Can we please stop obsessing over underage 'it' girls?

Lily-Rose Depp attends the Chanel Paris-Salzburg 2014/15 Metiers d'Art Collection in New York.

Lily-Rose Depp attends the Chanel Paris-Salzburg 2014/15 Metiers d'Art Collection in New York. Photo: Andrew H. Walker

When Lily-Rose Depp stepped out at Chanel's Metiers d'Art show in New York this month, the internet was sent into meltdown mode. Hailed everyone's new "girl crush", a "megababe" and "Paradis mini-me", Depp was suddenly "all grown up" – in the eyes of the media, at least.

The fan videos have already flooded in on YouTube. This one alone has garnered over 180,000 views. Featuring rough-cut footage of Depp sucking popsicles in bikini tops and dancing to the song 'Troublemaker' by Olly Murs, it's heavy on the Bling Ring meets Lolita vibes.

Of course, Depp is a natural target to be fawned and fan-girled over. The daughter of two attractive and famous people, Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis, with online cachet to boot, it's only a matter of time until Hedi Slimane poaches her for a Saint Laurent ad campaign. Depp has managed to skip over that awkward teen phase entirely, magically morphing into a fully formed adult woman. And yet, she isn't.

Fan videos dedicated to Lily-Rose Depp have racked up hundreds of thousands of views.

Fan videos dedicated to Lily-Rose Depp have racked up hundreds of thousands of views. Photo: YouTube

Depp is only 15 – not yet old enough to buy beer, enter a club, vote or have sex. And yet here she is, appearing in makeshift music vids and posing for adult fashion magazines, already hailed a 'style icon' by seasoned industry insiders. This month, she was interviewed by local fashion rag Oyster alongside an editorial that celebrates her for having "the face of an angel and a magnetic presence beyond her young years" ­– attracting some rather creepy comments by male journos.

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Ah, there are those words – "beyond her years" – attached to everyone from Elle and Dakota Fanning to Kendall Jenner and Kiernan Shipka. They've been used to describe Lottie Moss, who managed to steal the media spotlight at her half-sister's wedding when she was only 13 and who went on to mimic Kate in those infamous ads for Calvin Klein three years later, braless and posing provocatively. The internet seems to have unanimously agreed that underage 'it' girls – especially ones born with supreme Hollywood pedigree – make for the hottest people on the planet. (And now, no Beckham, Lennox or Jolie-Pitt is safe as editors work overtime to produce clickbaity slideshows of their formative years.)

Fashion's obsession with fresh-faced, dewy-skinned youth, of course, is nothing new. Kate Moss, Gemma Ward, Gisele Bündchen, Karolina Kurkova, Chanel Iman, Karlie Kloss and Lindsey Wixson are just a few well-known models that started working at 13, 14 or 15.  (And then there are the models who begin in their early teens but who never become famous.)

There are so many reasons why the modelling industry is an inappropriate working environment for a child – financial exploitation, eating disorders, the risk of being left in a photo studio alone with Terry Richardson. And then there's the disruption to one's childhood at an age when most adolescents are wearing braces, popping pimples, hanging out at shopping centres and being ushered to the cinemas by mum and dad.

This fetishisation has consequences. When society holds youth sacred, the young are made to look older, and the older are asked to look younger. As Harriet Williamson points out in the Independent, "As long as we continue to drool over images of girls under sixteen, we reinforce the assumption that women are only valuable when they are young." Their physical characteristics are elevated and idealised, only to create unhealthy and unattainable standards for other teenage girls – and indeed grown women – to hold themselves up against. When we sexualise children like Lily-Rose Depp, we perpetuate the cycle.

That's why we ought to leave her alone, regardless of how cute her pastel twin-set is. When she grows up, at her own pace, she can then choose to step onto the red carpet and onto the Chanel runway, or back into a waiting car.