Tall, thin and tanned supermodels beam from the covers of fashion magazines and swagger down brightly lit catwalks depicted on reality television shows and celebrity news features. Their supposed role is to showcase the latest designs and innovations of the fashion industry, but their reach extends much further. The effects of supermodels on teenagers can be troublesome, sometimes leading to body image issues and reinforcing outdated gender stereotypes.
Historically, the lanky, bony frame of a fashion model was intended to showcase clothes similarly to how they dangle from a clothes hanger. As the supermodel body type reinforced and typified thinness as the ideal for female beauty, other body shapes began to seem less desirable. Teenagers who look to supermodels for fashion and beauty trendsetting ideas may begin to consider anything but extreme thinness as acceptable. This can lead to poor body image, low self-esteem and eating disorders. Some designers and beauty campaigns have made attempts to present other body types as desirable, but this isn’t the norm.
Another potentially negative affect of idealizing supermodels is the celebrity culture that surrounds the fashion industry. Supermodels are sometimes venerated and idolized for their choices related to clothing, beauty products, vacation destinations or romantic partners. Teens may come to expect that a satisfying life includes being swarmed by paparazzi, partying in international hotspots and sporting expensive jewelry. This can lead to discontent or dissatisfaction with their own lives.
Teenagers following the glamorous lifestyles of favorite supermodels may fail to appreciate the quiet or less-noticeable heroism or contributions made by more typical professionals. If becoming a supermodel seems like a viable career option to a teen, she might downplay the importance of earning good grades, engaging in extracurricular activities or participating in sports in favor of shopping for new clothing or experimenting with different hairstyles. Although many individuals make their livings in the fashion industry, it’s unlikely that the average star-struck teenager is going to rocket to international fame as a supermodel.
Another effect of supermodels on teenagers is the potential for reinforcing gender stereotypes. Models frequently work for ad campaigns that focus on “selling” a glamorous lifestyle. This sometimes includes negative gender depictions; for example, a wristwatch campaign might feature a dashing man steering a powerboat while an adoring supermodel looks on approvingly. Supermodels who are consistently photographed modeling revealing clothing or posing in sexually provocative images might send the wrong value message to teenagers.
Parents might choose to avoid directly discouraging teenagers from taking an interest in supermodels or the fashion industry. Instead, teenagers might look for supermodels who have taken on societal issues or given back to the community in significant ways. Teenagers might also learn more about the fashion industry by studying photography, advertising, textiles or computer-aided design.
- USA Today: Do Thin Models Warp Girls' Body Image?
- PR Newswire: Nationwide Study Finds That Teenage Girls Have Mixed Feelings About the Fashion Industry
- The Human Sciences Honor Society: The Influence of Media Marketing on Adolescent Girls
- University of Minnesota: Epidemiology and Community Health: Body Image and Adolescents
- National Association of Social Workers: Adolescent Girls and Body Image
- Vanderbilt University: Effects of the Media on Body Image
- Arizona State University Daily Wildcat: Gender-Specific Advertising Perpetuates, Creates Stereotypes
- Andrea Chu/Digital Vision/Getty Images