Modeling industry, parents join hands to exploit pre-teen girls
Le Hoang Bao Tran (L), 12, on the catwalk. Tran recently made headlines when her skirt was blown up (à la Marilyn Monroe) by an electric fan during a fashion show. 16-year-old Hong Que (R) from Hanoi started walking the catwalk when she was only 13.
The exploitation of women's bodies can begin before they become women.
Unfortunately even parents sometimes become willing accomplices of corporate interests.
The controversy that raged last month after photographs of 12-yearold Le Hoang Bao Tran with her short skirts blown up by an electric fan were posted on the Internet has brought to the fore the issue of exploiting children's bodies to sell adult products.
Said reader Thuy Nga from Ho Chi Minh City, "It's unacceptable to use a child's body for commercial purposes."
She is yet to enter her teens, but Tran is well-known in the fashion world because of her pretty face, grown-up body and height. She won the first prize at a teen model contest at age 11.
During the "Fashion and Passion" show on November 21, she wore short dresses which were frequently blown up using electric fans.
The scenes were cut before the show aired on television, but many news websites published the photos later with headlines like: "Teenage model gets skirt blown up on stage" and "Bao Tran's baring walk creates buzz."
Tran's managers said the incident was unexpected.
Ta Nguyen Phuc, executive director of the modeling firm PL, which represents Tran, has not responded to media requests for comments despite repeated requests.
Meanwhile the girl's parents said she is very sad and that the family just wants to forget the affair.
Minh Thu, a student at the HCMC University of Social Sciences and Humanities, said "I think the upload of photos online was publicity mongering by someone or some company.
"It's hard to understand that a TV show couldn't keep its footage safe. The photos, according to me, were not taken stealthily but with high-quality cameras by official photographers of the show."
Thu said the organizers could have kept the photos or destroyed them. "Yet they were published on the Internet, without any heed to children's rights, given that the subject in question is only 12."
Decree No.21 issued by the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs in 1999 says children under 15 can participate in several artistic activities like dancing, singing, drama or circus performances. The decree does not mention modeling, but mentions that minors can only take part in activities that guarantee the development of their health, knowledge and dignity.
Vo Thi Xuan Trang, director of the John Roberts Powers institute which trains models and beauty queens, said Tran might be too young to overcome the incident. It could "affect the development of her personality later," she said.
Trang said it was hard to understand why such a young girl was allowed to walk on stage.
But Tran's exploitation is not an isolated case.
In November 2009, 15-year-old Hong Que from Hanoi also made headlines after appearing in a collection of La Perla, a leading maker of luxury lingerie.
According to many experienced models, a lingerie fashion show had never been organized in Vietnam until then.
But Que was shot walking professionally in a room before an adult audience in flimsy bras.
Que has been walking the catwalk since she was 13.
Young girls like Tran and Que have ushered a new trend in the fashion industry and many fashion companies are hunting for more young children like them. An increasing number of modeling contests target children, so that the companies can discover them while they can still be trained and molded.
The sad thing is that these companies and contests have received positive responses from the children as well as parents.
Many girls between ages 11-15, with the agreement and encouragement of their parents, have registered for model training courses in Hanoi and HCMC.
There are more than ten model training classes for children in HCMC, strongly supported by parents.
Well-known model and actress Truong Ngoc Anh said "different" information about fashion models has enticed children.
"It's hard to blame them but the parents need to guide them about the important things in life - to study hard at school, or they will regret it when it's too late," Anh said.
Bui Vinh The, an event organizer, said: "I know many children whose bodies are developed but they are not mature enough to deal with the challenges of the job. Oftentimes, they are easily exploited."
T.V., a 14-year-old at a modeling class on Mac Dinh Chi Street, said she felt a little scared upon hearing about Tran and Que's stories. "But I'm going to this class to make myself more beautiful."
Fifteen-year-old N.D. at the class said "I would very much like to become Hong Que."
Both girls were wearing shorts and 15-centimeter heels as instructed by their modeling trainer.