Ten-year-old as sex symbol: Thylane Blondeau and the troubling choices of Vogue Enfant

Blondeau's provocative photoshoot for Vogue Enfant triggers the controversy over the sexualization of children. 

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Photo courtesy of Daily Mail. Michele Elliot, founder of children's charity Kidscape, said the heels were ludicrous. "Parents should let babies be babies," she argued.  

Parents wanting to combat sexualized images of children, however, face an uphill battle, as adult views of children creep into mainstream media. The TLC reality show Toddlers and Tiaras features little girls as young as four competing in beauty pageants. The show has been the target of much criticism from the start.

In addition to the contestants' bratty behaviour and ear-splitting tantrums, the show is borderline pedophilia, with little girls sporting sexy outfits (some featuring take breasts) and racy swimsuits. 

Photo courtesy of Amelia Alisoun Wordpress

L.A. psychotherapist Nancy Irwin weighed in on the controversy, saying that parents must assume responsibility for their choices.

"Do not be surprised if your child is preyed upon as a result of this high degree of visibility," she said.

“Men can pose as agents/managers and track you/your girl down through the show. Further, know that they will be pleasuring themselves while looking at your daughter’s YouTube clip."

ATiaras mother, Joey Lynn George, however, defended her choice in allowing her seven-year old daughter Hailey to compete in pageants.

"I’m not going to have her not do what she likes because they (predators) are everywhere ... No, we’re just good parents that are going to support our kids no matter what they do.”

Supporting your child is one thing. But teaching them suggestive dance routines while wearing Madonna's infamous coned bra (like New Jersey contestant Mia, 2) is another. 

Despite the heavy critcism surrounding these pageants, Annette Hill, founder of Universal Royalty Child and Baby Beauty Pageants, begged to differ, arguing that it "promotes positive self esteem." 

"Besides, what is wrong with showing off your beautiful, talented daughter to the world?" she asked. "It is up to the parents to keep their children grounded."

Photo courtesy of TLC (Makenzie, 4)

This public exposure is exactly what prompted Melissa Wardy - a writer for the blog Pigtail Pals - to write an open letter to TLC and urge producers to cancel the show. 

Sexuality is an obvious part of adulthood. That said, it is an aspect that should be kept separate from the lives of children. 

Being exposed to sexual imagery or sexual products eventually leads to children's pre-mature sexualization.

It infringes upon their innocence. 

Photo courtesy of Fashionista (Thylane Blondeau) 

Both Thylane Blondeau and Toddlers and Tiaras  illustrate how the media sexualizes children in the public eye, while heels sold to children advertises the pressure to grow up.

- Establish safe channels of communication, where your child knows she can talk to you about what she sees, hears and thinks without being embarrassed, ridiculed or punished. Children need a safe place to process what the sexualized environment exposes them to -- and parents can play an essential role in providing it.

- Reduce gender stereotypes. Help daughters (and sons) develop a broad range of interests, skills and behaviors that get beyond the narrow focus on appearance that the sexualized childhood provides.

Although a government intiative organized by the Mothers' Union is currently underway in the U.K., there is no easy fix button that allows child sexualization to simply disappear. For now, it seems the most sensible thing that parents can do to protect their child is to help them feel comfortable being themselves, in their own skin and at their own age.


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