I take back everything I said about the vague creepiness of Dakota Fanning’s Elle UK cover. The February cover of Cosmopolitan marks the official next phase in young Dakota’s efforts to assert her burgeoning, grown-up child star sexiness. If Phase One involved being a little girl in women’s clothing, Phase Two involves being a developing adolescent in women’s clothing. Sorry pedophiles, it’s the ephebophiles’ turn.

I would argue that this particular image’s creepiness comes not from Dakota’s slinky little dress, which is not so different from something she might wear on the red carpet, but everything else: the sassy pose, the sex-oriented cover stories, and the over-use of Photoshop, such that it looks like her head has been enlarged just a tad and pasted back onto her body.

It also represents a departure from “high fashion” to a more quotidian women’s mag, which begs the question: are we more willing to accept sexualization of children when it’s presented in an artsy, “couture” context than, say, a “magazine full of sex tips for women waiting to get their pap smears” context? Is that even a question?

Some of you might think I’m being a prude, and if you do, you can tell me in the poll. But before you vote, I want you to take a second to consider how you’d feel if your 17-year-old daughter appeared in a slinky little dress on the cover of a magazine with headlines like “His Best Sex Ever” and “Too Naughty To Say Here! But You Have To Try This Sex Trick”? I imagine it’s something akin to how I’d feel if my nice, R-rated nudes appeared on an X-rated site alongside some tawdry caption like “Barely legal sluts who like it up the poop chute!” It’s all about context, people.

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