Coming of Age in the Age of Overexposure

True North

In case you missed this bit of news (and I secretly hope that you did) North West, the 5-year old daughter of Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West is the latest WWD special issue cover girl. I’ll just let that sink in for a moment. A child who is barely out of her toddler days graces the cover of the beauty edition of what’s considered the fashion industry’s bible.

The subheading? “Move over millennials: North West leads the way as a new generation comes of age.” Comes of age? This product of the most overexposed franchise family in the world is barely out of diapers, 13 years away from voting and 16 years away from legally drinking.

On the cover of the magazine, West is carefully made up with pops of eye shadow and lipstick and her hair artfully arranged in what appear to be hair extensions of some sort. She coyly looks at the camera in either an approximation of her mother and aunts’ patented come-hither gaze. Or maybe she’s just responding to the direction of the stylists, photographer and anyone else complicit in gleefully stripping away the youth and innocence of a child too young to offer actual consent or fully understand what she is part of or representing.

Brooke Shields in publicity shot for Pretty Baby

Pretty (underage) baby:

In the 1978, then 12-year old Brooke Shields appeared as a second generation child prostitute in the film Pretty Baby, directed by Louis Malle. Both the film and Shields’s late mother were met with intense criticism for allowing a child to be exposed to the seamier side of the entertainment industry. Some argued it was art. Others argued that it was art at the expense of a young girl’s innocence.

Famous and exposed:

If you scroll through Instagram, it’s hard to miss the celebrity parade of children. For example, Chrissy Teigen and John Legend’s offspring Luna and Miles are undeniably adorable and make frequent appearances in their parents’ social media streams. But like many celebrity sprogs, they also seem to turn up in images that are part of endorsement deals for their parents.

Industry folks gossip that slightly older but extremely buzzy sibling duo
Kaia Gerber (17) and brother Presley (19) have been groomed since babyhood for a future in the public eye. It’s said their mother model Cindy Crawford is vigilant about their maintaining an extremely limited dietary intake. Beautiful but wraith-like Kaia is a regular on the catwalk, while brother Presley who was recently arrested for a DUI was listed as being over 6′ tall and weighing 135 lbs. To a casual observer, it could almost seem as though the teens are more commodities than kids.

A royal disturbance:

Two of the most famous children in the world right now have parents who vigilantly attempt to protect their privacy. Yet despite the best efforts of Prince William and Duchess Kate, unauthorized images of Prince George and Princess Charlotte of Cambridge regularly pop up on social media. I’ll admit that I smile happily whenever I see pics of the royal cuties. Well, not always.

The Instagram account run by writer Gary Janetti boasts 714,000+ followers and seems to take on the curious world of the British Royal family’s foibles through the eyes of a fictionalized Prince George. Cute right? Not always. While there are definitely laugh out loud moments, there’s also a disturbing trend to present the meme version of the 5-year-old prince as catty, hyper-sexualized, and generally cruel to his sister.

Among other things, meme George is presented with possibly homoerotic overtones. He also taunts meme Charlotte. While cartoon characters with these traits might be amusing and probably hilarious, these aren’t cartoons. These are living, breathing children who through no choice of their own are growing up in the public eye. Sure their parents make every effort to shield them when possible, but realistically, that isn’t possible. And if their parents can’t protect them from becoming international punchlines, who can? Whether or not Prince George grows up to be gay is irrelevant. Whether or not Princess Charlotte has body image issues is beyond the point. If from their earliest age they are seen as a joke, or less than human version of themselves, they might just start to believe it. And wouldn’t that be tragic? These aren’t adult royals who accept and understand their roles in their society or married into it and learned protocols, these are two adorable tots who have become memes to amuse others.

Which brings us back to North West.

If you know me at all, you’ll know that the Kardashian family overall is nothing I intentionally discuss, other than as a case history. While it seems that mother Kris has been promoting her daughters publicly and aggressively in some form or another for what feels like decades now, this is something else entirely. This is putting a child into the role of a grown-up world based on exposure for dollars and pretending it’s the norm. It isn’t. North West is adorable and should remain so. Though looking at the Kardashian/West family trajectory, it’s a matter of minutes before she becomes a full-fledged franchise.