Child model Thylane Blondeau is the center of a ruckus once more. The young French girl’s career caused a ton of controversy back in 2011 at the age of 10 when fashion fans freaked out over the Vogue Paris spread she was in. Why, you ask? Because she was topless in the photos, and that’s a really strange choice of outfit for a third grader. Now, Vogue is bringing Blondeau back, but instead of depicting her as some smiling, happy preteen, it popped her on its Jalouse cover doing that grownup pout older models constantly have in high fashion spreads.
The cover hails Blondeau as the “new Kate Moss,” which would be all well and good, but she’s 12. Do we really need to deem children “the next” anything at age 12? I have no qualms with Moss for doing nude or sexual photoshoots; honestly, I think adults should be able to pose however they wish without being criticized for their bodies or sexuality. However, Blondeau is a 12-year-old, and photographing 12-year-olds topless for a fashion shoot in Vogue Enfants isn’t really a thing we should be commending.
It’s an unavoidable fact that the fashion industry fetishizes and glorifies youth while encouraging adult glamour. For example, Dakota Fanning‘s banned Marc Jacobs ad, as well as fashion’s continued obsession with Lolita (which was a story about child rape, BTW). There’s a difference between putting a kid in an ad and putting a kid in an ad where she’s got a big bottle of perfume propped up between her legs. Should we really be encouraging little girls to look and pose like this?
That 2011 shoot didn’t come off to be as a visual story about a kid goofily dressing up and prancing around in her mom’s clothes; it came off like an attempt to turn a 10-year-old into–well, basically Kate Moss. But smaller.
A quick glance-through of Thylane’s fan site shows frequent photoshoots with professional photographers who continuously pose her as a pouty girl gazing into the camera. Of course, those photos and her Jalouse cover don’t have the same uncomfortably adult effect that her first Vogue Paris shoot did, what with its heavy makeup, jewels and high heels, which wouldn’t have even been an issue had she not been posed in such an adult-themed manner. And while people will undoubtedly toss out the “if you see these as sexual, that’s your problem!” line, I still think it’s important to note the incredibly young age at which girls are posed shirtless, pouting with a “come hither” gaze, looking so very serious.
I am not opposed to the concept of child modeling. Kids can wear bras. Kids can wear bathing suits. Kids can wear bikinis. Kids can even model bikinis! These are not things that are inherently offensive, creepy or uncomfortable to look at. You know what is uncomfortable to look at? Photos wherein the child is treated like an adult subject, where she’s shown looking sad, pouty or posed away from the camera so the focus is her body. Remember these pictures from Gwyneth Paltrow‘s line of GOOP swimwear for kids?
It’s not like these kids are running around, playing in the sand and being children, they’re shown the same way adult models are: as lean, faceless mannequins for products. It’s the gaze and the posing that are the problem, not the clothing itself. And have you noticed how this seems to be an issue with little girls, not little boys? I can’t recall the last time I saw an ad where an 8-year-old boy was shown pouting toward the camera, hunched over and in swimwear. By no means am I saying that this should occur to even things out, of course, but it’s noteworthy that the gender who tends to be highly sexualized in fashion and entertainment is the one who’s getting posed like this starting at such a young age.
The sad thing about the term “child model” is that in reality, many of the models we see on runways and in advertisements are legally children. There’s very little protection for child models, which explains why they’re more frequently at risk than those kids who do acting (anybody who’s ever run a set by SAG guidelines knows how much you have to do to work with kids according to approved rules). People are only just establishing increased protective rights for child models.
When it comes down to it, this Jalouse cover is not what bothers me. It’s the way that adults are obsessed with a 12-year-old child model and how she’s continuously posed in the same manner an adult would be. I’m not blaming her for having such an adult-themed career thus far, but I do think some adults should be looking out for her rather than putting her into any high fashion editorial they can, regardless of context. Thylane Blondeau is not too young to model; Thylane Blondeau is simply too young to model like an adult.