Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Primark Padded Bras Debate

Earlier this week Primark were publicly shamed into removing a range of padded bikinis they had for seven year old girls. Pressure group Mumsnet who had set up a ‘Let Girls Be Girls’ campaign against the early sexualisation of young girls had the support of David Cameron who deemed the tops “disgraceful”, Brown soon jumped on the bandwagon saying, “All of us as parents can recognise there's something wrong when companies are pushing our kids into acting like little grown-ups when they should be enjoying being children.” And Equity Spokesperson for the Lib Dems Lynne Featherstone, not to be left out, put in her two cents with “Young children need our protection and shouldn't be the prey of greedy retailers selling them adult products.”

This issue at hand is clearly very emotive, as the word “paedophilia” tends to provoke a knee jerk reaction and is something no retailer will want to be seen as encouraging. But if you step back and think about the issue are these items really encouraging paedophilia? By definition paedofilia is an attraction to prepubescent children, so by making a girl look older is it really encouraging it? Most victims of child sex abuse are known by their attacker, the accessibility makes them a target as opposed to their clothing. Telling a child or a mother than her daughter can’t wear a padded bra is dangerously close to telling a woman wearing a short skirt that she’s asking to be raped, something which society generally sees as wrong.

So is it all just a storm in a tea cup with party leaders looking to hop on any bandwagon going in the weeks leading up to the election? Whilst a characteristically over blown headline from The Sun ‘Peado Heaven on our High Street’ seems to be evoking a moral panic of epic proportions, none the less other retailers have been brought into the debate with Tesco and Peacocks bras being slammed, and even BHS, viewed by many as a wholesome and old fashioned retailer, has been criticised for a diamante studded bra for nine to ten year olds, strapless dresses and tracksuits emblazoned with “Princess” across the bottom. But is there any criticism of the Marks and Spencer’s ‘Angel’ range of bras? Not that I’ve seen. It appears as if the top end of the high street is immune to this debate, leaving it exclusively in the hands of the affordable retailers to take the full brunt of criticism.

There is no doubt that in today’s society the line between adulthood and childhood is becoming increasingly blurred. But are these retailers the only ones to blame? Certainly not. Try looking at our media for instance, you’ll see images of Christina Aguilera advertising Sketchers in school uniform and pig-tails, open a magazine and you’ll see a fifteen year old Miley Cyrus appearing bare backed on the cover of Marie Claire, switch on the television you’ll see music videos and films suggesting that sexual performance has to be undertaken not be socially punished.

The result of which is a plethora of mixed messages for children. Girls are naturally curious about growing older, the results of which are sometimes acceptable- wearing your mum’s lipstick, putting on a pair of her shoes- fine; wearing a padded bikini top- one too far. Whilst curiosity and imitation of womanhood is given with one hand, simultaneously with the other it is forbidden.  And boys also seem immune to such pressures, they can talk or behave as sexually as they like without any consequence.

Were Primark right to sell these tops? No, selling a mass marketed notion of adulthood and sexualisation to girls who are too young to fully understand the consequences is irresponsible, but it wasn’t helped by the timing of this revelation prior to the election and consequent media frenzy. In order for the ‘Let girls be girls’ message to have any effect it has to be consistent. Retailers aren’t the only perpetuators of this idea and removing these items from stores can only go so far. Try looking to the media and asking what celebrity role models are telling your children about sexuality before Primark is vilified as being the only upholder of this message.

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