There's a 10-year-old model appearing in magazines in sexy poses. Why is no one doing anything about this?
—Steve, Chicago, via the inbox
Indeed, a kid named Thylane Blondeau is making quite a stir, pirouetting in high-fash spreads sans pantalons and, in certain photos, without a shirt. Blondeau kicks out her hips—such as the they are—sports miniature high-heels and pouts sexily, evoking a liaison between Brooke Shields and Denise Richards. (Just humor me here.)
But should something be "done," as you put it?
Of course, anytime we run a story like this, we're bound to encounter legions of know-it-alls who take to the comment boards, drawling on about their post-college backpacking trips through the South of France, noting that all the little girls go topless on the beaches there, and sniffing that America needs to get its head out of the gutter. (Blondeau herself comes from the Ivory Coast and France.)
But the therapists I interviewed have no patience for such pseudo-sophistication, and neither do I. None of the therapists had met Blondeau, but, given what they've gleaned from her photos, they've seen enough.
"There is simply no situation where a child should be dressed up and put on display and overly sexualized," says Barbara Neitlich, who treats child models at her Beverly Hills psychotherapy practice.
"Putting prepubescent girls in situations such as this can create a detachment from reality into fantasy."
Even worse, it can cause developmental issues, she says.
"When child models are exploited or not permitted to have a full sense of their childhood, they tend to exhibit traits such as insecurity, a false sense of self and anxiety," Neitlich tells me. "This can often lead to larger problems as an adult such as stress, eating disorders, unstable interpersonal relationships, depression and anxiety.
"Most importantly, it can lead to an ability to cope in a world that fails to reflect the fantasy situation they have been indoctrinated with."
And that doesn't even address the sexuality at the heart of some of these photos. For the record, at least one Blondeau spread was presented as commentary on the sexual exploitation of young girls. But for a 10-year-old, good luck telling the difference.
"She is being taught to sell her sexuality while being way too young to understand the consequences," therapist Jenn Berman says.
Psychiatrist Carole Lieberman puts it a bit more bluntly:
"Not only is her rise as a supermodel bad for the psyche of little Thylane—whose parents need to be on my couch—but it is a green light for pedophiles!"
Yep, that's right: Not only is the work bad for Thylane, but, psychologists say, it's bad for young kids the world over.
"She is over sexualized, just look what happened to JonBenét Ramsey," clinical psychologist Leslie Seppinni tells me. "When you dress a young girl up provocatively with makeup to give her the appearance of an adult, then these pedophiles who have a propensity for child abuse are receiving the message that's OK, when it's not."
Well, what can you expect from a country that offers lingerie for kids as young as four? Yes, really.