Model, Beth: I was scouted at 17 and never looked back

Beth Leader

Beth Leader was 17 when she started modelling and was soon featuring in magazines including Vogue and Cosmopolitan.

She counts herself lucky and credits her career with travelling the world - but it seems the fashion industry is beginning to question how it's come to rely on teenage models.

One of the industry leaders, the fashion company Kering, has just announced that it'll stop using models who are under the age of 18.

Radio 1 Newsbeat caught up with Beth at a photo shoot in central London.

As she waited for hair and make-up she revealed what it's like starting out in the fashion industry so young.

"For me I had a very good experience, but I've met a lot of international girls coming to a massive city and it was a very different story for them," she says.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Models on stage at the Gucci show, Paris Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2019

The French luxury group, which owns Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen among others, will bring the policy in for the 2020-2021 Autumn/Winter collections.

"For a lot of agencies ignorance is bliss," says Beth, who believes model welfare isn't always a top priority.

"What's happening to the girl outside of the agency isn't always at the forefront of their minds.

"My experience in the past has been - it's business - and it is and I understand that, but I think when it's young girls you've got to be so careful."

Runway teens

Despite moves towards celebrating diversity and body positivity in fashion - arguably the industry still values youth.

And experts say models are usually young partly to meet the height and weight requirements that only teenagers can achieve.

Some of the most famous names in fashion started out early too.

Kendall Jenner was 15, Cindy Crawford's daughter Kaia Gerber worked for Young Versace at 10 and Lily Cole featured on the cover of British Vogue at 16.

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Image caption Kendall Jenner at the 2019 Met Gala

While having a celebrity parent clearly opens doors to the fashion industry - particularly when you're in your teens - it's far from unusual to see young models on the runway and in magazine adverts.

But some believe it's time to wake up to the pitfalls of launching adolescents into an adult lifestyle.

Adult world

"It can be quite overwhelming," says Liz Hamilton, Director at Zone Models who's a former model herself.

"If you're going in under the age of 18 you're still young, you're naive and I think in that grown-up world - being left on your own, it can harm your mental health first of all.

"It can harm what could have been a wonderful career - and you might give up really early and go onto something else."

Vogue also recently made a commitment to only work with models who are at least 18 years old.

That move followed claims of harassment and sexual misconduct in the fashion and entertainment industry.

The guidelines say any shoot involving nudity, sexual poses or revealing outfits must be agreed by the model before the shoot.

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Media captionLondon model agency, Zone Models, hires under 18 models

Beth talks about the impact of becoming a model so young, especially for those travelling to foreign countries they're unfamiliar with.

"Some of them, they just didn't know what to do," she says.

"They couldn't even read the maps because they don't speak the language, they don't really know where they're going. Simple day-to-day things they struggled with."

Under pressure

Working long hours for little money, travelling consistently and maintaining a certain body shape are all seen as a normal part of a modelling career.

But Kering's chief sustainability officer, Marie-Claire Daveu believes it's time to challenge that idea.

"The physiological and psychological maturity of models aged over-18 seems more appropriate to the rhythm and demands that are involved in this profession," she says.

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Image caption Catwalk models at the Roberta Einer show, London Fashion Week February 2019

Sara Ziff, founder of the campaign group Model Alliance, also told BBC News the announcement was "a positive step towards eliminating the intense pressure models currently face to maintain an adolescent physique and to go to extremes to lose weight".

But she added that it lacks a "mechanism for actual enforcement" - and that she fears the pledge could "amount to little more than lip service to critical issues that have plagued the industry for far too long".

Positive influence

That's not to say starting in the industry young is always a negative - Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss were scouted in their teens and have enjoyed long and very successful careers.

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Image caption Kate Moss at the Calvin Klein Spring 1999 show in New York

And, Liz Hamilton believes it can be positive to start young too.

"If you do it right you can still scout these girls at a young age," she explains.

"But you work with them, you let them finish their studies, you speak to their parents, you go everywhere with them or their parents accompany them."

Image caption 'My education and general wellbeing was at the forefront of everything'

And Beth believes it's an outdated view that modelling is a short-lived career - but warns aspiring models to be careful.

"Obviously certain looks are going to work as time goes on," says Beth.

"Some are going to be a bit of a classic whereas some are going to be a bit more unusual looking and are absolutely striking, but maybe that wouldn't work when they're a little bit older.

"That's why I think it's important to focus on getting an education and for a model to have a plan B."

Interviews by Newsbeat reporters Annabel Rackham and Christian Hewgill.

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