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Child models grow up fast at Fashion Week

Missing teeth, celebrity sisters and a big-league strut down the runway
/ Source: Reuters

There’s not too many jobs where missing teeth are a plus.

For child models, gap-toothed grins and bony knees can make a career, or at least a start of one. Looking for their start in the world of modeling were dozens of children at Child magazine’s fashion show, staged on Monday during New York’s semi-annual gala Fashion Week.

Ranging in age from 4 to 12, the models wore miniature outfits by such top design names as Bill Blass and Kenneth Cole, all of which will be auctioned off for charity.

Many of the tiny models smiled, some tentatively, as they walked down a catwalk normally reserved for experienced professionals. A few blew kisses, although several looked frightened and one small boy walked the runway with a tear running down his face.

The 50 models were selected from 250 candidates by editors at Child in casting calls in recent days. A few celebrities’ children -- those of rapper 50 Cent and of music producer Russell Simmons and wife Kimora Lee Simmons -- were thrown into the mix, along with actress Lindsay Lohan’s younger sister Aliana and brother Dakota.

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Sex, for once, doesn’t sell. Not making the cut was any girl who struck a grown-up model pose, swinging her hips and jutting her pelvis.

“Above all, it’s kids not looking sexy,” said Empson. “No JonBenets.”

The still-unsolved murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey in 1996 triggered shudders as the public saw photos of the tiny blond girl in heavy makeup and coiffed hair competing in children’s beauty pageants.

'Something disturbing'Plenty of criticism of child modeling remains among developmental experts and academics.

“It’s disturbing that we’re presenting children as tiny adults. They’re like little puppets or dolls,” said Suzanne Ferriss, co-editor of the book “On Fashion.”

“It’s for the adults. It’s not for the children,” she said. “There’s something disturbing about co-opting them and making them a spectacle for our own amusement.”

New Yorker Isla Ng, 11, was chosen by juicemaker Welch’s to be its company spokeschild when she was 6 years old. Looking back, she says now, she didn’t realize at the time that she would be appearing in television commercials shown around the world.

“That’s probably why I was good at it,” she said. “I was just drinking juice.”

At 11, Cameron Carr of Harlem, who appeared in the Child show, has a huge portfolio of print advertising work. “What he gets from the experience is great. It does nothing but complement what he is,” said his mother, Christina Clements-Carr.

But working with child models has its quirks, Empson said.

Little boys often don’t like to work near little girls, she has found, and children won’t wear just anything.

“You can’t just say, ’Squeeze into this size shoe,’” she said. “If it’s the wrong size, they won’t wear it.”

For most children, of course, becoming a successful model is unrealistic. Ng was chosen from some 1,300 candidates by Welch’s.

But at 5, Diani Ferguson, who has commercial print ads and the Child runway show in her portfolio, does not plan to be a model when she grows up.

“I want to be God when I grow up,” she explained at her audition. “He helps us.”