Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It's time to stop the fashion industry dressing girls of ten like this.

The film star's designer sister poses coquettishly as the paparazzi go crazy. There is scarlet lipstick on her wide smile and thick black liner rings her eyes. She is dressed provocatively in a perilously short, tight dress, fishnet tights and high-heeled PVC dominatrix boots. So far, so predictable. Except for one thing. This is Noah Cyrus, sister of Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus, and she's just ten years old. Her frail, flat-chested child's body and babyish face looks grotesque and tragic in her bizarrely sexualised get-up. The pictures are enough to send a shiver down my spine.

Yet for millions of American children, Noah is a style icon. And now, together with child actress Emily Grace Reaves, who is just eight, this skinny little girl is launching a range of clothing for the childrenswear line Ooh La! La! Couture. The clothes are mainly hooker-style short dresses with can-can skirts in garish pink, leopard print and black, and are described by the company as 'versatile styles that can be worn with sweet ballerina slippers, funky sneakers or paired with lace stockings and boots for more of a rock 'n' roll look'. And yes, they are available from baby sizes.

A few years ago, a report commissioned by the respected Australian Institute coined a new phrase to describe the commercial sexualisation of children: 'corporate paedophilia'. Lead researcher Emma Rush wrote: 'Images of sexualised children are becoming increasingly common in advertising and marketing material.

'Children who appear aged 12 years and under, particularly girls, are dressed, posed and made up in the same way as sexy adult models.'
Feminist writer Natasha Walter writes despairingly about the hypersexualisation of children in her new book, Living Dolls: The Return Of Sexism. Last month, Tory leader David Cameron threatened to pass laws outlawing 'premature sexualisation' and 'excessive commercialisation' of youngsters unless firms stopped voluntarily, saying: 'Children today are being sold the idea that the path to happiness lies through excessive consumption.

'We can't go on like this. It's time we gave children back their childhood and got adults to behave like adults.' And now the influential parenting website Mumsnet has weighed in with its own, upcoming and very timely campaign on the issue, under the banner Let Girls Be Girls.

The site's founder, Justine Roberts, a mother of four, says: 'We reckon that children should not be presented as sexual or encouraged to believe that attracting the opposite sex is something they need to consider.' She adds: 'The idea behind our campaign is to encourage retailers to sign up to a simple pledge that commits them to selling only products which do not sexualise children.
'Most of us think that children's underwear shouldn't mimic adult lingerie, and that padded bras for pre-teens are not appropriate.

'We think clothing shouldn't feature slogans which are likely to be read as sexy, provocative or flirty, and lots of us feel that little girls' shoes should not have high heels.' It really isn't much to ask, is it? Of course, some will argue that even this is overkill.

That these clothes are harmless and that to think otherwise is old-fashioned. But there is growing evidence that they are wrong. Mumsnet's Roberts points out that overtly sexy clothes and toys 'introduce children to the world of adult sexuality, when elsewhere we are rightly encouraging them to resist the pressure to become sexually active at a young age'. She adds: 'It tells girls that the most important quality they need is " sexiness" and that female sexuality is all about pleasing others, and encourages a culture in which children are viewed as sexually available.'

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