Thylane Loubry Blondeau, a 10-year-old model with a sultry stare beyond her years, had the fashion industry drooling after posing for French Vogue. But photos of the Parisian preteen, whose lanky body and gap-toothed pout bring to mind full-grown size-zero magazine cover girls, have reignited the debate over the sexualization of young girls.
Wearing makeup, high heels and haute couture, Blondeau looks a far cry from a typical 10-year-old. Even in childish smocks and cotton tees, her expressions are oddly adult -- a product, perhaps, of living half her young life in the fashion world (she reportedly hit the runway for Jean-Paul Gauthier at age 5). And some say Blondeau's grown-up beauty is giving other young girls unhealthy ideas about how they should look.
"We don't want kids to grow up too fast," said Shari Miles-Cohen, senior director of women's programs for the American Psychological Association. "We want them to be able to develop physically, emotionally, psychologically and socially at appropriate rates for their age."
French Vogue provocatively poked at this principle, running photos of Blondeau and two other tweens playing designer dress-up captioned with, "Quel maquillage à quel âge?" -- What makeup at what age? But a shot of Blondeau wearing a red dress and stilettos lying on a tiger skin rug had critics crying foul.
"This isn't edgy. It's inappropriate, and creepy, and I never want to see a nine-year-old girl in high-heeled leopard print bedroom slippers ever again," wrote Chloe Angyal, editor of Feminsting.com.
Sexualized images can have lasting effects on the young girls who see them. An APA taskforce found that sexualization by the media affects how girls think about femininity and sexuality, promoting "appearance and physical attractiveness" as key values. It's also linked to low self-esteem, eating disorders and depression.
"The research clearly shows that the fashion industry affects girls and women's images of themselves and their self-esteem if they do not meet the industry 'image' that is currently in vogue," said Paul Miller, associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University in Phoenix. "Even the very young are quite conscious of media images of what is 'pretty' and desirable."
In a photo not affiliated with Vogue, Blondeau poses topless on a bed with a young male playmate propositioning a pillow fight. And in another, she wears hip-slung jeans and no top with beaded necklaces covering her would-be breasts.
Many in the industry have defended the work as art. Others say it crosses a line.
"Any creepy child pornographer could plead 'artistic license,'" said Miller.
Thylane Loubry Blondeau's grown-up look is creating a stir.
Blondeau is not the first mini model to stir up the sexualization debate. In 2007, a 13-year-old Dakota Fanning posed in a controversial campaign for Marc Jacobs. Now 13-year-old Elle Fanning has followed in her sister's footsteps as the face of Jacobs' Fall 2011 campaign.