11.28.12

Too Young to Model: Anna Nicole Smith’s 6-Year-Old Modeling Spawn

6-year-old Dannielynn Birkhead is following in her late mother’s footsteps by modeling for Guess Kids. Anna Klassen on the controversy surrounding the young model.

Recently, Dannielynn Birkhead, the six-year-old daughter of Anna Nicole Smith, has been asking a lot of questions about her late mother. “[Dannielynn] said, ‘Why did mommy die?’ And I said ‘You know, the doctors couldn’t fix her. But if you’re good … you’ll get to see her someday,’” said her father, Larry Birkhead, during an interview with Good Morning America earlier this year.

After Smith died in 2007, Birkhead won a paternity test that same year, which determined that he (and not Howard K. Stern, Alexander Denk, Mark Hatten or a handful of other men) was Dannielynn’s father. And since then, he’s raised her single-handedly.

But now, Dannielynn is making a name on her own. Following in Smith’s footsteps, the 6-year-old Dannielynn is the new face for Guess kids, the same label her mother famously modeled for in the 1990s. Newly-released images from the campaign show the girl striking a pose on the beach: with one hand clutching a fedora, she dons a graphic tee, white denim vest and stands with legs spread in a denim mini skirt. Another black and white snapshot (eerily similar to those black and white snaps of her mother) from the 1990s, shows Dannielynn leaning against a piece of driftwood with a far off gaze. Clearly, this 6-year-old has modeling in her blood.

But to some, the idea of a 6-year-old lending her image to a brand famous for provocative spreads and buxom models is inexcusable. Some say the lesson from Smith’s own disturbed and short life is just this: being pushed into fame too young and too fast can literally be deadly. “Although these Guess Kids’ ads are done tastefully and beautifully, her father should really try to keep her out of the spotlight as long as he can, given her mother’s history,” Lyss Stern, founder of DivaMoms.com said in an interview with The Huffington Post. She continued: “If she wants to model when she’s adult, then that’s her decision, but for now, she should be living a life out of the eyes of the media.”

But Larry Birkhead defends the images, arguing that his daughter deserves this particular connection to her mother: “Dannielynn has always looked up to her mom’s image,” he told GMA. “I think this is kind of Dannielynn’s way of paying tribute to her mom in her own special way.”

Yet her mother’s image has a long trail of dangerous connotations. Anna Nicole Smith gained notoriety as a model in the 1990s, when she auditioned for Playboy magazine and was noticed by Hugh Hefner, who anointed her ‘Playmate of the Year’ in 1993. The following year, Smith married 62-years-her-senior oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall, infamously not for his money. But before Smith gained national attention in naughty magazine spreads and high-profile marriages, she found employment in Wal-Mart, as a waitress at Red Lobster, and eventually a stripper. She died at the age of 39 from an accidental prescription drug overdose in 2007.

More than 20 years ago, Smith posted for Guess in a series of provocative poses—a finger in the mouth here, a hand tousling a bleached blonde curl there—which draws an eerie similarity to Dannielynn’s pictures today. “The image of the 6-year-old child as the face of Guess Kids is a bit jarring when juxtaposed against Smith’s sultry ads.” noted the Los Angeles Times.

But Birkhead assures the comparison is harmless: “To see her mom’s picture next to hers as a Guess girl and say, ‘Hey, I was a Guess Kids girl, my mommy was a Guess girl,’ that might be her only connection with her mom,” he said.

too-young-to-model-danniellynn
Guess? Inc. / AP Photo

Dannielynn’s images are set to appear in magazines, billboards and buses as early as January 2013. She joins a litany of model spawn who have inherited the mantle. Take, for example, Cindy Crawford’s 10-year-old daughter Kaia Gerber, Alessandra Ambrosio’s 4-year-old daughter Anja, Christy Turlington’s 8-year-old daughter Grace, and even Gisele Bundchen’s 5-year-old niece, Duda, who have all recently received attention for their blossoming modeling careers.

And while this year has introduced us to plenty of model spawn, it’s also given us an entire generation of models who seem to be getting younger and younger. The fashion industry has taken note, blasting warnings and new regulations concerning teenage and under models. And it’s no wonder that these young models—who inevitably are dressed and dolled up to look like women they will become years from now—make people nervous. 10-year-old Thylane Blondeau, for example, raised hell when she began modeling at a tender four years in unquestionably provocative ads.

Says Birkhead: “You know, it’s weird when your child is 5 years old and trending.” Weird is one word for it, but considering her not-so-sheltered childhood and a gentle (or not) push into the world of modeling, the 6-year-old’s father should be anything but surprised.