Why Celebrities Should Stop Using Their Kids as Marketing Tools

Meet your new style icon … Ace Knute.

Never heard of him? He’s the four-year-old child of Jessica Simpson and Eric Johnson, who got a full Yahoo News story recently after Simpson shared a picture of him on Instagram.

Yes, evidently all it takes to become a news story these days is to be the spawn of a celebrity:

Ace’s signature shoulder-length blond locks have been sheared to reveal a shorter, yet still adorably shaggy cut as the little guy wades in the water in front of a stunning mountainous landscape.

This has been happening for some time, of course. A 2010 feature on Hollywoodlife.com described “Hollywood’s 10 Most Stylish Celebrity Kids,” and included this rather inappropriate description of actor Matthew McConaughey and his young son:

Levi, 2, borrows some of his style from his dad, Matthew. Both McConaughey boys love walking around without their shirts on and while we want to drool over dad Matt’s abs, we just want to blow raspberry kisses on little Levi’s belly.

Are celebrity parents doing the right thing by encouraging their children to become lil’ fashionistas?

Years ago, when television host Kathie Lee Gifford relentlessly name-checked her children, Cody and Cassidy Gifford, on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, many viewers found it annoying, but it’s nothing like the relentless parade of overexposed celebrity children we see these days.

Gifford had five hours of on-air time every week to fill, and part of that became reciting her family’s foibles. It’s understandable and now seems innocent considering it was in the era before social media.

Now? While some stars guard their children’s privacy, too many others opt to use their sons and daughters as little more than marketing accessories. Some seem naïve about how social media potentially exposes children to overexposure and threats and bullying. Did Simpson realize her simple snaps would spark a major media story? Maybe not. Should she have known that was possible? Probably.

Even most non-celebrity parents understand that social media has altered the rules of privacy, and many people end up regretting it when an innocent family picture or video posted to Facebook or Instagram suddenly goes viral, exposing their children to the media glare. Celebrity parents, who themselves understand the public appetite for details of their personal lives, should be even more cautious about releasing images and information about their children.

It’s also worth asking whether celebrity offspring who grow up in the spotlight have a real choice about avoiding it when they get older. Cindy Crawford’s young daughter Kaia is already a runway model at the age of sixteen; and Amelia Gray Hamlin (also age sixteen), daughter of Lisa Rinna and Harry Hamlin recently signed a modeling contract with IMG, following in the footsteps of her older sister Delilah Belle. Both Hamlin girls have had serious exposure from a young age on their mom’s Bravo TV show, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Clearly, their parents nudged them into the spotlight. Could they have refused?

Most parents would steer their children away from careers in either modeling or Hollywood. The risks of such work greatly outweigh the rewards, from predatory directors to life-threatening conditions, like drug use and bulimia, tied to the beauty industry. Why don’t more Hollywood parents (most of whom are affluent) encourage their daughters to go to college instead? Why do so many, such as Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, embrace questionable parenting philosophies while simultaneously pushing their children into the spotlight? (Willow Smith, age sixteen, and Jaden Smith, age nineteen, are two of the most overexposed celebrity children in the world).

Other examples are creepier. Consider a 2014 Vogue (UK) report on fashionable kids that included a line about Suri Cruise’s “bulging collection of heels.” Suri was eight years old when that story appeared. But the public fascination with a child’s sartorial choices came directly from the top: mother Katie Holmes routinely brags to the press about her daughter’s supposed fashion sense,

Others clearly see their children as marketing tools first and kids second.

Social media queen Kim Kardashian has no qualms exploiting her children to boost sales of her branded products. She and hubby Kanye West recently kicked off their own kids’ fashion line by releasing pictures on Instagram of their oldest child, North West, wearing the clothing, along with hashtags like #cuteness and #mommylife. The fact that Kim claimed, “Northie picked out the color and the fabric,” hardly justifies the exploitation of her own child to sell cheaply-made clothing.

Beyoncé and Jay Z also launched a children’s clothing line that used their daughter, Blue Ivy, as its chief marketing tool. Here’s a Vogue alum writing in a fashion publication about the five-year-old as part of the site’s “Tiny Tastemakers” series about well-dressed celebrity children:

Blue is incredibly chic — she is always wearing outfits that coordinate with her amazingly fashionable mother. You get the sense, though, that Blue very much has a say and opinion about what she wears. She has a sharp sense of style already at such a young age, and with Beyoncé’s influence, she is always ready to make a splash.

Actor George Clooney wants no part of this trend. The Suburbicon director criticized the paparazzi recently for lurking around his property trying to snap pictures of his seven-week-old twins and threatened to sue the French magazine that published the images, saying, “Make no mistake the photographers, the agency and the magazine will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The safety of our children demands it.”

Good for him.

But what should we make of so many other celebrity parents’ decisions? It’s tempting to extend your celebrity clout if it means generating positive press. And what parent isn’t proud of their adorable kids?

But fashion isn’t a children’s game. The stakes are high and the context of the fashion industry as a business is likely lost on the children used to promote a parent’s fashion line. Does young Blue Ivy understand what it means to wear a $10,000 dress? Do these kids realize what it means to have images of their childhood permanently on the Internet before they’ve even reached puberty?

It’s wonderful to look your best and make sure your kids do the same. But it’s far more important to promote good values as a family, which means protecting your children’s privacy and giving them the time and space to be kids rather than merely extensions of their parents’ celebrity brand.

Image: Instagram/Jessica Simpson

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  • Rock

    I don’t blame the celebrities. Unless celebrities pay the media to promote their children, I blame the media who actually make stories out of their children.