out who is coming into the fashion industry as an agent and why.

The ultimate solution, she added, is adequate communication between the parent and the child.

“Understand this talent is still a child, and they still need guidance,” she said.

“Behaviour does not just start with one instance, it’s something that is formed over time that develops their character. If you don’t cut a tree before the roots take hold, it will be difficult to do so after it grows too tall."

In a phone call interview, Debbie told BDLife that societal norms had a part to play, as the children can only replicate what they see daily in the media and their communities.

"Freedom should be gradual, and that gradient needs to come with responsibility," she added, referring to a teenager's ability to carve out a life of their own, away from the parental gaze.

Lucy also referred to the role of the media in influencing a child's behaviour and lifestyle aspirations.

“Every child wants to model at some point in their lives, especially the girls” she said.

“At one point or another, they will see themselves as models; they will catwalk, watch TV and imagine their future selves, even thinking about what they will look like in their wedding dresses," she says.

She also noted that on Sundays, the Central Business District is filled with budding photographers and models, taking pictures that showcase the kind of life they aspire to. The photos are then uploaded to their social media platforms, where their followers can like and share them.

“Apart from social media pressure, this behaviour also signals a certain pressure to be the best they can be in the shortest possible time,” she said.

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