Friday, August 5, 2011

This Pretty Young Thing is Just Too Young

When you're a mother, people constantly tell you to savor every moment because, "They grow up too fast." Indeed, the years fly by and before you know it your baby isn't a baby any longer.

So given how quickly girls become women without any help from us, there's no reason why the fashion, advertising and magazine publishing industries need to rush it.

A current issue of Vogue Paris features a very beautiful, sultry and seductive model in sexy clothing and suggestive poses. This is par for the Parisian course except that the gorgeous girl with the "come hither" eyes is not exactly a consenting adult. Petite Thylane Loubry Blondeau is just ten years old.

The pictorial (which includes other underage models in similar makeup, clothing and situations) has sparked a lot of debate in mainstream media as well as the blogosphere. There are those who defend the photos as artistic, who criticize the United States as too repressed, and who point to the fact that each child was well-compensated for her time and likeness. Basically, there are those who say that we are making too big of a deal over this.

Of course, Thylane and her fellow models were probably not technically abused. In fact, I'm fairly sure they were treated like princesses on the set. Their mothers (or agents) were no doubt with them throughout the entire process. It's as though a disclaimer should be printed on the pages of the magazine: Bon jour, people. These are models. No real girls were sexually exploited to create these photos.

Or maybe, more appropriately: Don't try this at home.

But, isn't that part of the problem? Real little girls (as opposed to professional models) do play dress-up, trying on their mothers' clothes and make-up, and striking worldly poses in the mirror. Of course, if the pictorial is trying to depict a bit of this phenomenon, it moves into the realm of voyeurism, which is fairly creepy in its own right.

I have several issues with the photos. No, as I've already explained, I'm not really concerned for Thylane's safety. She's actually been modeling more than half her life and I'm sure this isn't the first time she's been tarted up. But, I am concerned for the message it sends to very young girls, to women of all ages, and — unfortunately — to society overall.

My daughter is a determined tomboy, rarely wearing a skirt and never wearing make-up. But, there are other girls at her middle school who dress, in my opinion, older than their years and often inappropriately. At a recent bat mitzvah, most of the 12- and 13-year olds were wearing dresses that were too short, too tight, too low-cut or in some cases all three. Add to this the fact that they were also balancing precariously on higher-than-usual heels and you can imagine some of the "wardrobe malfunctions" out on the dance floor.

Tween girls are exposed to sex through the media and in the middle school cafeteria. They are expected to talk a good game, even if they're not active yet. There is pressure to become sexy long before they're ready for sex. And, images like the ones in Vogue Paris just accelerate it.

On the flipside, adult women turn to fashion magazines to help us define what is beautiful and desirable. If young teens, tweens and girls who are still children are held up as sexual icons, where does that leave us? Is it any wonder that women of a certain age spend so much to try to look so young? In the United States in 2010, nearly 300,000 women had breast augmentation surgery and more than 5 million had Botox injections.

And, finally, I worry that every time a little girl is portrayed as a sexual being, we are making it more difficult to keep our children safe. The sad reality is that we live in a world in which there are pedophiles and predators who simply don't need any more mainstream confirmation that their sick feelings are natural. If sexualized images of young girls are so pervasive, will a judge or jury convict a criminal who acted upon the impulses that the mass media is not only acknowledging but promoting?

Pictures like the ones of Thylane may sell magazines and designer clothes, but the price for all of us is too high.

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