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February 13, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

Sexualisation of Children


Published by Farrago 2009

They have big lips, heavily made-up doe eyes and quasi-street walker clothes. Spawning a movie, a TV series, songs, and a bralette range for six to ten year old girls, they were Barbie’s biggest competition until Mattel took MGA Entertainment to court in a battle over nine-figure profit margins. They are the Bratz dolls, and as clearly sexualised toys for young girls, the industry behind their marketing message has already destabilised what it means to be a child.

Child sexualisation is in many ways a relatively old concept in society. Aldous Huxley disturbed readers with the publication of Brave New World in 1931, in which a far-distant future generation accepted sexual play between children as a natural part of human development. Lolita, published in 1955, drew the ire of many with its sexualised relationship between a twelve-year-old girl and a middle-aged paedophile, and Bill Henson spawned deep rifts between artists and conservatives over his photographs of a naked girl. But it is only relatively recently that children, particularly girls, have been encouraged to adopt sexually-suggestive attitudes themselves.

The Australia Institute’s research paper on the child sexualisation issue, entitled Letting Children Be Children: Stopping the Sexualisation of Children in Australia, found that girls’ magazines and advertising material were the most significant resources for premature sexualisation. Each month, twenty per cent of 6-year-old girls and almost half of ten- and eleven- year old girls read at least one of the most popular girls’ magazines (Barbie Magazine, Total Girl and Disney Girl). Worst of all, slut-style marketing of Bratz fame is now completely mainstream. One particularly outraged ABC blogger, Julia Dale, made a valid point about the “pornification of culture” and the trends in marketing, arguing that “The corporate world treats our children as consumers and commodities – something to make a quick buck out of”.

Advertising saturates our everyday lives, and any individual would agree that a large proportion of advertisements contain some element of sexual innuendo. The old adage ‘sex sells’ is still as pertinent as ever. In an era where children aged five to eleven routinely watch twenty hours of television or videos a week and companies are becoming more pervasive with their publicity strategies, advertising has an enormous potential to influence a developing mind’s attitudes towards sex. Windsor Smith’s 2002 simulated-fellatio shoe campaign excited numerous complaints, and Lee Jeans’ 2006 “Lolita” ad campaign has been censured for its semi-pornographic depictions of models. Even Nando’s has had to go into spin mode after being widely criticised for a recent TV commercial, where a stripper deals with her chicken cravings by chewing “Nando-Fix Gum” before bringing bucket loads of chicken home to her squeaky-clean family. Then again, the saying ‘any publicity is good publicity’ demonstrates why such advertising remains in the public eye: none of these advertising campaigns resulted in the public being less aware of the product being sold. There is, therefore, little impetus on the advertising industry to change their methods for the sake of public interest and childhood innocence.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to envisage a world in which children can remain oblivious to sexual innuendo. Where once children were targeted with marketing strategies that highlighted the innocent fun of being a kid, children are now being moulded to fit the advertising ethics used on adults. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Emma Rush addressed the connection between glamorising sex and the imposition of this idea onto children, which she calls “corporate paedophilia”:

“By dressing, posing, and making up child models in the same ways that sexy adults would be presented – [it] implicitly suggests to adults that children are interested in and ready for sex”.

Aside from the obvious references to paedophilia, it is difficult to argue against such a claim when chain-stores and mainstream magazines are pushing the aesthetic of sexy miniature adults. One website sells baby’s t-shirts with slogans such as “all daddy wanted was a blowjob”. American shoe designers Heelarious, who sell stilettos for young children, have launched cowboy-styled high-heeled boots for zero- to six-month-old babies. Complete with patent leather, silk lining and silver spurs, the designers claim it will bring “hysterical laughter” to bored mothers—so it is now possible for sexualisation to begin before a child is even conscious of society itself.

However, it could be argued that grooming children to be miniature adults has been happening for decades, albeit in more subtle ways. Is it desirable, for example, for a girl to want to emulate Cinderella, whose only achievement was marrying rich royalty? And Barbie’s predominate status is as fashion/sex icon, not as career woman or innocent babysitter—an S & M Barbie was released early last year. Boys have also been falling prey to sexual grooming long before Bratz dolls made sexiness appealing to children; GI Joe strictly enforced ideals about masculinity, while a father’s secret stash of Playboy has often been glorified as the first glimpse of pre-pubescent boys into the world of women.

While we can blame whomever we want, the responsibility still lies predominantly with those who have the most power to influence children—namely, their parents. It’s a tired line, but if there was no demand for sexualised products for children, shoe designers like Heelarious would have been run out of business and Bratz dolls would have been nothing more than an embarrassing glitch in marketing ethics. As it stands, Bratz dolls are giving Barbie a serious run for her money, suggesting that manufacturers are serving a real demand for sexualised children’s products. The only way this will stop is if society takes a direct stand against such influences. Ban the bralette from your Christmas list, and maybe you’ll stop another little girl thinking that her next must-have should be the matching g-string.

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4 Comments

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  1. whatsaysyou / Apr 17 2011 10:39 PM

    Thank you for highlighting the issue of child sexualisation and looks like I am not alone being concerned and upset towards how some grown-ups can be so dumb enough to think it is okay to make a child become a mini-adult through child sexualisation.

  2. A Mac / Sep 16 2011 6:46 AM

    Typical elitist/feminist/ultra-conservative culture criticism, the kind of people who get their panties all in a twist over G.I. Joe dolls and Playboy magazine. One’s first childhood glimpse of Playboy is one of life’s great joys, and I feel profoundly sorry for people like this blogger. But then this he/she is from Australia, a cesspool of left-wing New-Victorian moralists, a strange cabal that adheres to an even stranger hybrid of Marxism and social conservatism and who can give their counterparts in Canada and Britain a run for their money. Thoroughly incapable of contributing anything of value to our culture, all they can do is sit back and attempt to neuter it with their anti-septic, social constructionist nonsense while projecting their own pedophiliac fantasies onto the world around them and transforming their surroundings with their provincial bigotry, thus seeing exploitation everywhere they look. This article has some good points amidst the rubbish, but so what? Even an idiot like Bill O’Reilly has the occasional good point, and I’m sure as hell not going to heed him. People should raise their own children and leave others alone to raise theirs. They don’t need help, they don’t need to be saved, and they sure as hell don’t need their eyes opened by shit-squeezing sphincters like this blogger.

    • Siobhan Argent / Sep 16 2011 9:46 AM

      Awesome, so I manage to be a conservative in a country bulging with ‘left-wing Victorian moralists’. By your logic Bill O’Reilly and I are separated at birth. Playboy is the highlight of childhood, and you’ve clearly never been to Australia. Highly amusing but ultimately pointless rant. I hope others enjoy it!

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