A model gazes out from the pages of French Vogue. Lounging on a tiger skin throw and bedecked in high heels and jewels, her blue eyes suggest boredom – or perhaps something else. Sullen bee-stung lips are offset by flawless skin and red nail polish. Perfectly maintained eyebrows are seductively arched, asking unspoken questions.
It is not unlike any other high fashion spread in a glossy magazine, except for one small detail: the model is 10 years old.
Photographs of fourth grader Thylane Lena-Rose Blondeau from the Tom Ford-edited issue caused a media firestorm last week after the images were shown on Good Morning America. Was this fashion spread a daring form of art or social commentary… or is this merely case of a little girl being sexualized and objectified for profit?
“I think that they ran them to sell magazines,” says Kate-Christine Miller, Community Liaison of Shameless, a Canadian feminist magazine for girls. “People feel validated by looking at these images as ‘critique’ or ‘art’ and this might be especially true given that the platform is French Vogue, and not some tacky and tasteless child beauty pageant “¦ However, the reason for looking is likely the same as many fashion images; to quench an obsession with youth and beauty ideals.”
Miller says that girls and women look to fashion magazines in order to discover and emulate what our society deems beautiful. The tragedy for young girls here is that instead of feeling okay about wearing rompers, they’ll yearn for heels and jewels and lipstick, opting to grow up far too fast. The tragedy for grown women is that the standards of beauty being presented by this spread are impossible to achieve if one is over the age of fifteen.
As women are told about more things to improve upon (pores, skin tags, broken capillaries, short eyelashes), Miller says that it gets harder and harder for any adult woman — even a supermodel — to meet new standards of beauty.
“It should not be news to anyone that the fashion industry depends on young, slim, hypersexualized female bodies,” says Jane Tolmie, who teaches Gender and Cultural Studies at Queen’s University. “The fashion industry is not sending a message to young girls. It is using young girls to send a message to adults everywhere, male and female, about what is desirable.”
Teens awash in unattainable beauty ideals can sometimes suffer from low self-esteem, depression, and self-hatred — springboards for anorexia and bulimia.
But the reality is that our culture glorifies more and more extreme versions of youth and beauty, and things will likely get worse before they get better. So what can be done to protect young, impressionable minds?
“It’s not possible to shield young girls from the media,” says Miller. “But what we can do is foster their strength of will, provide opportunities to reflect on what they are seeing and feeling, and ourselves resist the fetishization of youth. Having a strong sense of self enables them to see through (such images).”
And what of those who shrug off the images of Ford’s little Lolita, saying that it’s no different from a little girl playing dress-up?
“Dress-up is fun because it is imaginative and flexible,” says Tolmie. “If someone else is doing all the imagining for you, you are not dressing up. You are being dressed.”
Sexy Typewriter blogs about her dating failures – online and otherwise – at Sexytypewriter.com