10-year-old model, Thylane Loubry Blondeau’s photos in French Vogue magazine are causing quite a commotion. International comments range from “Creepy child porno” to “It’s just high-fashion-edgy.”
The photos have reignited the debate over the sexualization of young girls. In this instance the 10-year-old model is wearing adult makeup, stilettos, haute couture and staring into the camera with the provocative expression of someone much older. She looks anything but 10 years old.
Child psychiatrists and experts are speaking out about the images. Dr. Robyn Silverman writes on her website “My feeling is that we are creating a refueling cycle in which our girls see messages that tell them to act and look older, and even though that is stressful and uncomfortable, they do it, and receive attention for it, so they do it more.”
Studies have shown, and common sense tells us, that sexualized images can have long term effects on young girls that view them. “The research clearly shows that the fashion industry affects girls and women’s images of themselves and their self-esteem if they do not meet the industry ‘image’ that is currently in vogue,” said Paul Miller, associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University in Phoenix. “Even the very young are quite conscious of media images of what is ‘pretty’ and desirable.”
Many experts believe that not only are the images of sexed-up pre-teens and teens unhealthy for the girls that view them, but also for the young girls who model. Children are not little adults – no matter how much make-up you put on them.
The sexualization of young girls has become so prevalent that many people don’t even see it anymore. Some parents have become blind to the marketing of sex and children. What was once considered inappropriate is now common. Push-up bikini bras for 7 year olds, 7-8 year olds in bras, laced panties, and black stockings bumping and grinding at talent shows, dolls that look like street walkers, shoes to firm 8-year-old rear ends, and “Tiaras and Toddlers.” Oh, and let’s not forget thongs that have printed on them, “wink wink” and “eye candy” for 7-14 year olds.
On parenting.com, Diane Levin, Ph.D., coauthor of So Sexy So Soon and professor of education at Wheelock College notes that “research shows that sexual images and messages can take a serious toll on your child’s well-being. The message kids are taking away from these images is that buying the “right” things and looking the “right” way—and, specifically, appealing to the opposite sex—are what determine their value as people. That message is a minefield for children.”
Studies also show that girls who become obsessed with their appearance are more likely to develop an eating disorder, start smoking and become depressed, as they get older.
All this may sound like an over-reaction to a few photos of a 10-year-old who pouts and looks suggestively into the camera. The point is that young girls are particularly vulnerable when it comes to wanting to please and be accepted. It’s often a life-long battle. That’s not to say that young boys don’t have the same desire to fit-in. But it’s mainly young girls who are used by marketers to sex-up a product.
So, what’s a parent to do? Fight back with knowledge and a plan. Aboutourkids.org offers these tips for helping your daughter develop healthy self-value:
- Monitor your own comments about your self and your daughter.
- Get dads involved. Girls with active, hardworking dads attend college more often and are more ambitious, more successful in school, more likely to attain careers of their own, less dependent, more self protective, and less likely to date an abusive man.
- Watch your own stereotypes; let daughters help fix the kitchen sink and let sons help make dinner.
- Encourage your daughter to speak her mind.
- Let girls fail – which requires letting them try. Helping them all the time or protecting them, especially if done by dad, can translate into a girl feeling incapable or incompetent.
- Don’t limit girls’ choices, let them try math, buy them a chemistry kit. Interest, not just expertise, should be motivation enough.
- Get girls involved with sports/physical activity, it can reduce their risk of chronic diseases. Female athletes do better academically and have lower school drop-out rates than non-athletes. Regular physical activity can enhance girls’ mental health, reduce symptoms of stress and depression, make them feel strong and competent
- Watch television, movies, and other media with your daughters and sons. Discuss how images of girls are portrayed.
- Counteract advertisers who take advantage of the typical anxieties and self-doubts of pre-teen and teenage girls by making them feel they need their product to feel “cool.” To sensitize them to this trend and to highlight the effect that ads can have on people, discuss the following questions (adapted from the Media Awareness Network) with children:
- Do you ever feel bad about yourself for not owning something?
- Have you ever felt that people might like you more if you owned a certain item?
- Has an ad make you feel that you would like yourself more, or that others would like you more if you owned the product the ad is selling?
- Do you worry about your looks? Have you ever felt that people would like you more if your face, body, skin or hair looked different?
- Has an ad ever made you feel that you would like yourself more, or others would like you more, if you changed your appearance with the product the ad was selling?
It is within the family that a girl first develops a sense of who she is and who she wants to become. Parents armed with knowledge can create a psychological climate that will enable each girl to achieve her full potential. Parents can help their daughters avoid developing, or overcome, negative feelings about themselves and grow into strong, self-confident women.