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‘Slum princess from poor India’: The curious case of an American actor trying to turn a 12-year-old girl into a model

With all the emphasis on a modelling career, it is also not mentioned why all those adult males or females who have a 'protection net' around her are not able to ensure a healthy upbringing for the child, one where a 12-year-old is not required to earn money to meet the family's basic needs.

A Twitter user named Aishwarya Subramanyam has highlighted a curious issue where Robert Hoffman, an American actor is trying to raise funds for a 12-year-old child who lives in a Mumbai slum. He introduces her as the ‘slum princess‘.

When we read that someone is trying to raise funds for a poor child, all that comes to mind is “Wow, it is a noble initiative. We must help.” But this is a curious case. The American actor does not want to raise funds to help the child receive an education or a better life. The goal of the fundraiser is very specific. They want the child to become a model.

The white hero’s fundraiser for the poor brown slum girl

Yes. The American actor, who, as per the details in the gofundme page, has met this child and her family and is in constant touch with them, wants the child to earn money by becoming a model. And no. He doesn’t want her to ‘grow up to be a model’. He wants her to become a model now.

Instagram page

The Instagram page, (presumably created and managed by the actor since the Instagram policy has the minimum age restriction at 13 years) holds numerous photographs of the 12-year-old girl in different poses. Displaying her long flowing hair, her smiling, beautiful face, her eyes. All the photographs have one common theme. “Look at this pretty 12-year-old girl living in the eww-so-poor Indian slum”.

The gofundme page, where Hoffman has so far managed to raise a sum of 980 dollars against the goal of at leats 20,000 dollars, is a whole another story.

Goals of the fundraiser: portfolio, cellphone and money to start a modelling career

The fundraiser page explicitly makes it clear that the people involved with it want the child to become a model. They mention that for becoming a model, the child will first need to get money to have “photographs taken”, buy some nice clothes, afford transportation to castings, and “maybe even a proper home where she can bath properly and stay clean”. Oh, the unclean, dirty Indians.

The fundraiser page clearly states that the child needs at least 20,000 USD for portfolio, clothes, bath, transport and other expenses she needs to maintain a modelling career. The actor also insists that he is trying to ensure that some best quality professional help the child become a model.

The priorities are sorted. To become a model she needs constant Instagram, and for Instagram and other ‘professional’ needs of a model, the first thing needed is a cellphone.

Snapshot from the fund raiser page

Poverty porn

The highlight of the Instagram page and the fundraiser is the poverty. There are ample descriptions of how the family sleeps on the floor, sometimes struggles for food and how they do not have a proper house.

The page also says that the child suffers from poverty because India has a caste system. As if countries without a caste system do not have poverty. Hoffman should be aware that his country USA has millions of homeless people and nearly half of them, almost 47% live in California, where he is from. Hoffman also thinks that India is ‘poor’ because the British exploited India ‘during World War 2″.

From the fundraiser site that Hoffman is running for the child

Potential endangerment of the child

The fundraiser page also reveals some disturbing details. The child’s mother is for some reasons, not in the picture. She lives with a father, a brother and lot of cousins, uncles and aunts. But the fundraiser page specifies that steps have been taken so that whenever the child goes anywhere for modelling work, she will be accompanied by an ‘adult male guardian’.

With all the emphasis on a modelling career, it is also not mentioned why all those adult males or females who have a ‘protection net’ around her are not able to ensure a healthy upbringing for the child, one where a 12-year-old is not required to earn money to meet the family’s basic needs. It is mentioned that she goes to a government school, and since government schools in India are free, it is also not understood why the adults in the child’s family want to depend on the child’s income.

Though the page mentions that the primary focus will be the child’s education, they also insist that after she starts earning money, the first thing will be to arrange a personal tutor for her.

Did the child have a choice?

The disturbing aspects of this whole story revolve around the fact that a 12-year-old is being prepped to become a model, not in future, but now. The page mentions that she ‘has been told’ that she can become a model and earn to fulfil her needs. Whoever put the notion of becoming a model, it is not understood why they did not ask her if she wants to become a doctor, a teacher, an astronaut or a sportsperson? Why are adults around the child are deciding what she has to become to buy comforts for her family, at an age where she should be studying, playing and dreaming about all the career options she can choose from when she is an adult.

The page draws lofty platitudes of giving a better future to the child, but under all those sweetness and confetti, there is an invisible word that is hanging heavy, ‘grooming’. The child is being ‘groomed’ to become a model. The ‘best professionals’, accompanying adults and all those promises are just potential dangers that she is about to, or already being put through.

Hoffman’s reluctance to engage an NGO

After Aishwarya’s post regarding the issue generated significant concerns on social media, the American actor reportedly reached out to her. In the interactions that followed, it is clear that the actor does not want to address or even acknowledge the legitimate concerns raised by many regarding the safety and wellbeing of the child.

In the interaction with the actor, Aishwarya has tried to raise concerns regarding the issue. She has told the actor that the focus should be the education and safety of the child, and not a modelling career at such a young age. She has also highlighted that if he wants to help the child and ensure that she gets a better life, the proper way would have been to involve an NGO which can assign an experienced professional who deals with underprivileged children.

She also raised the cultural and social issues of a non-parent foreign national being in-charge of a 12-year-old girl’s life. She also pointed it out that there have been cases where foreign nationals and organisations have been found to be taking advantage of underprivileged children in the worst possible way, including running paedophile rings in the name of orphanages. But from Hoffman’s responses to Aishwarya’s suggestions, it is clear that the actor only wants her to delete her social media post because it is giving ‘negative attention’ to the fundraiser campaign.

The underlying potential for exploitation

There have been countless instances in India where foreign nationals running ‘charity projects’ are found to be actually exploiting poor, underprivileged children for selfish gains. Poverty porn is extremely addictive to the white colonial ego. Even if we close our eyes and believe that the actor here is a compassionate person who wants to genuinely help the poor child, still there will be several questions, how do we help an underprivileged child realise her true potential? We may try and ensure that she gets a healthy safe environment, but should we dictate that the only ticket out of poverty for her is a modelling carreer? At the age of 12?

Is it not prudent that all the goodwill and help is directed towards the child getting a proper education and ensuring that she grows up to be an aware, conscious woman who decides what she wants to be in future?

Also the disturbing trend of ‘marketing’ the child’s beauty to earn her a better lifestyle is quite unnerving. Why is it being mandated that the child has to become a model to start earning now? If the concerned individuals do care for her, why can’t they just ensure her a safe environment where she grows up and then decides whether she wants to be a model or not? Why is a 12-year-old child being made to ‘sell’ her looks so a privileged adult male from a developed country can get his philanthropy fix?

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