07 March 2012

Why Child Labor Laws Suck

Hasbrook, who turned 17 in January according to her Tumblr, is a high school junior from Oregon. During this NYFW, she walked for Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler, Theyskens' Theory, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Lacoste, Victoria by Victoria Beckham, and Houghton. That's a big debut for a model. On her blog, she also describes doing looks for Reem Acra, shooting a video for Lacoste, and working various photo shoots; again, typical for a successful new face during fashion week. These long hours are just one reason why the CFDA recommends that girls under 16 not work fashion week: the shows last a month, which often has the effect of forcing these girls to make an uncomfortable choice between staying in school and pursuing their careers, and while some underaged models are chaperoned (Hasbrook says her mother traveled with her to New York), many girls — especially the majority of models who come from poorer countries — are not so lucky, and work unsupervised. No organization currently conducts background checks on the adults who work with minors in the fashion industry.

Before discussing this in depth, there are a couple of things that must first be clarified.  First, the primary purpose of education is to increase a child’s intellectual capital, and so prepare him or her for work later on.  Second, teenagers are perfectly capable of work (just ask this guy).  Third, my personal bias is toward child labor, primarily as way to train children to become productive adults.  For what it’s worth, I had a paper route at age eight, started mowing lawns for money when I was twelve, started painting when I was fourteen, and had my first “official” job when I was sixteen.  I’m very used to working, and I don’t think it all that demanding for children, and more especially teenagers to have jobs that fall within the range of their abilities.

Now, in the first place, it seems obvious that having a job and, more broadly, work experience of some sort is a good thing.  This is true even if you’re a young lady working as a fashion model.  Remember, the whole point of an education is to prepare you for work.  Now, if you’re already working, there isn’t actually that much of a point in going to school, since you already have the benefits of school (i.e. a job).  Thus, the tradeoff between work and school is in many ways a false dichotomy because school does not have that much more to offer you if you’re already working as a supermodel.

In the second place, the career trajectory of female models differs quite a bit from their looks-challenged counterparts.  As Vox pointed out, there are a decent number of hot young models that have married young and started families, usually at the expense of their career.  There does not appear to be any extensive data on whether this is a trend, but the anecdotal evidence seems to bear it out.  As such, it is somewhat ludicrous to even suggest that education in general is all that important to girls who go into modeling because it is highly likely that a significant number of them will leverage their looks into marrying a high-status (read: usually wealthy) man.  For those who were educated in public school, this means that looks, not education, are the relevant factor for a model’s long-term plans, and so it would be far more beneficial for models to skip school in favor of their careers, as it will help them to widen the pool of potential mates.

Therefore, we can conclude that child labor laws suck, because their general application is actually counterproductive in some cases.*  As is seen in this case, the proposed labor regulations would actually be harmful to under-aged models, as it would prevent them from achieving their general goals.  Since it is feminists that are proposing these laws (and ugly ones at that),  it seems reasonable that this proposed legislation is motivate more by jealousy than actual concern.  Of course, once the old hamster starts spinning, it becomes increasingly more difficult to tell the difference between the two.

* Yes, I know that labor don’t apply in this case.  However, it is an article calling for legislation/regulation of some sort, and is thus relevant to my broader point regarding labor laws.


  1. I have to agree. But our larger herd mentality society agrees that "school is good" and no one is allowed to get out of it without a high school diploma (unless they drop out for reasons other than work, like drugs, pregnancy or apathy).

  2. @Prof. Hale- Of course, the irony in all that is that school children keep getting told they're exceptional (which is why they're the ones who are going to change the world)--just like everyone else. And this does beg the question: How can you possibly make rules for exceptional people?