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Obama girl look-alike model in spotlight

  • Story Highlights
  • One young model is getting jobs because she looks like an Obama daughter
  • Expert: "Marketers are finally waking up to it -- you know -- black is beautiful"
  • J.Crew's Web site crashed after Obama girls wore the brand on Inauguration Day
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By Deborah Feyerick
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Ariel Binns is cute, smart, outgoing and looks remarkably like first daughter Sasha Obama.

Young model Ariel Binns, right, resembles Sasha Obama.

Young model Ariel Binns, right, resembles Sasha Obama.

The similarity has not gone unnoticed by the fashion industry. Harper's Bazaar magazine cast the 6-year-old Brooklyn, New York, first-grader with model Tyra Banks in a photo spread showing an African-American family in the White House.

Binns, a child model, was peering out from under a big wooden desk in an image reminiscent of John F. Kennedy's time in office.

When it comes to fashion there's nothing like a powerful brand to boost sales, especially if that brand is a dynamic first family.

"Marketers are finally waking up to it -- you know -- black is beautiful," says global branding expert David Rogers who predicts African-American models will play a more prominent role in fashion photography as a direct result of the Obamas. "It's just going to become part of the fabric of the fashion imagery of pop culture, which is a great thing," says Rogers. Video Watch young first daughter look-alike model »

At Wilhelmina Kids, a modeling agency in New York for kids and teens, agents say there is increased demand for first daughter look-alikes.

"It's a trend because, what little girl doesn't want to emulate the first kids?" said Marlene Wallach, president of Wilhelmina, which represents Binns.

Unlike the Bush twins or Chelsea Clinton, global branding experts say the appeal of the Obama girls is unique -- and infinitely marketable. After the first kids appeared in their J.Crew outfits on Inauguration Day, the company's Web site got so many hits, it crashed.

"The most visible, most exciting family in America is this beautiful black family and so people are ready and looking for those kinds of images," says branding expert David Rogers, adding that a lot of Americans want to identify and, "find some sort of connection with this family."

There is a downside. The Obamas were not happy when toy manufacturer Ty Inc. came out with African-American dolls named Sweet Sasha and Marvelous Malia even though the company said the dolls did not look like the Obama girls. First lady Michelle Obama's office said it was "inappropriate to use young private citizens for marketing purposes."

New York clinical psychologist Judy Kuriansky says many famous families face similar problems.

"I can certainly understand Michelle Obama being protective of her children. Many celebrities in Hollywood feel that way too. They don't want their children exposed to the public, because once the child is exposed to the public image, not only are they owned, but they could be used in many different ways and it takes away from the child growing up as a normal, average child."

Still, some say the celebrity of Sasha and Malia has a positive effect by presenting a positive and prominent image of young African-American girls.


Asked whether she believes the Obama girls will open up possibilities for her own child, Ariel Binns' mom Dawn Crooks says, "I think it will. I hope it does."

As for the overall effect, branding expert Rogers says he believes using look-alikes will take diversity to a whole new level.

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