Open thread: how old is this model?

I was in a mall the other day when a teenage girl said loudly to a woman I presumed was her mother: “But look at the gap between her teeth! She can’t be more than eight years old!”

Curious, I followed where she was pointing and saw this ad in the window of Forever 21:

Let’s take a closer look at the face:

How old do you think this Forever 21 model is? Remember that most super models started between 12 and 14 years of age. Apparently, gap teeth are all the rage in fashion modeling right now, and we live in a country obsessed with “fixing” teeth before puberty. Could it be that Forever 21 wants to follow the trends, but they couldn’t get a model of the more normal age, so they dressed up a little girl this way?

It’s certainly possible. I base that not just on the fact that she looks that young to me and to that girl in the mall, but that we’ve all seen pictures of little girl beauty queens who could have passed at first glance for older girls or even women.

What do you think about this? Do you think she’s very young? And if so, does it bother you? If she is that young, this bugs me for a couple of reasons. First, that Forever 21 doesn’t sell clothes for people her age, so this feels deceptive to me, like so much marketing in the unregulated anarchical landscape of American advertising. Second, it just seems to reinforce that once again, the entirety of female humanity just isn’t good enough for marketers. We’re too fat at 90 pounds, too old at 21 (hai there, Irony!), too flawed, too un-flawed. We can just absolutely never meet their standards. Never.

Because, to paraphrase the late great Douglas Adams, if we ever did meet their standards, their standards would immediately be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. And some theorize this has already happened.


  1. Saira says

    What I want to know is what’s going on with her arm. Did they airbrush out the elbow? It strikes me as disproportionately long compared to her torso and head. There’s so much weirdness going on which I’m attributing to photoshopping that I have no idea how old she might be.

  2. says

    Lol! Love the use of Douglas Adams there – nicely done.

    I do find something about this picture disturbing – perhaps it is the open mouth? Maybe this is important for showing the gap teeth, if this is indeed a trend right now, but it also has the effect of making her look even more childlike, I think. Am I being harsh if I say that the open mouth makes her look ‘gormless’? Very much like our idea of ‘model’ – shut up and look pretty, you don’t need to have any ideas, thanks.

  3. says

    I think Saira has a point. There is major PSD there. Maybe even an 8y.o. face pasted into a 15-y.o. body. The head and the body look totally outproportioned.
    It’s bad enough that the beauty ideal is presented as *unnatural*, but as of late, with PS and whatnot, it’s turning *unhuman*.

  4. Fairfield says

    What I want to know is what’s going on with her arm. Did they airbrush out the elbow? It strikes me as disproportionately long compared to her torso and head.There’s so much weirdness going on which I’m attributing to photoshopping that I have no idea how old she might be.

    Oh wow…I see what you mean about the elbow. I think it’s the entire torso that has been restructured in photoshop. My guess is that the upper-half is that of a very young girl and the lower-half belongs to an older model, giving the illusion of a single, older person (Nuri has it spot on I reckon.)

    Sure, we can recognise this because we’re trained to a degree to spot it, but to those who don’t give it a second thought, or view it differently, or simply can’t see outside patriarchical conditioning this might come across as strange, certainly, but the message will definitely remain that it is desireable. Unhuman is probably the best word for it.

    Imagery like this bothers me for many reasons, most of which has been covered. I also think it creates impossible expectations for both men and women who are susceptible to the programming: men bring unhuman standards to bear upon possible partners, women bring unhuman standards to bear upon themselves; not just that but ONCE AGAIN the message is sent out that children are sexually desireable or should BE sexually desireable, the effects of marketing like this also influences how children view themselves.

    Somewhat off-topic but I recently read an article written by some highly-regarded futurists about the far, far future (I think it was on the BBC?) and amidst all of the talk about climate change and languages dying and new technology there was a very interesting section describing the development of biotechnology. The futurist theorised that body alterations, significant ones at that, would start to become very common.

    Can you imagine how horrific marketing will be 200-300 years down the road if that were to pan out?

  5. Quib says

    Something I started noticing, I forget what teenagers actually look like when so many portrayals of teenage characters are by much older actors. Like Hunger Games had a 22 year old actress play the (I think) 16 year old protagonist, and Glee cast a 27 year old to play a high school sophomore.

    I also think gap teeth would be too easy to fake to make it worth picking a model for that feature alone.

    The image is too distorted, and the composition obscures her proportions too much to make a definite guess, but I don’t think she looks like she’s in elementary school. (I do understand missing teeth have that association). I could buy that she’s in her late teens. I could also buy that this is an image pieced together from 20 or so different photos.

    Also, I don’t understand why her eyes look painted on.

  6. says

    Quib: Also, I don’t understand why her eyes look painted on.

    I think what actually makes her look so young to me – and I’m not arguing that she IS, just trying to explain my instinctive thinking – is that the eye makeup looks like it doesn’t fit on there somehow, and the lips look completely unmade-up. There’s something about kids and their skin, and how all the collagen is still undamaged by the sun and so on, and the lips aren’t quite so defined from the skin around them as they get later on, that makes makeup… not quite melt into the skin? I don’t know how to put it, but makeup looks odd on kids when you look closely at it (as in, not from a stage). So the eye makeup looks to me like it doesn’t belong, and the lips like they don’t have so much as Chapstick on them, and that just makes me think of a child.

    So another question to ponder here: whether she is that young or not, is Forever 21 trying to make her look like a child, or evoke thoughts of a child in adult clothes?

    It’s just that the the more typical modeling procedure is to make a 13 year old look like she’s 21 and hyper-sexual, and this is so the opposite that I’m curious what they’re going for and what it means to us media critics.

  7. SunlessNick says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    So another question to ponder here: whether she is that young or not, is Forever 21 trying to make her look like a child, or evoke thoughts of a child in adult clothes?

    I find it hard to fathom what else they could be trying to do. The child-markers to her face are too numerous for me to think they’re anything but deliberate. But her (if it’s the same her, because Casey has a point there) body looks older and seems to be stretched height-wise. Are they trying for ageless/timeless? If so, they’ve failed spectacularly.

  8. I.A. Scott says

    I have a big gap between my upper incisors and often rest my tongue in it like that. Mirror tells me it looks similar if I hang my mouth open. I suppose I’m eight years old as far as that girl is concerned -_-‘
    Not that the whole US dental obsession isn’t completely terrifying. Braces on baby teeth? FILING? *shudder*

  9. says

    I think the overall goal is to try to make all females from around 10 to 50, look like a “sexy teenager” cartoon character. I wish that was a joke.

  10. says


    I once wrote a draft of a futuristic short story in which cosmetic alterations had led to most women looking like anime characters (enormous eyes, barely there noses, etc.), and that had become the new beauty standard.

  11. Patrick McGraw says

    I.A. Scott,

    Wait wait wait, braces on baby teeth? WTFOMGBBQ? Wouldn’t that interfere with the development of adult teeth? What kind of orthodondist is going to perform that?

  12. Mina says

    Patrick McGraw,

    I haven’t actually heard of that, but am disturbed. I’m commenting to add that a former dentist of mine suggested filing – out of the blue, mind you – just because my canines are a bit longer than the rest of my teeth and she wanted to “make them even”. No thank you! why mess with perfectly functional teeth? I don’t get the American dental thing either, despite being an American.

  13. sbg says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Mine aren’t that noticeably longer, actually.

    I’ve had dental hygienists randomly suggest that I could have my mandibular tori (I have upper and lower, who knew?) shaved off – and then said it probably wouldn’t be permanent; the bone would regrow.

    I’ve also had one randomly suggest I could surgically have my bite widened.

    Neither of these things was anything but cosmetic for me. I was horrified that anyone would volunteer for painful-sounding procedures if they weren’t needed.

    Anyway. We are prone more and more to obsessing about “fixing” things that aren’t broken.

  14. says


    My canines used to be longer, until years of stress and trauma ground them down significantly, and no one ever suggested that was unusual. I mean, they weren’t vampire length, but still. I just figured that was normal (and I’m sure when they’re the same length as the other teeth, that’s normal too).

    Dentistry is worse than most other parts of the medical profession for pushing all sorts of stuff on patients who don’t need it or want it.

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