For the last few years I’ve been a co-parent to my partner’s two children. Her daughter is 12 years old and being part of her world has given me a greater awareness of the pressures put upon young girls and the increasing sexualisation of children, driven by the media and other sources.
Last year, puberty hit and it was time to go bra shopping. Things have certainly changed since I was a girl. Take Marks and Spencer as an example (a respectable, family-friendly brand). They have a bra section which is aimed specifically at girls looking for their first bra (a range named Angel) and it’s row upon row of padded bras. In our local store I counted 22 rows of padded bras, next to six non-padded.
It’s not just M&S that are at it of course – last month Matalan came under fire for pushing padded bras to pre-teens, while last year Primark, ASDA and Tesco were all under the spotlight for the same reason. But despite the negative publicity and outcry from the newspapers, things seem to stay much the same.
To me this is a choice issue as much as anything. As human beings we are inherently lazy and heavily influenced by the actions of others. If you have to hunt high and low to find a non-padded bra for your daughter, if your daughter’s friends are all wearing them anyway, at what point do you simply conform? How much are people being pushed, unwittingly, towards a new social norm, which says that as soon as you begin to grow breasts you must lift them up, push them out and wait for the comments?
But bras are not the only issue. The depiction of young women (all women?) in the media is clearly another major factor.
My partner also has a son, aged 15. He’s recently started watching ‘Misfits’ a British comedy-drama about a group of young offenders who acquire super powers. I watched the first episode with him the other day to see what all the fuss was about. As it turns out, most of the super powers are pretty standard with the exception of the young woman whose ‘super power’ is to cause anyone who touches her go into a sexual frenzy towards her, describing in graphic detail what they want to do to her.
Or in other words, she makes anyone who touches her want to rape her.
I’m quite late to the party with this one (it was blogged about on the F Word back in 2009) but I found this pretty disturbing to say the least. Or maybe this is simply a modern take on the traditional fairytale notion of acquiring the power to make any man fall in love with you?
I’m obviously not the only one with concerns. The Mother’s Union is currently conducting a review into the sexualisation of children and is due to publish its findings in May. Earlier this week they submitted a petition to David Cameron, calling on the Government to prohibit sexualised media, marketing and products being easily accessed by minors. Next week, a new series of the Sex Education shows starts on Channel 4 with the theme ‘stop pimping our kids’.
I take heart from the fact that our own 12-year old flatly refuses to wear a padded bra and groans loudly when yet another scantily-clad woman dances around in a pop video. Maybe the next generation will be the ones to sort all this out?
But then that relies on the next generation of women making it to the top of their professions in politics, the media and in retail. In my mind, that’s the only way that real change will ever happen.