Kiddie Lingerie, Provocative Photos Push the Line: Can Little Girls Be Sexy?

by Charlotte on August 24, 2011 · 34 comments

note: I am not posting the lingerie ads nor the more risque of the Vogue photos (of which the above picture is a part) because I find them deeply disturbing. I’ve linked to articles with some of the pics if you are curious.

Children don’t have a voice. From the moment they are born, we are putting words in their mouths, telling them what to say and how to say it and teaching them how they will speak about themselves for the rest of their lives. Some parents take this power very seriously while others hold it lightly, almost in disregard. This past month has seen an explosion of sexy pictures of very young girls and while the focus has been on the children themselves – is it even possible for a little girl to be “sexy”? – I think the spotlight should be on their parents.

Remember when people were upset about the “artistic” Vanity Fair photos of 16-year-old Miley Cyrus in nothing but a bed sheet? Three years later those are downright boring compared to the shots of the 10-year-old French model Thylane Loubry Blondeau in a racy (but tongue-in-cheek?) photo spread in French Vogue and then more recently of her modelling topless (or “implied nude” as they say). It doesn’t help that her “official” site is titled “F*** Yeah Thylane Blondeau.” (The site has been recently taken down.)

In addition to Thylane’s photos, the controversy has grown even more after a French company recently released a new ad campaign selling lingerie to girls as young as 3. Even worse than the idea of a preschooler wearing a ruffly bra and panty set is actually seeing said preschooler in that outfit laying seductively on a bed.

Mothers everywhere shuddered in horror and held their little girls tighter and yet there has been a strenuous defense of the pictures. Here are the arguments:

1. It’s art (Americans are rubes). Considering Vogue and Jours Après Lunes, the lingerie company, are profit-making enterprises and the lingerie snaps are specifically for advertising, I’d say these girls are being used for a primarily commercial rather than artistic purpose. Besides, even if the photo is artfully done, does a beautiful picture justify exploiting the subject?

2. It’s a cultural thing (Americans are prudes). I’ve only been to France once so I can’t speak for French culture but just because something is acceptable in one society does not make it automatically acceptable for all others.

3. It’s innocent (Americans are over-sexed). This is the argument I find most abhorrent. Of course the little girls aren’t sexy. Children that age can only play-act what they see adults doing. What these little girls are is sexualized, through no fault of their own. While it’s true that sexy is in the eye of the (pedophilic?) beholder and not innate in innocent kids, as a mother I cannot understand why another mother would put these images out there to be scrutinized in such a manner. The girls are dressed, made up, coiffed, and posed in ways that the majority of adults recognize as sexy and whether or not the girls themselves intend to be sexy has been made irrelevant by those hoping to gain money or fame off of them.

The myth of the sexually precocious young girl is recurring, often referring to the girl as a “Lolita” after the infamous Nabokov novel. Most people assume (courtesy of the movie? I never saw it) that Lolita tricked or beguiled Humbert Humbert into an illicit romance and thus epitomizes this ideal. But have you read it? I have. Lolita was no seductress, she was simply serially abused by a pedophile who went to great lengths to rationalize his abhorrent behavior by blaming his victim, the way abusers so often do. This feels similar to me, how so much is made about the little girls being “too sexy” when really the attention should be focused on the adults who failed them.

What do you think of this – little girls just playing dress-up or girls being exploited?

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Tara August 24, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Hi Charlotte,

Recent discoverer of your blog, first time poster, and can I just say that I love your blog, especially how candid you are and what a sense of humour you have. :-)

As for these ads – disgusting. I am not a prude by any means, nor am I a mother, but why you would intentionally let your child dress up like that and be photographed is completely beyond me. Sure, the child is probably having fun dressing up, and sure it might not be supposed to be sexy, but why would you let these photos be published knowing that in the digital age we currently live in they’ll most likely end up in some pedos private stash?*shudders*.

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gym buddy Krista August 24, 2011 at 10:48 pm

These are the cases of parents who want to be famous through their children. It’s pathetic, obhorrent and boarding on child abuse/exploitation. They should seriously be investigated by child services. What hope does a child like that have when their parents are already media-pimping them out at the age of 10! Seriously, I have zero tolerance for this crap. Might as well give their child a pedophilic pen-pal!
If we want legal highway brothels with prostitutes garnered through the sex-trade…yeah, then let’s follow along Europe’s footsteps!

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Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga August 24, 2011 at 10:56 pm

As a mother of a little girl, I want to try to keep her young and innocent as long as I can! The issue is not that little girls want to dress up but there are two big red flags to this all 1. pedophiles and sicko’s. What will THEY do with these images or try to do to our little girls?

2. self esteem and self-constructs that are too fragile to really understand what’s going on at such a young age. The lifelong ramifications on sooooo many levels are rampant from ED’s to insecurity to a million things.

There will be a lifetime for this stuff. When they are just little girls, let’s let them be just little girls!

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stephanie August 24, 2011 at 11:40 pm

This is completely and ABSOLUTELY wrong. As a mom of a 10 month old girl, I can tell you without a doubt that the last thing I ever want to have happen to my daughter is for her to be objectified by another person, PARTICULARLY in a sexual way. Pedophile are rampant in our society. We just saw that in the news with that bust of the huge internet ring. Sexy=desirable. Sexy=worth. Sexy=as young as possible. So many things in our society that we count as “normal” point to the direction that we are going: sexuality is epitomized in the “young girl” image. 1) Why would a MOTHER ever *think* about putting her daughter in a situation like this?! Do you WANT pedophiles to lust over your 10 year old?! 2) This LITTLE GIRL is a victim. 3) Images like these are anything BUT innocent. The little girl? Yes, she may be (but not for long, unfortunately). But the adult who thought it was a “good” idea to dress her like a miniature (half naked) adult, complete with age-innapropriate hair/makeup/jewelry?! America may be over-sexed, but I think it’s incredibly obvious that these images are NOT innocent. I hope that the parents get punished in some way. They are putting their daughter in danger. It’s completely ridiculous and baffles my mind why they would do something like this. Or that the photographer would have the audacity to consider doing a shoot like this. I look forward to the day my little gal is potty trained, and I can get her princess undies…not planning to dress her little girl body in adult clothes. CRAZINESS.

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Sara August 24, 2011 at 11:50 pm

It makes me want to vomit. And cry. And it scares me with having a daughter of my own. I remember my own childhood and it was not good. I am trying to help protect my daughter and I can only keep stressing and emphasizing the need to not grow up so fast, that there are more valuable assets to being a girl other than just the girly bits & such.HATE how everything, everyone is so sexualized.

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Terri August 25, 2011 at 12:09 am

I find these ads so abhorrent ! I can’t believe any mother would allow her young daughter to participate in these ads. I can’t believe that the adults at all levels of this haven’t been charged with having indecent pictures of a child. Seriously, if you get it published in a magazine it’s art, and if it isn’t it’s child pornography ? I think it’s child porn irrespective of the magazine it’s published in.

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Laura August 25, 2011 at 1:08 am

I’ve seen this crap compared to paying dress up. Yeah, I put on my moms dresses and lipstick and high heels when I was a little kid because I wanted to look like mommy, and all it was was hilarious. I looked like a little kid in adults clothes with clown makeup on. I didn’t pout for the camera or pose seductively. I looked ridiculous, not sexy. That’s way it should be. I’m glad I don’t subscribe to Vogue anymore.

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TS August 25, 2011 at 1:11 am

My mom thought it was cute when little girls wear a lot of makeup and pretend to be their mommies. But this isn’t little girls playing at being mommy, it’s adults posing them into positions that they have no business being in, and then taking their picture. A little girl wearing a bikini? I can see that (a one piece is really hard to go to the bathroom in. Plus, pudgie wudgie tummies *raspberries*). A little girl wearing makeup? Totally. A little girl copying Chicago and wearing a feather boa or singing the lyrics to Lady Marmalade because she has no idea what she’s singing? Again, OK. But adults who understand the connotations of the poses that the children don’t, that’s disturbing. Yes, it’s sexual if we make it sexual. But the thing is that we’re not capturing children playing, it’s adults treating children as their own play things.

And sadly, you know that some parents are going to buy underwear from this company. These ads did their job, we’re talking about them and giving them exposure. And I’m greatly annoyed by this.

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Sarah August 25, 2011 at 1:33 am

At best its creepy, at the worst its exploitation. Totally agree with your rebuttal of the arguments.

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Ali (student on a health craze) August 25, 2011 at 3:35 am

I agree with TS above; the argument that they’re just playing ‘dress up’ is absurd; there’s a difference between a child going through Mommy’s wardrobe/draws and putting things on, and putting a child in age inappropriate outfits that are specially sized so that they look as if they BELONG on the kid. The poses are awful, I don’t know how the people involved in the creation of the spreads all thought this would be OK.

Also, having read and seen Lolita, I think people who view the film version of Lolita as ‘asking for it’ need to get their heads checked. It doesn’t show her misery as directly, but I’d say it’s still pretty evident that she has been warped, though perhaps not by Humbert.

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Ehsa August 25, 2011 at 4:09 am

Dress up? I don’t think so. Girls being exploited? You bet! Good for you for calling attention to this dreadful phenomenom, and rebutting the “justifications” with such compelling, articulate talking points. One can only hope that people who might be inclined to use their daughters in this way are reading your your blog, and can be inspired to draw themselves back from the edge of this particular cliff.

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chris August 25, 2011 at 4:12 am

I agree,the idea of a child posing as a seductive adult is inappropriate.
I have seen pics of my inlaws as kids with much the same style as the ‘squaw’ picture,the parents inlaw both having been ‘artistic’,they see it as art while I see it as just odd to want pictures of children in such artificial poses. It strikes of manipulation in my mind. My daughter(21) came across a photo of her Aunt aged around 13 or 14 (topless) that was taken by an adult male ‘mentor’ and was astonished that ,that was seen as okay by her parents.
It is naivety or bare faced ignorance to think that ,that kind of liberal attitude is safe for children

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Penny August 25, 2011 at 5:18 am

We are so USED to female sexuality being something out of control of the female and the hands of others! If we weren’t, there is no WAY any of us would find this acceptable. This child is not old enough to be in control of this situation, it’s terrifying and grotesque. The cultural argument is a joke, too. What are we selling here? It’s not clothes, that’s for sure….

Px

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Rachel August 25, 2011 at 6:23 am

I agree that this is wrong, but i have to play devil’s advocate a little here. Whether we like it or not, studies show (and anyone who remembers early childhood knows) that children ARE sexual. The difference is, kids explore their sexuality via play and other safe, private outlets. Sex is a totally natural and fine phenomenon that we need to educate our kids about carefully. However, these child models are obviously being posed as “sexy as adults view sexy.” I think it’s been proven that children do not flaunt their sexuality in the same way as adults and so shouldn’t be posed in such a way. And i agree that it is dangerous and exploitative. But to go too far in the other direction and make the assumption that kids should not be exposed to anything sexually related until they’re 18, or other such nonsense, is misguided. I grew up very much in the dark about sex, very sheltered, and i think it really hindered my development and actually harmed me.

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NoDrama4Mama August 25, 2011 at 6:49 am

For me “dress up” involves my 5 year old wearing my old dressy dresses or her dance recital outfit, or even something I bought at the Disney store for her. Then we break out the garage sale china tea set and have a tea party, which is really an excuse to eat a lot of appies and cookies for lunch.

That is not appropriate.

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Shellie August 25, 2011 at 6:53 am

Reminds me of when “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct” by Philip R. Greaves II hit Amazon.com. All this uproar about censorship, free speech and protection of art. We have lost our minds. Thankfully there were enough outraged people to make Amazon change their views in order to keep their customers and profits up.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke

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bjbella5 August 25, 2011 at 7:15 am

As the mother of a 9 year old girl this is just sickening to me! I can’t believe a mother would ever let her daughter be a part of this and I can’t believe you can publish this in magazines its kiddie porn.

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Dr. J August 25, 2011 at 7:25 am

No, little girls are not sexy!

There is a big difference between little girls playing and putting on their own make-up (better wash off easily) and dress up clothes, and adults doing it for them because of their unfortunate agenda.

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JavaChick August 25, 2011 at 7:28 am

One word keeps echoing in my brain right now; why? Little girls should look like little girls. What is the point of ads like that? Or lingerie for 3 year olds?

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Geosomin August 25, 2011 at 9:50 am

Little girls are not sexy. Period. You want them to feel good about themselves that is an entirely different thing. It’s not art. It’s not avant garde…it’s just someone trying to “tap an unmade market” and destroy the childhood of little girls. I like that now girls don’t have to marry super young – so much to do in life and wearing lengerie and lying sexily on a bed at age 3 is NOT one of them. If a girl wants to dress up in her mum’s stuff, even lengerie that’s one thing – but this is just…well…why do we even need to debate this?
Why does empowerment mean = oversexy for so many people? Drives me crazy…

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Kevin Grant August 25, 2011 at 9:59 am

I predict a HUGE number of comments to this thread, the vast majority of which will agree with you, Charlotte.

These ads are exploitative in the extreme. As another poster said, children do explore their sexuality, but they do it on thier own terms. These ass are far different. Even worse, the ads don’t just harm the girls in the photos, but they put all young people at a greater risk of similar exploitation. The ads create distorted expectations in the minds of adults and children alike. Essentially, this sort of thing has the effect of robbing all kids of their childhoods. That’s a tragedy.

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Alyssa (azusmom) August 25, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Absolutely, unequivocally wrong. There’s no gray area here. I second what Kevin says: these ads are so harmful, in so many ways, to all of us.
Do we really want to give pedophiles a green light? Do we want to say “Sure, go ahead and ogle (and worse) young kids because, after all, one man’s perversion is another man’s art!”

Sexualizing these girls turns them into objects. Objectifying them makes them less than human. Dehumanizing them makes it easier to mistreat them, and all other girls (and boys).

What’s next? We fail to prosecute child molesters because the kids “asked for it?”

There’s a big difference between being a “prude” and refusing to be a perv.

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Shellie August 25, 2011 at 12:28 pm

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children .” Nelson Mandela

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Kathrn August 25, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Oh this makes me so angry. I will be short here as I will hold on to this topic for the majority of my day making me a grumpy person.
The fault 100% lies in Vouge. period.
They are the ones that put the shoot together…the parties (parents and child are the pawns.
…for this reason I will not put another penny into the trash.
As a professional photographer this is spread is shameful.

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Ted C. Williams August 25, 2011 at 9:21 pm

These photos make me cringe every time I’ve seen them (and since just about every news blog and website has ran this story, I’ve seen them more times than I ever cared to). While parents may want to relive their youth through their chilren (dads pushing sons in sports, the “Toddlers & Tieras” show), which is a whole different discussion, pushing sexuality on your children so that you can vicarioulsy relive your youth is flat out abuse. These designers and the companies who produce these garmets should be filled with shame.

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Mr HandyMAn August 26, 2011 at 2:53 am

As a father of two young girls(9,11) this vogue spread bothers me for the fact its inviting pedophiles to look at young girls posing in lingerie. What happens when one of these sicko’s gets worked up over these photos then wants to go looking for a little girl to pose for him?????? I think the parents who allowed this to take place in the first place should be brought up on charges and the courts need to evaluate if the parents are mentally capable of raising children without subjecting them to (leading up to) child pornography photo shoots just to line their pockets with money earned from exploiting their children. Bottom line is that no parent that truly loved his/her child would never agree to sell their childrens innocence for a dollar.

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Mr HandyMAn August 26, 2011 at 3:05 am

The fault 100% lies in Vouge. period. i agree with Kathrn. Vogue should be charged with the sexual exploitation of a child as well. This is an outrage……………………………………………
When will we as a society protect our youth from this type of evil?????????????????????????

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Maggie August 26, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Hi Charlotte,

I could not have said it better myself. In fact, I was going to post about it but I might just link to your post since you’ve said it so well (if that’s ok). I just had a baby girl and I feel physically ill to think about her one day seeing pictures like this and thinking that she should be dressing the same way. There is no other intent behind these images but to show little girls looking sexy. Period. The end. As far as people trying to make the argument that it’s art, I’m pretty sure that I’ve heard pedophiles try to make the same sorry excuse. Who, exactly, is supposed to be enticed by these images? I can’t imagine one sane person looking at these and not feeling repulsed.

Maggie

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Jen - Personal Trainer Miami Beach August 27, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I have to agree with you that these pictures are very questionable. When I came to America last year I saw on TV this show where the little girls go to beauty competitions (don’t ask me what the name of that show was – tiara something). I just think kids at that age don’t have their own opinion yet and don’t really know what’s wrong or right, so parents should try to protect them as long as possible instead of “selling” them.
Just my 2 cents.

Jen

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Kat August 28, 2011 at 2:49 pm

I’ve said it before, but those ads leave a bad taste in my mouth, because exactly as you said here, as a child you don’t really have a voice. Additionally you have this inexplicable trust in your parents to make the best choices regarding you… yes, you might fight your parents on certain things… however, you still at least partially feel that they’re doing the right things.

I had some really questionable things happen to me as a child that haunt me now… but at the time? I went along with them for those exact reasons. That I trusted my parents to do the right things… so believed what they were doing was right.

I imagine this situation to be a similar case.

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anonymous August 29, 2011 at 6:20 am

Gawker posted something about this spread a little while back (with more of the pictures) and there seemed to be a lot of debate in the comments about it’s-just-a-girl-playing-dress-up-if-you-see-it-as-sexy-there’s-something-wrong-with-you vs this-is-disgusting.

Just my thoughts on it, but some of the shots were definitely worse than others. And the girl is 10. We’re not talking about a teen, who is probably starting to be curious about and experiment with her sexuality anyway (though there’s still a good argument for exploitation there, which is why statutory rape laws were invented – to protect teens becoming sexually curious from people who would manipulate that). A girl that age playing dress up in her mom’s clothes and mimicking her mom would not be standing with one leg posed just so, in underwear and t-shirt, on a mattress, like one of the pictures. I get that it’s Vogue, but she’s definitely young.

Oh, and I lived in Paris. While they’re more comfortable with sex in many ways (nudity on TV, nude beachs) and don’t tiptoe around it, they also tend to dress more conservatively than many Americans in a lot of ways. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. I don’t think American attitudes are necessarily prudish – just different.

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Dina August 30, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Exploited! If I had a little girl there’d be no way she’d dress up like that! It makes me think of that Toodlers in Tiaras show on TLC. I just can’t believe how people are willing to let their little girls dress like that. I mean one Mom even gave her daughter fake boobs! Come on now, maybe Americans are a little prudish…but this is just asking for trouble…

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Jenn (GH) August 31, 2011 at 1:51 am

Exploitation. It’s disgusting (and desperate) that people would call it “art”. It’s disrespectful and I feel like could encourage pedophiles. It’s also insensitive those the thousands who are being held against their will or tricked into into the sex trade.

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jack January 1, 2012 at 12:43 am

To tell you the truth this display is really illegal. What they are doing in the advertizement world is illegal. If a parent had these photos at their house it is considered a form of pornographic material of a child under age. BUT, the government closes their eyes to advertizement stating that if it is to sell a product it is not considered wrong or against the laws. what we need to is to stop talking about it and do something about it. our governments everywhere are the ones who are allowing this because they are pulling in money from these companies. However, they fail to protect the people using first amendment as an absolute wrongfull excuse. The first amendment is there in place to stand up for the imminant danger our laws bring, we are allowed to speak up against injustice and this is injust. The first amendment has been applied for devience and that is an imminant danger.

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