For the unfamiliar, Bebe Zeva is a lil fashion blogger and alternative icon who went from being Hipster Runoff’s resident lolita to a grownup Tavi Gevinson (yes I realize the irony of that statement) all before the age of eighteen. Any other applicable description of or metaphor for her has been used before, probably more eloquently by the likes of, oh, the New York Times, so if you really don’t know who she is why don’t you Google it yourself.
Anyway, probably the proudest achievement that Bebe has accomplished to date–at least in terms of broadly identifiable success (not everyone knows what MDMA Films is or reads Seventeen magazine)–is a sponsorship by VS Pink, the slightly-more-youthful in-house offshoot of Victoria Secret (I say ‘slightly’ because my sweet A cups be rockin’ VS Pink at age 27 so leave me alone).
To her credit, Bebe has done a good job of unapologetically modifying the typically-LLL brand to her own gothgrungefeme style:
When I saw the images I wondered how pleased the brand would be with her interpretation of their looks; I figured they hired her for a reason, but I also assumed they hoped for more exposure than a few unidentifiable words under a cheetah robe or a pair of brand-unrecognizable short shorts. So when they reposted her images on the VS Pink Facebook page I thought, “Oh, okay, good for (both of) them.”
Turns out I’m apparently the only person to have had that reaction.
If you navigate to their page you’ll notice that all three images have nearly 300 comments, most of which fall under the following topics:
a) this girl is twelve [I don't know why they all centered on that number but they seem to have]/clearly underage [she's eighteen] and this amounts to child pornography
b) this outfit is stupid/ugly/not how I would wear the item
c) this girl, even if legally of age, is a bad role model for young girls/I wouldn’t allow my [much younger than Bebe] daughter to wear something like that and I don’t want her getting any ideas
We can dismiss comments A and B because they are irrelevant/non-factual and opinion-based/subjective respectively, but what of C? Is there something to say about a young female in the public eye’s responsibility to be a role model for young(er) girls?
For some reason, there is a pervasive idea in American culture that young women with any degree of public exposure automatically ought to be role models. That we don’t really hold men to this same standard is a worthwhile topic that’s unfortunately beyond the scope of this argument, but think about it. Rihanna writes an album about rough sex and weapon imagery and she’s letting us down as a role model for domestic violence. Demi Lovato goes to treatment for eating disorders and self-mutilation, leaves treatment and says she hasn’t been able to fully stop, and she’s letting us down as a role model for self-harm. Obviously these are extreme and unfortunate examples, but the attitude pervades across demographics; women are supposed to be wholesome, principled, and, when they mistakenly deviate from this mold, apologetic.
This isn’t to suggest Bebe isn’t a suitable role model; I can’t judge because I don’t know her personally and, frankly, I don’t really think it matters. All I’m saying is, why does she have to be? So she has widespread internet exposure and name recognition. So she posed in some widely-publicized (at least insofar as VS Pink has eleven million Facebook fans) photographs of low- to low-moderate salaciousness. Why does she have to be an ‘example’ for younger girls to look up to?
In fact, why are younger girls even aware of Victoria’s Secret, and if they are, why is it up to the models and not the parents to control the message? Not even going to touch parenting because I obviously have no idea what I’m talking about, but it seems like it’s somebody else’s job to keep age-inappropriate children from being exposed to even somewhat provocative images of all kinds, to explain what self-harm and domestic violence are in appropriate and constructive ways, to talk about body image and societal pressure and stereotypes and the like.
I just honestly think it’s really fucking worrisome and borderline sexist that we hold young women to these standards. If they want to stand up and represent something, let them. But don’t interpret their daily, normal behaviors–simply because they are in the public eye–as representative of some kind of over-arching message without letting them speak for themselves.