I’m a little late to the Thylane Blondeau shock/horror party. Apologies. But now I’ve arrived, here’s my take. I don’t find the French Vogue photos of the 10-year-old model particularly outré. (Also, American media should back the fuck off until they get their Tantrums and Tiaras lovin’ house in order, but that’s another blog). People are getting their knickers in a twist for precisely the wrong reasons, viz. Feministing editor Chloe Angyal who says: “I never want to see a nine-year-old girl in high-heeled leopard print bedroom slippers ever again” because it’s “creepy and inappropriate.” Close, sister, but no cigar. Photos of Thylane are unsettling because they are so conventional and, quelle surprise, fashion photography is, in the main, creepy and inappropriate. What’s shocking is not that this specific example sexualises a child but that fashion photography as a genre sexualises dead-eyed passivity and feminine distress.
Here are just a few fashion tropes, perfected by the likes of Guy Bourdain, Helmut Newton and Terry Richardson:
Scantily-clad woman shot from a voyeuristic distance, objectified by the eye/lens
Woman incongruously underdressed in a public space (being naked in public is the ultimate vulnerability)
Allusions to violence, e.g. black eyes
Blank-eyed and passive
It’s not worse when these conventions are applied to a 10-year-old, it just more obvious. Complaining about pictures of Thylane misses the point. It is wrong for young females to be portrayed as a vacant-eyed sex dolls and it’s just as wrong for older females to be treated as such. Exploitation and objectification don’t have an age-limit. British society, in particular, has a perverse notion that once a girl hits an arbitrary age, say, 16 or 18, it is open-season. Take the whole paedo-hysteria thing: if a man drugs and rapes a 13-year-old the good people of the world want to hang him by his balls (unless he’s Roman Polanski, but again, another blog). If a man drugs and rapes an 18-year-old she was probably “asking for it.”
Ironic that it takes pictures of a beautiful little girl to highlight the ugliness of how fashion and society treat grown-up women.