Une Fille Perdue: Lost Girls of Sexualization

The child may be beautiful. The photographs are certainly done with a keen eye for art and fashion.

She is so young, so baby faced and clearly pre-pubescent, that it feels awkward to consider the idea that these photos carry a sexual innuendo because we know we are looking at a very young girl.                                                  


Yet they do. Implied nudityand fetishized props and sultry, “Come hither” stares, arched backs, slightly parted lips or fingers playfully, suggestively around the mouth…..

We’re talking about a 10 year old girl. A child, ten years of age. Not old enough to babysit, but apparently old enough to be posed in photos so ripe with sexual innuedo it drips off of the page with a stank.

Sexual innuendo has no place near a 10 year girl, regardless of if she is wearing high fashion or the photographer is famous or that she is French and was posing for a French fashion magazine.  I’m not sure this can be considered “art”, as I think art loses it’s integrity at the expense of an exploited child.

None of this would come naturally to the little girl, she is being coached by the photographer to pose this way. She is being taught how to project adult sexuality. She is being coached to become an object of sexual fantasy. She is being sexualized. She has been shot this way many times, which tells me neither her parents nor her agent have an issue with the photographs they are signing off on.

She is losing her childhood, and the cultural acceptance of this actually consumes so many little girls and parts of their girlhood it has become a national health crisis. The issue isn’t just about Thylane, the girl you see above, or even her mother who was only upset over the expense of a necklace the child wore and begrudgingly shut down the child’s facebook and tumblr pages. The issue here is ALL girls. There seems to be a rush for our daughters to grow up, to become little women. Sexy little women. Their natural born right to be a child is being interrupted by apathetic adults.

There seems to be something about certain parents, who live vicariously through the youth and vibrant beauty of these little, amazing girl creatures. They find it acceptable to sexualize their little girls, make dozens of excuses for it, but then lash out at the criticism by those who know how very dangerous this is.  Dangerous both for the child’s self-worth directly receiving these age-inappropriate messages, and to girls everywhere who have had one more peg of taboo slide out; a taboo meant to protect them from what should be a universal truth that little girls are not sex objects nor sex partners.

We are losing our girls to sexualization as parents permit toys that look like hookers, magazines that eat up starving young models, celebrities to act as role models, and corporations and media who profit off of the whole mess by making it extremely difficult for parents to afford or find better choices. And those are just the girls lucky enough to be born in America. In other parts of the world they are turned into brides and prostitutes as young as the age of five.

Young Thylane and her mother are just a symptom of the problem. The problem, you see, is that there continues to be a market for sexualized little girls.

I fear there always will be. Until parents start to do better, and demand better for our daughters, our little girls will continue to get lost. I just wonder, can we get them back?


  1. As I read all of this, I am reminded of Sally Mann’s work from the early 1990s — “Immediate Family,” a collection of photographs of her family. What is the difference? One is art, the other advertising? I know there IS a difference, I just can’t quite pinpoint it for myself.

    • Liz –
      Yes, I know exactly what you are talking about. I have numerous photos of my own two young children in various states of undress…because that come naturally in childhood. Sally Mann’s photos were not staged, posed, used to sell a product. I’m not sure when she took them if they were meant for mass consumption or not. But that is the difference. A naked child is not sexual nor sexualized. A naked child (or clothed child) being asked by adults to project adult sexuality….that is different. Much different. And that is what is hurting our children.

  2. There is NO justification for turning pre-pubescent girls into sex objects. None. If you are a man, there are plenty of women to ogle misogynistically in the world. Not only do we not need more men getting their jollies objectifying girls, we don’t need other men & women HELPING THEM do it.

  3. Oddly enough, of the photos posted above I find the one with the implied nudity to be the least offensive. If I were to see it as a stand alone photo I think it wouldn’t bother me much. The portrait, albeit posed, isn’t rife with the sexuality and adult-ness that I see in the others. Without the context of the other photos it would strike me as a photographic (and therefore slightly exaggerated) representation of a young girl at play, dressed up as an Indian.

    That said and taking all of the other photos into account, I’m disgusted. Stiletto heels? Red lipstick? The expression that is an obvious attempt to allure the male gaze? It’s so sexual that no argument for the “art” or “fashion” in the pictures would sway me.

    I just want to keep writing about this because it frustrates me so much. But it would mostly just be a huge bitch session, plus I’m at work so I should be, oh I don’t know, working?

    As always, thanks for the great post!

  4. I do feel bad for this little girl – 10 is so early to be looking like this.

  5. Thank you for an eloquent commentary on our culture’s dirty little secret. For some reason our global society has decided that little girls make great sex partners. And parents wink at it all as they buy their little girls hustler onesies and prostitute dolls. We cannot lose the concrete horror of this subject when talking about the intangible messages and philosophies of hyper-sexualization of girls. There is a very real “market” for our little girls. The average age of entry into prostitution in the U.S. is 13. Some girls are much younger. Men who want to have sex with children exist in alarming numbers. Media messages, like this French Vogue spread, only normalize men’s desire for young girls.

    Thank you so much for being a voice for our children!

  6. These photos SCREAM “SEX! SEX! SEX!” There’s no possible way anyone could deny that.

    That’s not implied nudity. That’s a 10 year old girl being photographed in a sexual manner without a shirt on. Now, I have no problem with pre-adolescent girls running around playing topless. It’s innocent and free. But THIS, this is not that. And I’d say it’s chid pornography. Was this photo published in the U.S.? Is there anything that can be done about it?

    I mean, the other photos are horrid too. Personally, I view it as child exploitation and think that the girl should be removed from the mother’s custody. For reals.

    The additional issue–which someone talked about but I can’t remember if it was you, Melissa–is the fact that this trend of photographing and sexualizing younger and younger girls communicates to men, not just pedophiles but also your average man, that it is OKAY to view CHILDREN in a sexual manner. I think it is transforming our culture into one similar to that of Yemen, where children are married as young as 5 or 6 years old. This steals our girls’ rightful childhood. What can we do?!

  7. i dont understand what there parents thought when they send there little girl to take these kind of picture its unbearable and what the rush .

  8. Hello, I’m a young college student who frequently reads your blog after it was recommended to me by a feminist friend. I’ve always been a little afraid to comment since I don’t feel like I fit into your usual commenter demographic (i.e. in the process of raising children), but I think I’ll come forward with something now.

    I just stumbled across this and found it absolutely disturbing: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/16/little-girls-lingerie_n_928219.html#s331176

    The website for the lingerie designer is even worse; I could hold those pictures next to a Victoria Secret’s catalog and the only difference would be photography styles.

    I find it disgusting that people will say things like “Oh it’s the French! They’re more liberal! Americans are too prudish.” Then why did my French friends and acquaintances also found the Thylane photoshoot just as disturbing as I did? Especially my highschool calculus teacher (great man I keep in contact with) and a family friend who owns a restaurant, both with young elementary school-aged daughters. Every time I read a comment like that, I wonder how many are by pedophiles looking to pooh-pooh away the justified worried masses.

    • Hi Mimi-
      Thanks for your comment, and your voice is always welcome here. I just saw the little girl lingerie story a few hours ago, and we have been talking about it a bit on Facebook, but I’m actually too angry right now to discuss it. This madness must stop. It must stop.

  9. This may be a bit off topic, but why are these sultry, angry, come hither looks even pushed as so sexy in the adult marketing? In real life how many people who have healthy sex lives actually sit around and look at each other like this? Maybe I’m off base here, but I think adults in healthy sexual relationships (that they truly enjoy) do not sit around posing with phony media inspired expressions.

    Now imagine the pressure in young a person exploring their sexuality and what they see as sexy is what the media pushes? Imagine exploring intimacy and not only having to live up the the crazy body standards the media pushes, but then to hold a sultry expression or mimic some of the absurd expressions the models display. What kind of a crazy brainwashed society is being created?

    By the way I totally agree the above imaages are totally inappropriate. Where does it stop?

  10. “In other parts of the world they are turned into brides and prostitutes as young as the age of five.” Sadly, it’s not just in other parts of the world. Girls are definitely trafficked domestically at the age of 5 in the US, it’s just less hidden and more accepted in other countries. 1 in 5 girls are sexually exploited before adulthood in the US and it’s only getting worse because of the incredibly lucrative sex industry. Scary stuff.

  11. These photos are so disturbing. My 7 yr old daughter looks very much like this beautiful child – and was wooed by a national modeling agency. People look at my little girl and exclaim ‘she should be a model’. Why? My daughter is bold, smart, funny, creative, talented, active, and yes – beautiful beyond words. I see photos like this and I am SO glad I didn’t get her involved. I worry all the time about the messages she gets. Not just in photos but music is just as bad – they play Katy Perry Friday Night at camp – don’t they get that little 7 yr olds are singing along to an anthem to boozing and sex? While playing Barbies with her her Barbie asked my Ken to ‘come home’ with her. Further talk and play revealed that she had NO idea what this really meant, but I felt sick because I allowed her to hear something in media that gave her that phrase. It’s scary being the mom of girls.

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