Once upon a time, young French model Thylane Blondeau was known as “the most beautiful girl in the world.” No big deal, you might think, lots of models are given that moniker. Except, Blondeau was literally a girl, and she was barely even into double figures when a Vogue photo shoot she participated in raised questions about the use of child models. But that was back in 2011. So, what’s she up to now?
Blondeau was born to a pair of French celebrities: her father is footballing star Patrick Blondeau and her mother is actress and TV host Véronika Loubry. But her heritage wasn’t all the little girl had going for her: she was also very pretty.
Her parents got her into child modeling almost right away. In 2005, at the age of just four, little Blondeau walked the runway at a Jean Paul Gaultier fashion show. Many years later, she would mention on her Instagram that she’d long forgotten it.
It was clear that Blondeau was going to grow up to be very beautiful indeed. For a start, she had piercing blue eyes – always a feature that works well in photographs. But how much could such a young girl really enjoy a job like modeling?
There has been heated debate surrounding the use of child models for decades. Some countries, feeling that the often sexualized world of fashion simply isn’t a place for children, even forbid the employment of catwalk models who are under 16 years of age.
Then there’s the fact that modeling can often be a difficult and high-pressure job, where even very young people are encouraged to place their physical appearance above their health. In fact, child models didn’t even have much legal protection of their rights until quite recently.
However, in her early years, Blondeau seemed to be avoiding the murkier aspects of the fashion world. Her mother attended shoots, she was successful in her work, and there was little controversy. Well, not until 2011, anyway. That was when it all blew up.
In that year, aged ten, she took part in an editorial for Vogue. It didn’t end well. Almost everyone agreed that she looked far too sexualized and grown-up in the photos, sparking a huge debate about the treatment of child models.
“This picture is the antithesis of what childhood in our society should be; a child being exposed to a world she is not yet equipped to deal with solely to serve the needs of the adults around her,” psychologist Emma Gray told the Daily Mail in 2011. And it seemed most people agreed.
Countless publications and commentators offered their opinion on the photos, with one of the most damning statements coming from the Mothers’ Union. In the same Daily Mail piece, a spokesperson for the Christian charity said, “We have grave concerns about the modeling agency who represent Blondeau, which clearly does not know if it represents a child or an adult.”
Before long, Blondeau’s mother Véronika Loubry responded to the criticism, although not quite in the way people would have liked. “I admit I myself was shocked during the photo shoot. But let me be precise: the only thing that shocked me is that the necklace she wore was worth €3 million!” Loubry told Le Nouvel Observateur in 2011.
“I turn down at least three-quarters of the things we’re offered. For the moment, she’s leading a normal life,” Loubry insisted. But people were quick to point out that there had been prior, lesser-seen photo shoots where the very young Blondeau was actually topless, or not wearing pants.
“It’s not some kind of accident that Thylane Blondeau has ended up being presented in magazines in wildly inappropriate, sexually charged ways,” wrote Jenna Sauers, a former child model, on the website Jezebel. “And it’s not ‘reading into’ these images to notice the things that were put there, intentionally, by professionals.”
Back then, Blondeau herself didn’t get much of a say on the debate she’d sparked. But the ramifications were large. In 2012, the controversy still fresh, the French government proposed outlawing beauty pageants involving children. The title of its report was “Against Hyper-Sexualization.” By 2014, the law was passed
Meanwhile, Blondeau was growing up. She was still a popular model, gaining follower after follower on her Instagram account, but she was now a teenager rather than a child. At the age of 14, she was on the books of popular international modeling agency, IMG Models.
“My favorite part of the job is meeting new photographers and makeup artists. I love to try on the clothes, too!” she told Teen Vogue in August 2015. But like many models before her, she also had an interest in acting. In 2015, she starred in the French film Belle & Sébastien: The Adventure Continues.
“Angelina Jolie is my ultimate goal as an actress. If I could costar with anyone, it would of course be her. And Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Johnny Depp,” she told Teen Vogue in that same 2015 interview. Big celebrities, to be sure, but probably not ones remotely beyond Blondeau’s reach.
She was also asked how it felt to be a model at such a young age, and in replying she didn’t even reference the controversy she had stirred up at all. “Well, Kate Moss started modeling at the age of 15, and that was a little while ago. So, no. I’m not too young. If you have a good agency and people who take care of you… it’s perfect.”
In October 2016, she attended Paris Fashion Week with many other up-and-coming young models, including Lily-Rose Depp, and did an interview with W magazine. Asked what she would be doing once the event was over, she gave the very sensible answer, “Going home to get some rest and going to school.”
Looking at pictures of her, it’s very easy to forget how young Thylane Blondeau actually still is. She’ll turn 16 on April 5, 2017, and that’s not even old enough to drink alcohol in most places. But she seems to have a good head on her shoulders to go with her pretty face. Before long, the childhood controversy that once surrounded her may be totally overshadowed by other accomplishments.