Gucci. Burberry. Dolce & Gabbana. When I flick through the first pages in the latest Esquire magazine, these are a few of the brands that have something in common.

No, they aren't just all advertising ridiculously dandified men's fashion for the next Fall-Winter season. They're all using males models that look no older than boys of 16 or 17 years old.

My first thought was that I'd seen this all before. Fashion magazines have historically used teenage girls to advertise products - Kate Moss was just 16 too when she first appeared in iconic boundary-pushing magazine The Face back in the 1990s.

When two separate news stories broke this week concerning teenagers - the death of a 14-year-old model after a 12-hour fashion show in Shanghai, and the allegations of sexual misconduct by Kevin Spacey in the 1980s with a 14-year-old actor - I started thinking a little differently about those ads I'd seen in a men's fashion magazine.

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Like young women, teenage boys are used as objects of desire. Their youth is sold to the masses as the pinnacle of beauty.

What are the implications of using teenage boys to sell men's fashion? Photo / Burberry
What are the implications of using teenage boys to sell men's fashion? Photo / Burberry

On the surface of it, in an advertising or editorial context, this is nonsensical. Teenage boys are not wearing $2000 Gucci jumpers and $5000 Dolce & Gabbana jackets in real life. They are not the market for these products. Further, nobody is fooling those who can afford four-figure couture into thinking that an item of clothing makes them look as young, cool, and irreverent as male models do.

So why use teenage boys to sell high-end fashion, and what are the implications of doing it?

The Spacey Saga provides us with a bit of insight. It assumes teenage boys have an adult sexuality. It gives society permission to desire them. As if they're not adolescents, they're a commodity. These boys are there for admiration.

What this potentially does is it changes society's appetite for what's appropriate to crave. Either because we're supposed to want to be cool, beautiful teenage models, or we want to be with them.

As I said, the sexualisation of teenagers is nothing new. But during this watershed point in time where calling out sexual assault is being encouraged (and applauded), perhaps we might see some change from fashion media. Because using teenage boys to sell clothes helps nobody.

I don't mean to say young people don't have sexualities - but those sexualities shouldn't be sold off. Photo / Gucci
I don't mean to say young people don't have sexualities - but those sexualities shouldn't be sold off. Photo / Gucci

On occasion in magazines you'll see male models in their 40s and 50s, like Eric Rutherford and Aiden Shaw. I'd like to see a lot more of this. These men are the real target markets of the Dolce & Gabbanas, Burberrys and Guccis of the world. They are the people who will actually buy luxury goods.

Perhaps this top-down approach from the media elite could help in the de-sexualisation of teenagers. I don't mean to say teenagers don't have sexualities - of course they do, raging hormones and all - but those sexualities shouldn't be sold off. They should not be advertised as achievable in any sense; society shouldn't keep conditioning us to think of young people this way.

Now, let's not let Spacey off the hook that easily by implying this alleged sexual misconduct was because of some sort of societal construct. A predator is a predator, and that doesn't get excused.

Alongside hoping that teenage boys stop being represented as objects of desire in magazines, maybe this revolutionary social justice moment will see actual sexual predation made completely inexcusable too.