When I first saw the photos of 10-year-old Vogue model Thylane Loubry Blondeau, I thought there was some artistic quality to it. She's gorgeous, yes. There's no doubt to that. Looks like a young Brooke Shields even -- a young Brooke Shields was made to pose naked in a movie about a young prostitute when she was the same age. I digress.
There are more photos taken of this girl with strands of jewelry around her neck, topless underneath and just donning a pair of jeans. Of her finger wrapped around her jeans belt loop. The above photo doesn't really do justice to the overt sexuality of the kinds of photos this girl is taking. The Vogue shot from above, seems to me, more like a play on dress up. Mommy's little girl wearing all the nail polish and the diamonds. I want to look older, Mommy.
But what else is it about that photo? Is it the pout? Is it the way she's draped over the tiger head? You are being told to look at her in a much different light than you should be looking at her. You are being asked to see her as a centerfold. As someone desirable. It's creepy, that photo. Isn't it?
Time blogger Susanna Schrobsdorff says she's surprised by the uproar (and there's quite a bit of it -- just do a Google search on the girl's name) since all sorts of media outlets have and have been over-sexualizing girls. From padded bras at Target to Toddlers and Tiaras, to the Barbie with the three-inch-heels that my daughter plays with -- girls are undoubtedly being taught that sexy is good. Says Schrobsdorff:
"Indeed, the pressure is starting earlier and lasting longer -- right past the Demi Moore generation into the age at which women start collecting their Social Security checks. Fifty-year-olds are now regularly shopping with their daughters at stores like Forever 21. And perhaps that hits at the crux of the issue: are we supposed to look forever 21 whether we're 10 or 30 or 50? In the same Vogue issue with the kid models were middle-aged models (some looking surgically enhanced) posing the same way as the teens and tweens."
The issue here is not so much about what we're supposed to look like, it's about what our girls are supposed to look like. The line is blurred constantly between teenage girls and their mothers. Anyone remember that scene in Foxes with Jodie Foster where her mother was jealous about Jodie's tight jeans because her mother could no longer fit into them? Jodie Foster was a teenager in that movie. Watching that scene as a child, I couldn't understand what it would mean to age or to sprout jowls or have a permanent crease between my eyes that I now lovingly refer to as "the valley." Now - -helloooo 40! -- I know.
But does it mean that somehow I've bought into this for my life and that somehow I'm going to send the same message to my daughter? Uh -- no. There's a difference between playing dress-up and what Cinderella Ate My Daughter author, Peggy Orenstein calls "age compression." Age compression is about how quickly our daughters are maturing now as opposed to how slowly they matured 30 years ago. Prime example: Barbies used to be targeted for girls ages 9-12. Now girls are DONE with them by age 6. My neighbor's daughter gave me a giant box of Barbies for my two-year-old daughter just a year ago. She was 11. My mother said, "She's done playing with Barbies now? What's next?"
This is my fear for a girl like Thylane. If you're dressing up to look like a sexy Mommy, and if people are paying for you to look like a sexy young thing -- what's next? This is my fear for any girl. And there's not a lot of control we have over it. This is part of a generational evolution. Say it started with Britney Spears and I'll show you Madonna. Say it started with Madonna and I'll show you Marilyn Monroe. Sex is nothing new when it comes to selling a product, clothing or an image. It's only new when our girls are going too fast too soon because they are marketed to by mega-companies who know what kids want, and YES, that includes the slutty witch costume that your 10-year-old wore to school last Halloween because, why not, she looked cute on it, and it's harmless. Right? Right.Riiiiight.
So where do we end this dialogue? I'm not sure. I was a tomboy as a kid. I hated wearing dresses. I hated the attention it brought me. Maybe there was one summer where I dabbled in sexy bathing suits, but, Jesus, I was 16! I wasn't a little kid. Will my daughter feel the same? Will she always want to wear age-appropriate clothes at 10? No, probably not. But as her mother, I'm going to have to say: "Hey, sista. You're 10. You can't wear that. You're just a kid."