Leopard-print, lurex and the lil’ supermodels

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
August 10, 2011 /

Click here to view original /

When the ominously titled “Mothers Union” get involved, you know hysteria, hand-wringing and the haranguing of pollies is but a mere breath away.

Their latest testimony to the apparent degradation of society is Vogue’s pint-sized model Thylane Lena-Rose Blondeau. Looking more Dynasty than Disney, 10-year-old Blondeau reclines on leopard-print cushions, a scene replete with a plunging neckline and pimp-style jewellery.

The girl is posed to mimic the highly stylised, highly sexualised poses we’ve grown to expect from the fashion industry. That the twin-set, crucifix-wearing mothers are fist-shaking and placard-making is hardly surprising.

I’m not going to defend Vogue here. In a climate of sharply declining sales of anything made from paper, this a cheap and cynical grab for attention. I am however, much more interested in the apparent public discomfort surrounding the image.

Uncanny valley is a theory explaining human discomfort with robots that look a little too like us. Apparently we’re perfectly comfortable with them looking like R2D2 or Rosey on the Jetsons, but when robots look like Vicky from Small Wonder or like a Japanese sex doll apparently we freak out.

I look at Blondeau and I experience my own branch of uncanny valley discomfort. I’m looking at a lurex-and-lipstick wearing 10-year-old and think that the kid looks gorgeous and pageant-creepy and sinister and I’m thoroughly confused and revolted and intrigued all at once.

On one hand, this photo represents precisely what the fashion industry is all about: stunts. Stunts of the Andrej Pejic, gap-toothed, wide hipped, exotic-ethnic flash-in-the-pan caliber. Stunts that are fleeting, forgettable and gratuitously reliant on the rest of the media delivering undeserved exposure.

On the other hand – in line perfectly with uncanny valley – is the sneaking suspicious that we’re looking at something both real and not real, scary and maybe not so. That the issue is so much more complicated than the cliché of the sexualisation of childhood.

I’ve worked on a uni campus for over a decade. Every February, hordes of undergrads arrive and I look at them and want to see their IDs.

Just as I look at these bright-eyed, spirit-not-yet-crushed 18-year-olds and think too young to enter our sandstone prison, some people look at a glammed-up 10-year-old and think she’s too young to pose this way. Too young to be “suggestive”. Too young to have ever had a passing thought about the s-word.

Sure, that a creepy guy in a raincoat might get a little too excited by the photo gives the snapshot a more icky edge, but I believe more scarily, the photo forces us to think about children and sexuality. A combination that for many is too frightening to bear.

The girl is 10. Ten years old today means something substantially different than it did when the Mothers Union folk were making daisy chains and singing What a Friend We Have in Jesus in their youth.

Like it or not, Blondeau is either menstruating or will start pretty soon. With puberty comes all those things we’re culturally so reluctant to think about, let alone talk about: arousal and sexual activity and condom vending machines in schools.

To dare champion the sexual rights of children would be putting oneself in the NAMBLA camp, and I have no interest in that can of worms.

I am however, very keen on lambasting people for sticking their heads in the sand.

In all the ranting and railing against a 10-year-old photographed in a boudoir-setting, lost is a discussion about the reality of kids and sexuality. Talking about the evils of Vogue and we sideline a discussion about childhood having forever changed.

Less interesting than the fact that the Mothers Union have drawn attention to a photo that would otherwise have escaped our attention is the giant spotlight they’ve turned on to their own fears and anxieties and fetishism of a Leave it to Beaver childhood.

© Lauren Rosewarne