Type #teenmodel on Instagram’s search facility and you may find yourself suddenly aware of who is overlooking your screen. The hashtag count currently stands at 1.1 million images and whilst Instagram requires a user to be 13 years of age before they open an account, this is rarely upheld and virtually impossible to enforce. Many of these “teen” accounts claim to be “run by mum” – therefore enabling account holders, whether ran by the parent or not – to get around the age restrictions by presenting that the content posted is vetted by a parent and that the mothers’ operate as managers of their child’s modelling “career.”
You may feel aware of who is around you, as this image feed is not something you may comfortably be caught scrolling through. From images of girls as young as 10 posing, laid down, in cutaway bikinis on a sunset beach, to 14 and 15 year old’s straddling motorbikes, legs spread apart, seductively eating ice cream whilst staring straight at the camera; the feed makes for an unsettling portrayal of what the term “teen” has become interpreted as in today’s society.
One comment from a user named “lust_4_life” – who’s profile photo suggests he’s a middle-aged man – under the photo of a Polish teen, posing with her leg wrapped around a door in tiny hot pants reads: “very… beautiful” accompanied by a fire and heart-eyed emoji.
In another post, a hot pant clad, belly top wearing teen sits sprawled across some steps, her high heels at the end of her long tanned legs, are perched on the lower step, her legs parting with hot pants just short enough to show the underside of her bottom between her thighs, the photo caption: “Dear Autumn, bite me” with a devil emoji. The top comment, three fire emojis along with “great photo, nice pair of legs!” from another seemingly middle-aged male, this time wearing a suit in his profile photo, has been responded to by the model with “thanks!” and a heart emoji. Other comments on the photo include excessive use of the water drop, hearts and fire emojis as well as many comments relating to the teenager’s legs. The teen model has tagged the photo with #teenlegs #teenbody and other searchable hashtags based solely on her age and body parts.
Her Instagram feed with over 6000 followers (a modest number as some accounts boast upwards of 100K followers) is a collection of photos posing in bikinis by the pool, wearing hot pants on car bonnets and other poses often used by glamour models. Her age isn’t disclosed but it would be difficult to suggest she is more than 15 years of age, judging by her photos posted wearing a school uniform. Further scrolling and the highly sexualised comments become more regular; “soooo sexy”, “body so tight” and “I want to spoil a baby girl” are posted by men under images of endless children, sometimes as young as 11.
On occasion, highly sexualised comments are responded to with warnings from the pages posting the images but more often than not, positive responses and engagement can be found. From replies to overtly sexual requests with heart emojis, to likes on comments depicting fantasies and favourite body parts, the page owners, be it teens or their mothers, seem not to harbour much concern over the general intent of their avid followers. The hashtags can be broken into further sub-categories based on age, with #childmodel #youngteen #teenbody and the more concerning, #teengirlbooty, #teengirlfeet and #girlmodelbody all returning a considerable number of results.
The fetishization of young women and girls has been at the forefront of news coverage recently, following the arrest, trial and eventual suicide of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who hosted the world’s elite, including Donald Trump, Prince Andrew and Bill Clinton at his private island. Where parties involving the alleged “recruitment” of underage girls to perform “massages” for older men were the norm.
In 2015, the now-bankrupt brand American Apparel was forced to remove adverts that sexualised children as part of their “back to school” campaign. In July 2019, Instagram banned 19-year-old Belle Delphine’s account after she posed in her child-like bedroom in highly sexualised positions and offered her followers the chance to access more ‘lewd content’ via her Patreon account. At the time of writing, her account has been reinstated and she boasts 203K followers and a fan page of 98K. Her videos include shots taken between her legs in threadbare underwear, wearing a cropped school uniform on her upper body.
Discussing the world of porn or even sexual fetishes in the public realm is often met with resilience, or at the very least silence; the subject matter remaining taboo for most. However, author Jon Ronson’s podcast series, The Butterfly Effect, explores the porn industry and particularly, the polarisation of the age of models being hired by producers, based on the requirement for search engine optimized porn video titles. A video that may at one time have been titled something broadly erotic, before the internet dominated the porn industry, would now need to include at least one (and ideally more) of the in-demand ‘genres’, ie. ‘milf’ or ‘teen’. This leads to Ronson to find himself on the set of the not-so-nuanced, ‘Stepdaughter Cheerleader Orgy.’
Whilst the title of the film may at first appear absurdist, funny even, the trickle-down effect of the normalisation of ‘teen’ porn enables these accounts to go unvetted and uncensored, freely populating the news feeds of societies most feared criminals with exactly the content that would lead to their arrest. No longer a reserve for the ‘dark web’, paedophiles are accessing a near-constant supply of images, enabled by one of the largest corporations on earth.