Moscow-born Kristina Pimenova has been featured in Roberto Cavalli Junior and Armani Junior campaigns, she has more than two million Facebook fans and 395,000 Instagram followers, and has been called “the prettiest girl in the world.” In the sphere of fashion models who've made it big through social media, none of that is particularly shocking. What is, however, is her age: Pimenova is only nine.
Her social media profiles are run by her mother, who consistently posts candid and posed snaps of the girl in various outfits (most of which have a well curated Model Off Duty look). Fully clothed, makeup-free, and arguably "age-appropriate," the images are still drawing the commenting creeps out of the woodwork, and some are wondering if Pimenova is being exploited by her mother online. While we think that the stage-mom motivation is the bothersome part — something we disapprove of whether in the form of spray-tanning a pageant toddler or signing a kid up to busk in the subway — the outcry of the sexualization of children that's come out of this reveals something unfair about what we expect of people born with model-perfect looks.
Despite laws intended to protect young models from some of the harsher aspects of the industry, teenagers regularly pop up on the catwalk and in ads. Miuccia Prada cast a 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld in a 2011 campaign, then used another 14-year-old newbie on the runway last season. Cindy Crawford’s look-alike daughter, Kaia Gerber, landed a Versace campaign at age 10, and 12-year-old Romeo Beckham routinely models for Burberry. That's not to mention the thousands of child models who work to promote children's labels and brands. But, there's still a difference here: Despite her age and the fact that she's only worked for the children's divisions of these high-fashion brands, she's still being talked about as if she's a grown woman.
Click through to see more photos Pimenova's mother has posted on her Instagram, and read about the controversy.
That Pimenova only poses in children’s clothing isn't stopping commenters from discussing her “hotness,” judging her body, or predicting her future as a Victoria’s Secret model, despite the fact that her mom claimed, in a Facebook post, to keep the accounts kid-friendly. The clothes she's wearing are styles you'd find in contemporary children's stores, which makes it hard to see the photos as intrinsically exploitative — imagine that sporty outfit on a child born without Pimenova's grown-up looks. (Your average 9-year-old-in-shorts photo would likely garner more awkward-phase comments than anything else.)
Here's the tricky part: If the message we're trying to instill in young women is that what you look like and the clothes you wear should have absolutely no bearing on matters of sexual harassment or assault, or sexualization of your being beyond actions you decide to take on your own, then the same should apply here. Then there's the question of whether a nine-year-old is making those decisions on her own, and even if she is, whether she has the ability to understand their consequences.
Creepy Internet commenters are the go-to bad guys in events like these, but knowing that they exist, is it okay to expose your child to that for the sake of fame? Having "stage moms" turn their talented children into social media stars isn't a new phenomenon, either — it's a rising trend in gymnastics communities where some young athletes have more followers than many A-list celebrities. But, there's an obvious difference between growing a following because you're able to execute a difficult tumbling routine and growing one because your face reminds people of much-older supermodels, like Amber Valletta or Alessandra Ambrosio, who were also barely teenagers when they were enrolled in modeling classes by their own mothers. Pimenova's story may just be the same old strategy reheated for 2015, but that doesn't make it feel any less gross. (New York Daily News)