I found out this morning that Douglas Hutchison, a 51-year-old actor from Lost and the movie The Green Mile has married Courtney Stoddard, a 16-year-old “recording artist, singer/songwriter, actress, and model” from our very own Ocean Shores, Washington. This was done legally, with the consent of her parents. She and Douglas are defending the move by stating that they are very much in love and marriage was the next logical step, despite the fact that their relationship was conducted mostly online.

In one sense, I’m appalled, and in another, I’m not particularly surprised. Courtney has been a model since the age of 12, has parents who obviously don’t mind a little publicity, and is trying to break into the music industry. It’s possible that the entire marriage has been generated to boost name recognition for the older actor and the young model/ singer/ actress/ etc.

The reason this type of “March-December” marriage doesn’t usually happen in the U.S.  is that we tend to have certain expectations of our daughters that preclude it. We expect our daughters to find an equal partner to share their life with, someone who they connect with intellectually, spiritually, and physically- which is usually someone more or less their own age. Romantic relationships are fragile in our society. We want our daughters to have a good chance of truly marrying (or committing to) a lifelong partner, and being mature enough to get through the tough times.  The average American 16-year-old is not credited with this sort of maturity, and usually with good reason.

I saw a documentary last week called America The Beautiful that focused on the rise and fall of a 12-year-old “supermodel”. Feted and adored at age 12, by age 15 her hips were considered too large for modeling (at 36 inches). Bereft of what had made her special- her looks and the subsequent excitement of the fashion industry- she complained to the filmmaker that she was “ugly” and really didn’t know what to do in life. Her entire identity had been built around her appearance and the people that told her it was fantastic- when the people changed their tune, she had no idea who she was or what to do with herself.

This may infuriate some people, but I’m going to hypothesize that Courtney becoming a model at age 12 was a long path on a slippery slope. Do all 12-year-old models marry much older men? Of course not. Do they finish school and have satisfying lives? I’m sure many of them do. Can it be a weekend hobby instead of a career choice? Probably, if being world-famous isn’t the goal.

But a 12-year-old is still in elementary school. I get nervous when I see very young teens entering an industry where their looks, weight, and fame are paramount. We already have the media screaming the importance of looks at our teens 24/7, and having life experience that reinforces this message can be very damaging. When everyone around you wants you to be more and more famous, why question anything that puts your name in the headlines, or on magazine covers? I’m sure thousands, or tens of thousands, more people viewed Courtney Stoddard’s music videos on the day after her wedding than in all the years leading up to it.

Perhaps if Courtney had not become a model at age 12, and had focused on going to school while pursuing music or acting, and maybe wasn’t already appearing in skimpy swimsuits in music videos, she might have decided that the publicity wasn’t worth her entering into a contract like marriage at age 16.

Even if she had met Douglas online anyway, maybe it would have occurred to her that entering into a romantic online relationship with a 51-year-old isn’t the best idea. Or maybe if her parents were more dedicated to her developing into a well-rounded person before getting married and/ or famous, they might have convinced her to wait- at least until she was 18. (Did I mention Douglas is now her manager as well as her husband?)

Or perhaps this is truly the love story of the ages, and she and Douglas are madly in love, and they will live out their marriage happily until (his) old age. What do I know?

What do you think went wrong? Did anything “go wrong” in the first place? What would you have done differently, if anything, were you Courtney’s parents? Do you think that starting a career in modeling at an early age has more risks than benefits, or vice versa? What would you do if your teen told you they were in love with a 51-year-old man or woman? Should teens under 18 be able to marry with their parents’ permission? (In New Hampshire, a teen can get married with parental permission at age 13!)