Hailee Steinfeld, Elle Fanning, Chloe Moretz—these preteen fashion stars don’t hold a candle on the latest obsession of the fashion world, Thylane Lena-Rose Blondeau. She has waist-length blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, and has been compared to Brigitte Bardot. She just happens to be 10 years old.
Blondeau has starred in several provocative magazine spreads, she walked the runway for Jean Paul Gaultier at the age of 4, and she even appeared nearly topless. While many images of her are largely age-appropriate (such as her shoot for French Vogue’s children’s supplement last December), others push the envelope. For a spread in a recent issue of the grown-up version of French Vogue that was guest-edited by Tom Ford, the 10-year-old appeared fully made up, with red nails and high heels, spread out over a leopard-print couch.
With her increased visibility on the pages of fashion magazines and in ads, Blondeau has become an Internet sensation—and incited a recent outcry among bloggers who say she’s way too young to be portrayed so sexually. “That is child pornography, and it is WRONG,” wrote one Tumblr user. “This isn’t edgy,” wrote another. “It’s inappropriate, and creepy, and I never want to see a nine-year-old in high-heels leopard print bedroom slippers ever again.” A blog dedicated to the model called “F--k Yeah Thylane Blondeau” changed its name on Tuesday to “Thylane Blondeau Pictures,” with its owner explaining simply: “I’ll come back to it if she continues modeling when she’s older.” She explains that she’s been getting a barrage of emails about the star, “either messages about how much you love her or that she’s a prostitute.”
Little is known about the child model, other than the fact that she was born in Ivory Coast in 2001. Her father is a 43-year-old defender on a French amateur soccer league, and her mother is a leggy TV personality who had cameos on a few French sitcoms in the 1990s. Neither has spoken publicly about Thylane’s modeling career—but it’s clear from many of their appearances when she was a toddler that they’re comfortable exposing their daughter to the limelight.
This year, high-end fashion labels have embraced pretty young things like never before. Though runway models have an age minimum of 16, there are no regulations that dictate age in editorial spreads and ads. As The Daily Beast first reported, Miu Miu chose Hailee Steinfeld, the 14-year-old star of True Grit, as the face of its fall 2011 campaign. And designers are competing to dress the next "it" girl—the younger the better. The 12-year-old Elle Fanning, star of Somewhere, has been the “girl to dress” in Hollywood, appearing on the red carpet wearing everything from Rodarte to Marc Jacobs. After she appeared in a fashion spread in Interview, the magazine’s entertainment editor, Lauren Tabach-Bank, told us: “It sounds crazy to say someone has a good figure at 12—but she captures a youthful spirit … She’s not oversexed, but she can wear clothing well.”
As models skew younger and provocation is rewarded with issues sold and page views "liked," maybe it was only a matter of time before the industry embraced someone as young as Blondeau. Jenna Saunders, editor of Jezebel, argues that it’s the fault of the industry—and the way we’re trained to look at fashion images—that makes the pictures of Blondeau sexual ones. “It's just that so many of the tropes of fashion photography—the focus on the long limbs, the aestheticization and objectification of these young bodies, the preference for blank expressions and softly opened mouths—are inherently sexualizing,” she writes. “But something about some of these pictures, on a level almost deeper than language, creeps me out. And for that, I blame fashion, not the child or her parents.”