Candid Encounter: Nina

By Natalia Zurowski

Disclaimer: An asterisk (*) denotes a name change. We do not disclose the real name of the individuals we meet in order to respect and protect their privacy.

A few weeks ago, I was at a job for a local magazine in Hong Kong. While I was getting my hair and makeup done, two little girls and their mother came in. The studio was holding another shoot next door and we were sharing the dressing room. The one young girl was probably around seven-years-old while her sister couldn't have been more than four. They were both absolutely adorable. At first, I didn't pay much attention to them and minded my own business. Until the mom began to get visibly irritated with her youngest daughter, Nina.*

The mom kept trying to apply lip gloss and rouge on Nina's face but she kept brushing her mom's hand away. Nina was more interested in trying to get her mom to play with the cootie catcher she just made. Mom was more fixated on getting her daughter dolled-up. She was frustrated that Nina didn't want the lip gloss or her photo taken. But after minutes of darting the lip gloss stick at her, Nina finally caved and tossed her cootie catcher to the side.

After her makeup was finished, mom instantly grabbed her Smartphone and began taking photos of Nina, asking her to smile for a few photos. Begrudgingly, Nina obliged. And then finally, her mom cracked a smile for the first time that day.

I sat there watching them and nearly jumped out of my with chair the curling iron still wrapped around my hair. It took every fibre of my being to not slap the lip gloss out of the mother's hand: “What on earth are you doing putting lip gloss and rouge on a 4 year old?!”

Up until that day, the perks and pros of the modelling industry have always outweighed the cons for me. I genuinely do enjoy my job. But for the first time, I felt really shitty about it. There I was sitting with a face full of makeup and this little girl is looking at me like it was completely normal, but it's not at all. Little girls don't need make up. I'm not a parent, but it doesn't take one to see when a parent is hurting their child, mentally or physically. This little girl simply wanted to be a kid and play. Instead of playing with toys, she became a toy. She was being forced to play dress up and pose for her mom who only smiled at her daughter when the camera shutter clicked.

Nina got attention from the stylist, client, and photographer, but she was deprived of the right kind of attention from the one person who matters most, her mom. In order to get her mother's attention, Nina wears the lip gloss, the rouge, and poses for that photo just to get even a moment of recognition from her.

I can see how child modelling can be a potential (albeit not ideal)  way to save for your child's future education. With the increasing cost of attending college, it can be understandable why some parents decide to go down this path. But to force something upon your child that can be so detrimental to their mental health is disturbing. Children are not and should not be vehicles for parents to vicariously live their dreams through.

I could be entirely wrong. Nina easily could've just decided she didn't like modelling that particular day and was being moody, as children often are. But in either case, I think all parents out there and future ones should remember: Let kids be kids.