The world of child modeling has earned a pretty bad reputation, thanks to reality TV and several press happy mothers.
A recent slew of train wreck rubber-necking TV favorites, from Toddlers and Tiaras to Dance Moms and “Human Barbie” Sarah Burge‘s Anderson Cooper moment, seems to have made gawking at stage parents — and their unfortunate children — the new American past-time. But despite however contemporary programming manages to sully the term “child model,” parents are still lining their kids up for modeling work guilt-free.
Laura, a San Francisco mother of three, takes no issue with her nearly 5-year-old daughter Vivienne modeling a few times a year. The little girl first appeared in a shoot for Pottery Barn Kids at six months old after being signed to an agency. She has since appeared in print advertisements for Nordstrom’s and Children’s Place. Not only does Laura find the work to be “not controversial,” but also completely unlike many of the extreme depictions of children in the entertainment industry.
“It isn’t like what you see on Toddlers & Tiaras,” says the mother. “It’s kids being kids having their pictures taken, only they’re being paid to wear what they are wearing or hold a certain toy.”
Laura tells Mommyish that although she never put much thought into her children modeling, she was prompted by friends shortly after Vivienne was born. A relative put her in touch with JE Model and Laura submitted her daughter’s information expecting to hear nothing in return. The very next day, Laura received a phone call from the agency. One meeting, a single contract, and a month later, Vivienne was appearing in her very first ad.
Contrary to now the infamous sexualizing portfolio of child model Thylane Blondeau, Vivienne’s line of work is pretty harmless, according to her mother.
“The last shoot was for Pottery Barn Kids and she literally had a party with other kids while they took pictures. It’s just like having your family pictures done, but she’s getting paid.”
Melissa Buonanno, a mother of three children in the entertainment business in Beverly Hills and a former model herself, also finds the Toddlers & Tiaras stereotype to be unjust. Her two daughters, aged two and four, have had limited runway experience as well as appeared in ads for GAP and Old Navy. As a parent who has dealt with a wealth of negative criticism, she stands 110% behind her choices:
“Most people do not fully understand what it is we do. They see Toddlers & Tiaras and think that’s what the modeling world is. They’re wrong. Print work and beauty pageants are like night and day. They don’t spend hours in a chair getting their faces on. They don’t get dragged around and dolled up. The entertainment industry as a whole in California works very hard to ensure the rights and safety of children are protected.”
Like Laura, Melissa maintains that either she or her husband is always on set when the kids are working.
“As parents it is our responsibility to make sure we know what’s going on,” she says.