Monday, 5 March 2012

Dolled Up: Products that Sexualise Our Children

Stuff matters. Sometimes it's hard to accept, and it can be easier to throw up our hands and declare that it doesn't. But it does. 

As a parent of two small girls I have already said my piece on this blog about today's massive culture of 'Girly Pink'. As the oldest grows bigger - she's now four - I've been looking at the world through her eyes and becoming increasingly concerned by the messages I feel she is being given, not just by the 'Pink' products that tell her to be a 'Passive Princess' - staying at home and brushing her hair while the boys get out there and fight dinosaurs - but by the large number of products that encourage her to dress up as a woman while she is still such a very young girl. Make-up, high heels, tight jeans, and more; all available in her sizes and marketed towards her.

It's easy to dismiss some of these products as 'a bit of fun', allowing our daughters to 'pretend to be like mummy', in the same way that all little girls have surely done throughout history. But there's a difference, I think, between borrowing Mummy's lipstick, and owning your own vanity set. There's a difference between tottering around in Mummy's shoes, and having your own pair of heels in your wardrobe. There's a difference between playing and reality, between 'make-believe' and regularly wearing make up to the park.

Every product that we buy for our children, or that is marketed towards them, is significant, because products, clothes, stuff, carries messages. Stuff matters. Stuff reflects our culture, our economy, our state of mind. Hemlines go up and down with boom and bust. Corsets are loosened as morals are. Shoulder pads show that women can be tough in the workplace too. Land girls dress differently to seventeenth century aristocrats. We have to consider that the way we are dressing our children, and the toys and products we are selling them, says something about how we view the role of women in our world today. We have to question what message our daughters and our sons are receiving about their image, their sexuality, and their role in life. To deny the significance of stuff is naive. Clothes are not just clothes. Toys are not just toys.

David Cameron has long pledged to act on this issue, and never more fervently than when he allegedly overheard his six year old daughter singing along to Lily Allen's hit, 'It's Not Fair', in which Allen protests the age old injustice of a man who 'never makes me scream', even when she's spent, 'ages giving head'. In June 2011, the Bailey Review, an 'Independent Review into the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood', called for protection for children from what it called the 'increasingly sexualised wallpaper that surrounds them', and which pressures them to 'grow up too quickly'. In the same month and year, several UK retailers signed up to the BRC Responsible Retailers Guidelines, which makes detailed recommendations about the clothes that are marketed towards children.

All of these steps and the many media articles and discussions are great, but as I shop with my daughters, it seems like there are many changes still to be made. I've put together a gallery here of some of the products that I have found inappropriate. Please send me details of any other products you would like me to add, either from the UK, or elsewhere in the world. Hopefully this will further highlight this issue and increase pressure on retailers to be more responsible.


These Hannah Montana shoes, for sale at Brantano, start in a Size 9 - and fit my 4 year old daughter.

Also available from a Size 9 up in Brantano, high heeled shoes by Bratz, whose controversial range of sexily dressed dolls have been described by Michele Eliot, of Kidscape, as 'little sexualised creatures that give the wrong message to girls'. 




Matalan has already come under fire for selling padded bras for eight year olds. But will someone from Matalan please explain to me why my four year old daughter needs to wear this cropped vest? Not for warmth, surely?!



The magazine Sparkle World is aimed at primary school girls, and certainly got the four year old's vote. And lucky us, we got a free poster for her bedroom wall:


But hold on a minute, is this Sparkle World, or Spearmint Rhino?!







Toys R Us have a variety of make up sets in stock, including this one, the Dream Dazzlers Light Up Glamour Make Up, recommended for five years and up:


Toys R Us also carry this Dream Dazzler Vanity Make Up Table, for three years and up:




and also from Toys R Us, this Moxie Girlz Boombox Vanity Case, for 6 years and up:



Also from Moxie Girlz, but this time sold by Argos, this scooter with a secret drawer full of make up, for 5 years and up:

Lelli Kelly sell shoes in a variety of styles, but their range of School Shoes, such as these, come with free make up:


These slutty little fairies look familiar...


Yes, they're the same crew from Sparkle World. I now know they are the stars of a 'cartoon' from Nickelodeon's new show, Winx Club, aimed at 5 to 12 year olds. Thanks to Pigtail Pals for pointing this out.


29 comments:

  1. Free make up with their school shoes??? Now I really have heard it all. Ugh.

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    1. Yes - a horrible cocktail of wrongness...where do we start?! x

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  2. The shoes are awful too - pointy, and open. The girls 'just don't like to play football', do they? No blooming wonder dressed in flimsy rubbish like that!

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    1. Yes...
      A long time ago I trained as an actor and any actor will tell you about 'character shoes', and in the case of girls 'practice skirts' (when you rehearse for a period drama you wear a skirt at all times). What we wear has a big impact on how we move, how we carry ourselves, and this in turn has a big impact on the way we feel about ourselves.
      As I said, clothes are not just clothes!!! x

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  3. It's no wonder by the time girls make it to secondary school they are horrified by the thought of leaving the house without makeup. Nice way to tie them down to a lifelong commitment to paranoia which keeps the make up industry in business.

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    1. Yes, the issue of make up is interesting... enough for a separate post perhaps! Is it ok for adult women to wear it? What motivates us? Another day!
      Thanks for your comment! x

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  4. Here's (http://www.youaremorethan.blogspot.com/2012/01/in-which-i-am-totally-judge-y.html) a link to my website - a post about some clothes I spotted - ties in to your examples. Here in the US, the girls' clothes are pretty objectionable. It is hard to find things that let them play (safely) - and everything, but everything, is pink. I worry about my daughter (4yo) starting school as the princess culture is so engrained. I thought the UK was better (my husband is English and I lived there for 10 years) - but I guess it is the same everywhere these days? I'll try to find a picture of baby and toddler high heels to send you - they are out there!

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    1. Thanks Jill. I shared your post via my FB page (www.facebook.com/themulesmouth)
      Yes, the pink thing is pretty bad in the UK.
      Look forward to your pictures. All the best for now x

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  5. The sexualization of children has always confused me, especially when parents, who are supposed to protect and nurture their children, instead feed them to the wolves of dichotomized femininity. They think make-up and high heels on babies is "cute"....here's a link to a poem I wrote after seeing a picture of aa 2 yr old in all dolled up and in the comments a grandparent said, "she could be a model!"http://nextincarnation.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/my-daughters-going-to-be-a-model-a-poem/

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  6. It's a far cry indeed to when I started secondary school....(back in the day 1977). We all arrived in uniform regulation lenglth skirts and wait for it....knee high white socks! We were all aghast that one girl arrived in flesh coloured tights...tut tut only the older girls in 5th form (yr 11) did that! Girls are encouraged to grow up way too early and yes the fashion industry is making far too much money out of it.

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  7. I struggle with this every day. My daughter is about to turn 3 and refuses to wear pants or running shoes. All she wants to wear are dresses and ballet flats. At least she doesn't see a problem with wearing her fancy outfits to the park, in the mud, or on her bike. *sigh*

    Yesterday she came home from shopping with Grandma with two new outfits. One pair of shoes were blue canvas runners. I was excited that she had picked them out until she told me they looked like 'boy shoes' and needed ribbons and bows to make them 'girl shoes'. Maybe I should have raised her away from our messed up culture, she sure didn't get any of this boy/girl thing from me. I'm the mom in baggy jeans and a fleece hoody who may have brushed her hair last week sometime and barely owns makeup.

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    1. Don`t worry even if she was raised away from this she`d still know boy girl thing. If she likes dresses let her wear them she`s a girl.

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    2. Would she? I think a lot of it is culturally learnt and given. Wearing a dress is not genetically hard wired to women, neither is liking pink. For us this struggle has got a whole lot worse since our eldest daughter started school. Suddenly it is all about hair slides, dresses and even lipstick. WIthin reason, I'm trying to play along with it, hoping it is 'just a phase', and thinking that if I object too strongly I might only make it worse. x

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  8. I am a mother of boys but an elder sibling (by what feels like almost a generation) to three sisters. I cannot bear the sexualisation and the clothes and the shoes, if nothing else because of the narrow and objectified view of women and womanhood they convey. The lack of imagination is almost as obscene as the disgusting conflation of sex and sexual primacy and the very young and the emphasis on their bodies and adorning them for display. Don't get me started on pink Lego.

    I have sons, and find the guiding emphasis on a very narrow 'ideal' of masculinity enough to drive me to despair also.

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  9. really interesting stuff- am starting to real 'living dolls' which is a fascinating but disturbing read. I have also worked in schools and focus on appearance is huge- from one mother who will only let her girl wear purple, to ones who only wear labels- children are becoming fashion accessories. I know parents who want girls so they can dress them in cute clothes.

    So, so, so damaging in so many ways.. I think I want to move away to far far away place to protect her,

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  10. make up is scary for under 10s! What happened to letting kids (of both genders) play with face paints when they wanted to dress up? High heels are for fully grown feet only in my opinion. No need to mess up the bone strcture in their feet until they are old enough to understand teh risks themselves. Personally I don't wear make up often, I do sometimes, but only when it suits me, or I feel like dressing up for a special occasion (like big family meals, wedding receptions, formal birthday parties). It terrifies me that we are putting all this stuff on little kids!

    As a girl I LOVED wearing dresses, usually because I could climb a tree and they didn't hold my legs too tightly (unlike jeans or thicker trousers). I loved looser shorts and soft trousers too though, and was lucky enough to always be given the choices by my parents.

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  11. It bothers me seeing little girls clothing items on Trademe, EBay etc advertised as "sexy". What are they thinking?!

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  12. I think a lot of the trousers and jeans are worse than skirts and dresses, depending on what you buy. My eldest (9) wears skirts almost exclusively, but mostly because of comfort - the low waisted, tight-fitting jeans are uncomfortable for her, but a loose skirt with biker shorts or leggings underneath are actually easier for her to climb trees in and ride bikes (sometimes).

    She has absorbed the girls/boys clothes meme, though, and refuses to wear soft joggers that her brother wears, even though she would be warm and comfortable in them. :/

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  13. Its almost impossible to get comfortable trousers for girls other than leggings. My little girl isn't 2 until September and all jeans in her size are skinny fit! Its ridiculous! I compared a girls pair of 18-24 months jeans with a boys pair in Asda and the boys waists were at least 3-4 inches bigger than the girls - because we all know 18 month old boys have bigger waists than girls right?!

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  14. FYI Winx Club is not new. It's been around since 2004; only recently did Nickelodeon get the broadcasting rights.

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  15. My baby girl wears green, purple, red, yellow, and orange, but everyone assumes she is a boy!!! She has to be wearing a pink skirt, top and bow before someone will assume she is a girl. It's almost become a joke between me and my husband. Since when did green or yellow become "boy" colors? I like dressing her up in a pink dress as much as the next mom, but I think sesame street or froggie outfits are cute, too. Apparently these (and even a gray bear outfit) are masculine? Oh well, she must be destined to be tomboy like mommy, I am not a wearer of pink.
    Sammy Greer

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    1. Enjoy being able to dress her in all the colours of the rainbow while you can Sammy! Once she gets bigger she might well fall into the pink trap - they all seem to - there is no escaping it!

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  16. Kids love makeup! I played with Bratz! I had a makeup vanity set! Is there something wrong with me?

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    1. No, of course not. But there is something wrong with a culture that dictates to children what they should or should not be interested in, based on their gender.

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  17. This is why I love the fact that my 5 year old daughter said to me last week "They are talking about Princesses, that's disgusting" and "I don't want that its too princessy". Its wonderful not to have to deal with this pink slutty fairy invasion in my house

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  18. Gosh this one always gets people going. I wrote about Lush not long ago, in a positive light, given that my 8 year old loved playing with their bubble baths and face packs. I totally found the whole thing completely innocent, and exactly what you describe, as "playing at being Mummy." But it sparked a huge debate about sexualising children. I'm a little bit torn, because I know that my girl is only playing, and yes, her looks are important to her, but only with her friends. There is no suggestion of sexuality in anything she does, only looking nice. I do have an issue with Lelli Kelly, not because of the make-up, which I see as a toy, but because attracting girls with the 'toy' allows them to shove the prices up to a ridiculous level. At the end of the day, I think their desire for latest fashions and play make up is normal, and for me it is about the message that we give her in terms of what kind of behaviour and values are appropriate, at her age - as well as in our family.

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  19. The Winx girls win more battles (on strenght & wit) than their male equivalents though. My daughter thinks they're cool, she just worries that they're cold.

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    1. I loved this response. My 4 year old niece feels the same way. She likes that they are tough and she's obsessed with girl power and "wearing any colour I wanna" which makes me beyond ecstatic. But, like your daughter, she's always commenting that their clothes aren't appropriate for their activities. She even quoted Edna once - from The Incredibles - and said "no capes!"

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