Are we sexualising our children?

2011-08-16 00:00

FIRST it was the story of the botoxed eight-year old (since recanted by the mother) and now this. A salon called The Trendy Monkeys, which opened in Essex in the United Kingdom recently, offers makeovers and beauty treatments to children. Children as young as 16 months are offered manicures, pedicures, facials and even spray-on tans. Ugh.

In a recent conversation on Twitter, a group of South African mothers discussed a prominent clothing store that was offering padded bras for pre-teens. The mothers expressed outrage at the fact that, as Megan said: “A major chain would stock ‘sexy’ underwear for little girls in a country where child abuse is so rife”.

In Britain, though, it seems that parents don’t feel empowered to speak out against what is being termed the “early sexualisation of children”.

This month, the Bailey Review was published. Commissioned by David Cameron, it was an independent investigation into the sexual commercialisation of children through advertising and the media in general. The Customer Voice Research chapter reports that while parents acknowledge the potential harm of suggestive advertising and clothing that encourages children to think of themselves as adult or sexual beings, they are largely apathetic about opposing the pressure to consume or speaking out against certain products. “There was little overt desire to take an active role in helping to monitor commercial activity themselves.”

“I have met many parents who were deeply uncomfortable about speaking out,” says Tanith Carey in an article in the Guardian, “even when they came across items for sale that disturbed them. Many were consumed by fear that they would seem uptight — or their children would feel left out — if they were the only ones not to let their little girls wear Lycra crop tops to the latest birthday party. No one wanted to be cast in the role of the blue-rinsed Mary Whitehouse spoilsport: if other parents are allowing it, it must be okay, mustn’t it?”

It’s not okay. This is not what we want in South Africa. We don’t want beauty parlours for little girls, botox injections for children to become the norm, or overtly sexual clothing in the children’s departments of major chains.

When trying to buy clothing for her nine-year-old recently, Capetonian mother, Belinda remarked: ”You have a choice bet­ween baby clothing and adult styles. There’s no in-between.”

South African businesses are recognising the marketing value of social networking forums like Twitter and Facebook. It’s our responsibility as parents to use these and other platforms to speak out and ensure that our opinions on products like padded bras and blatantly inappropriate clothing are heard.

— Parent

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