The French press has been covering the emergence of those creepy and very adult-styled photographs of 10-year-old child model Thylane Loubry. And Thylane's mother, the entertainment reporter-turned-reality show contestant-turned-fashion designer, has spoken out angrily about what she says is an unfair focus on her daughter.
This article in the Nouvel Observateur paints Loubry as a B-list celebrity clinging to the remnants of her fame — Thylane's father, former professional soccer player Patrick Blondeau, is mentioned only once. The paper quotes Loubry as raising quite the defense of her child's modeling work.
"These photos date from December!" she says. "It's pretty surprising to see them resurface seven months later. I understand that this could seem shocking. I admit I myself was shocked during the photo shoot. But let me be precise: the only thing that shocked me is that the necklace she wore was worth €3 million!"
Personally, I did not have that much of a problem with that Vogue Paris shoot. I don't interpret it as an attempt to sexualize an inappropriately young girl — I read it as a parody of the attempts fashion makes to sexualize inappropriately young girls every day, which overwhelmingly pass without notice.
Most working models begin their careers at the age of 13-14 — just a middle school growth-spurt older than Thylane. Some of them are incredibly successful, by industry standards, from that very early age; the work is often lonely and can be hard, and often requires these kids make lengthy sojourns in cities far away from their homes, their parents, and their schools. But when people see one of those 14-year-old girls styled in a see-though chiffon blouse, walking down the runway or posing in a fashion magazine, all open-mouthed and tousled-hair'd, people don't generally get outraged. Models seem to profit from a beauty-based value system that alienates most adult women, and so few people feel much natural affinity for these child workers. Fashion images of girls years away from the age of consent who've been made by adult professionals to look "sexy" don't even register, to most people, as inappropriate — even though they obviously are, and even though the chances are that a successful 14-year-old model is working close to full-time hours with relatively little supervision (whereas most child models Thylane's age benefit from both a less all-encompassing work schedule and proper supervision). But then a magazine poses a 10-year-old in a similar kind of way to make a point about that very inappropriateness, and everyone is suddenly very concerned for The Children. The images are disturbing. They're meant to be. The point is that the practice they represent is disturbing, too.
But that Vogue Paris spread is not the photo spread that everyone has been criticizing. Child psychologists, journalists, fashion industry professionals, and bloggers have been drawing attention to the body of Thylane's work, not all of which is exactly age-appropriate. The Vogue Paris shots may be sensationalistic, but they're nowhere near as concerning as the topless shot of Thylane lying on a bed. Or that photo of Thylane posing, this time without any pants, on a (different) bed. Or that photo of the 10-year-old model, her hair tousled in that way that to the older professional who styled it would recognize as "sexy," looking over her shoulder, her lips softly parted. Or the implied nude photo where Thylane's naked chest is concealed by her artfully placed necklace and hair. Those, and the photos like them, are the ones that make people concerned that the fashion industry and the much older professionals who run it are not treating this child with appropriate concern for her image and well-being.
The camera is not a neutral device that captures whatever passes in front of it. Fashion photographers, makeup artists, fashion editors and stylists — adults who produce and traffic in these images for a living — are responsible for the generation of these images, their selection, their manipulation in post-production, and their publication in global magazines. It's not some kind of accident that Thylane Blondeau has ended up being presented in magazines in wildly inappropriate, sexually charged ways, and it's not "reading into" these images to notice the things that were put there, intentionally, by professionals.
As for why it's mainly that body of Thylane's work that has been featured online, but it's the Vogue Paris pictures that have overwhelmingly been included in the various television news broadcasts about the "controversy" — well, the reason for that is simple. It's not that the news networks don't realize that these are seven-month-old pictures (that garnered a good deal of attention back when they were published): it's that a lot of Thylane's other modeling photos are difficult to credit. It's a matter of copyright. Though these pictures circulate widely online, and are clearly professional pictures from magazines like Vogue Enfants, exact information about who shot them and for which issue is hard to come by. And nobody wants to get sued. For Loubry to defend the Vogue Paris shoot when it's the other pictures that are giving everybody the creeps is to totally miss the point.
"In these pictures," she says, "my daughter is not nude, so let's not exaggerate here!" Um, except for the pictures where she is nude. "People who aren't seeing these pictures in good faith, too bad for them! I'm really above all that."
Loubry swears that Thylane's work isn't excessive, and that her daughter's focus on school hasn't been interrupted by the demands of the fashion industry. "We have...turned down ten film projects, a Ralph Lauren campaign...I turn down at least three-quarters of the things we're offered. For the moment, she's leading a normal life."