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 has practically been in the spotlight ever since she was born, given that her parents are French celebrities: namely, soccer star Patrick Blondeau and actress and TV host Véronika Loubry. But her heritage wasn’t all the little girl had going for her; from a very young age, it was clear that she was exceptionally photogenic.
And perhaps as a result of her beauty, her parents got her into child modeling almost right away. In fact, in 2005 – and at the age of just four – little Blondeau walked the runway at a Jean Paul Gaultier fashion show. Many years later, however, she would mention on her Instagram that she’d long forgotten that moment.
What’s more, it was clear even at that time 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?
Certainly, there has been heated debate for decades surrounding the use of child models. 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-pressured 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 French Vogue that sparked quite the debate about the treatment of child models. In particular, many agreed that she looked far too sexualized and grown-up in the photos.
“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. That was a sentiment shared by many.
And countless publications and commentators also 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, however, Blondeau’s mother Véronika Loubry responded to the criticism – although not quite in the way some people may 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, for the website Jezebel. “And it’s not ‘reading into’ these images to notice the things that were put there, intentionally, by professionals.”
And while Blondeau herself didn’t get much of a say on the firestorm she’d provoked back then, the ramifications were large. For example, in 2012, while the controversy was still fresh, the French government proposed outlawing beauty pageants involving children in a report titled “Against Hyper-Sexualization.” By 2014, moreover, the law had been passed.
But during those years, of course, Blondeau was growing up. And she was seemingly determined to maintain the career that had made her infamous. At the age of 14, in fact, she was added to the books of industry-leading 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. And in 2015 she began a career on screen by starring in the French kids’ film Belle & Sébastien: The Adventure Continues.
“Angelina Jolie is my ultimate goal as an actress. If I could co-star 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, meanwhile, she attended Paris Fashion Week with many other up-and-coming young models, including Lily-Rose Depp, and did an interview with W magazine. And upon being 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, then, it’s very easy to forget how young Thylane Blondeau 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. And perhaps before long the childhood controversy that once surrounded her may be totally overshadowed by her other accomplishments.