Trevor Davies
Trevor Davies

Corporate paedophilia is the hypersexualisation of our young girls

Adult sexuality is often imposed upon children rather than chosen by them. Some clothing retailers carry completely inappropriate and sexualised clothing ranges for girls as young as six.

They sell thongs sized for seven-year-old girls. Imagine a five-year-old girl wearing a cut-off T-shirt that says “flirt”. How does a seven-year-old understand the plastic sexuality of Miley Cyrus? How do 10-year-olds cope with pressure to dress and act in sexually provocative ways? Some companies deserve criticism for marketing bras to pre-teens and of sexualising girls at an early age.

In March 2013, Victoria’s Secret mounted a marketing campaign for sexy underwear directed at teen and pre-teen girls that drew considerable negative attention. The underwear contained wording including “call me”, “feeling lucky” and “wild”. Thousands of parents took to social media and online petitions to complain that the line was targeted at tween and teen girls.

Notable comments from concerned mothers called the underwear “a glaring example of a culture forcing girls to grow up too fast”. Many called on shoppers to boycott stores.

The essential point is that our girls are now dressed in clothing and posed in ways designed to draw attention to adult sexual features that they do not yet have. This is corporate paedophilia.

The toy shops are just as bad. Taking their lead from popular shows on the children’s channels you can now buy (or your daughter can) dolls in sexy corsets, tights, extreme make-up and posed in the lewdest fashion. Toy manufacturers produce dolls wearing black leather mini-skirts, feather boas, and thigh-high boots and market them to six to 12-year-old girls.

Sexualisation increases sexism, sex bias and sexist attitudes. Strong evidence indicates the exposure to ideals of sexual attractiveness in the media is associated with greater body dissatisfaction among girls and young women. Premature sexualisation is linked with serious mental health problems like eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression.

In the current environment, teen girls are encouraged to look sexy, yet they know little about what it means to be sexual, to have sexual desires, and to make rational and responsible decisions about pleasure and risk within intimate relationships that acknowledge their own desires.

Many parents and clothing retailers and manufacturers would argue that girls want the clothes and accessories that make them “sexy” and that it is difficult to convince teenagers and younger girls to make less sexualising choices. Some will confuse the issue by maintaining that it is not what a woman wears that should invite sexual assault and rape but holding men to a better standard of behaviour towards women.

Precisely the point — I am not talking about women but our girl children. Restrictions on advertising to our children and scrutiny of the sorts of representations children are exposed to are not censorship, but a process of child protection that takes account of the developmental vulnerabilities of our children. If we can be careful about alcohol and cigarette advertising then I would argue we need to be more careful about this insidious erosion of our young girls’ innocence and protection.

We must boycott these corporate child abusers, protest to our media broadcasters about their content and advertising. Media standards and regulatory bodies must also be sensitised to our concerns for our young girls.

Girls, boys and those who support them can begin to counteract the influence of a sexualising culture.

Schools must teach girls to critique and understand the salience of sexualising images in the media, the hope is that they will be better protected from these images.

We should insist on meetings with the media, advertisers, marketing professionals and manufacturers, to protest the presentation of sexualised images and the potential negative impact on girls and develop legally enforceable guidelines on appropriate material for varying developmental ages and on storylines and programming that reflect the positive portrayals of girls.

Are you as worried as I am about bringing up daughters in the face of this corporate paedophilia? Let us act to stop it now.

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    • Judy Norton

      And corporates are normalising sexism and violence against girls and
      women with their ‘rapey’ guys’ t-shirts on sale this season. I complained to Sportscene about one reading ‘Your goal is my hole’ and, to my mind even worse, Markhams currently stocking one reading ‘Choking hazard’ with an arrow pointing to the crotch. Would be great if your organisation could formally complain too.

    • george orwell

      I believe you would find this book invaluable:

      “Childhood Under Seige: How Big Business Targets Children” by Professor Joel Bakan.

    • Abby

      Thank you for this article. It is about time somebody said this. Making the unacceptable acceptable, the bombardment of this crime against children through the media, the music industry and the fashion industry has got to stop.

    • Mark

      Thongs for seven year old girls?????? I can’t even comprehend that! That’s wrong on so many levels it’s staggering.

    • Momma Cyndi

      Who buys this stuff for their kids?
      A 7 year old doesn’t have a job and a credit card so someone is doing the buying for them. Are parents really that ridiculously foolish these days?

      I have to admit that I had a Barbie with a leather like miniskirt and I think she had thigh high boots too – it was the late 1960s and miniskirts were pretty much what normal women wore. Of course the excuse about a ‘dress being a yes’ hadn’t been dreamed up back then.

      As for Hanna Montana becoming a tart ….. well!

    • Mr. Direct

      My knee jerk response is that this is outrageous.

      But giving it a little more thought, I have to wonder whether this is really as bad as it sounds.

      I do not think I would buy clothing like this for my daughters (if I had any), and I also think I would guide them to be girls for as long as they can, and teach them the difference between girls and women. I would think that they would form their opinions based on my understanding (when I say “my”, this would be Mrs. Direct’s opinion more than mine, but I would think we were in general agreement).

      If you go to a wedding, you will normally find children wearing clothing for the occasion. We do not consider them to be of marrying age, we do not expect to have intellectual or financial discussions with them because they are wearing a suit or a tuxedo. Why would we think we could do any adult things with girls wearing some “sexy” clothing. They are still children, and we should have the mind to treat them like such.

      For the children, parents restricting the clothing that the can and cannot wear is only going to last so long, the need to follow fashion is always going to win. We have all experienced this from our parents, and we know how it feels.

      Perhaps I object to grown women buying these things for their daughters, creating the demand, especially with sexually orientated wording on the clothing. I am not sure what they are thinking to be honest, not sure what they are trying to say.

      It’s like buying a…

    • Mr. Direct


      It’s like buying a venomous pet snake, there is inflated risk of harm, and you need to decide if you are willing to take it…

    • Eugene

      At the age where western girls begin to wear sexy clothes, the children of many other cultures often happily go around in the nude, precisely because they haven’t been sexualized.

      Anyway, here, as with so much else that concerns children, the involvement of parents is essential. The law cannot control absolutely everything, or replace parents/guardians.

    • Thobani Mtolo

      Our countries economy is too open to foreign trends. What happens in the USA shouldn’t easily influence our own.

    • aim for the culprits

      corporates are made up of people who make decisions and design these campaigns. in order to make money for shareholders. find out the people behind the logo and expose them at their country clubs and private school functions.. then you will get a pronto response.

    • J.J.

      @ Thobani Mtolo #

      “Our countries economy is too open to foreign trends.”

      This is (what) cultural hegemony (is). Eventually we all just become a bland localized version of an internationalized culture driven by corporates – and we all become clones in the process.

      The normalization of anything and everything – until everything goes – literally, and until there is no more resistance: The breakdown of society and eventually the collapse of “civilization”.

      We have already reached a point where people find it hard to distinguish between right and wrong.

      For example, the comment of “@Mr Direct” above: “But giving it a little more thought, I have to wonder whether this is really as bad as it sounds.”

    • Mariana De Leuca

      Slightly off the topic of clothing, two years ago I was horrified to find out that a girl in my daughter’s Matric class had already had breast enlargement surgery.

    • Momma Cyndi

      Mariana De Leuca

      I do know that friends of ours had breast implants done for their daughter when she was 18. The breasts had developed very asymmetrically (small A and large C) which was dramatically affecting her self esteem. The doctors all confirmed that it would never right itself and they made the decision to have it rectified. Maybe that girl had a similar problem which she was just too embarrassed to speak about?

    • Thobani Mtolo

      @ J.J. #

      I refuse to believe that people have no other option but to be spectators or can be mechanised to a point of no return. The fact that you, the Author of this post and many people who have replied to it adhering to his sentiments in their reply prove the existing contradiction to the mechanisation of people. Perhaps if we have a little more faith in civilization such things can be curbed.

    • george orwell

      @Thobani, J.J: Agreed. Cultural hegemony drowns out diversity and creativity.

      A McWorld awaits African children – a giant Walmart-anchored shopping mall filled with brands owned by the world’s 10 major corporates, with Ronald McDonald handing out Barney balloons for the kids..

      Unfortunately, that cultural hegemony is driven by American/Hollywood TV-film/ Celebrity culture via aspirational TV fare.

      Thus you hear young teens in Soweto speaking in wannabe-American accents, craving American brands and modelling themselves on the wealthy, sexualised celebrities like Miley Cyrus and R&B stars.

      A number of intellectuals (Noam Chomsky et al) are starting to call for a “de-Americanised” world – or at least for creative, authentic alternatives to the deadening, plastic “McWorld Inc ” [TM]

    • Concerned

      Leave children alone ! Let them be children. Protect – don’t exploit. Quite simply, if parents don’t buy these things manufacturers won’t make them because the lines would be unprofitable. Don’t complain about the kids of today – we created, raised and shaped them. We need to look at ourselves and take responsibility. Letting your little girls wear thongs, or your little boys wear crass t-shirts only serves to devalue them and impugn their dignity in society’s eyes and society will treat them accordingly. Would you feel happy if a youngster fetched your daughter in a car with the number plate trumpeting “pompwa?” A true story. Funny, but revealing of his and his family’s mindset – and so I told him to bugger off and come back when he could treat himself and my daughter with dignity. Years later we cry with laughter at the memory but my daughter is so grateful (especially that she now has a little girl of her own) and genuinely proud that her mother took someone on in her best interest. She regularly tells me, “no matter what mom, I knew you had my back, and it meant a lot.” Protecting your childs dignity is also an investment in future generations. The majority of us love sex – no problem with that ! Maybe its just not necessary to scream it from the rooftops or use our kids as cheap advertising instrument.

    • J.J.


      I agree, but there is an insidious process of pushing boundaries. So many boundaries have been pushed by now that the only boundaries left to be pushed are “the last outposts” before we enter the proverbial “sodom and gamora” (not that this is a religious issue, but you get my gist). People are not as resistant to influences and trends as we may think.

      The concern (my concern) is that “faith in civilization” alone is not necessarily enough anymore. Would parents have agreed to have these garments on sale in stores? NO. Were they consulted? No. Are the products on sale? Yes. So these items are now by default mainstream. People are buying them. Moral boundaries have already (been) shifted. People simply adapt, or relent, eventually. Where do you/we draw the line? Or don’t we? Are far are we prepared to “adapt”?
      Do we leave it up to corporate “responsibility” not to push boundaries?? (rhetorical question).

      Let me give you an example of where this is potentially going:
      I was in a European city (which I won’t name) a few months ago and this trend had already moved on to seeing young girls walking around on their own or in small groups with fish-net stockings, suspenders and generally the “hooker look”. Underwear showing sometimes – purposefully. And this was hardly raising an eyebrow (which shocked me to the core – the fact that people around me weren’t). Just a year before they were going through the same debate as we are now…

      Is this a…

    • J.J.

      Interesting comment by @Judy Norton # above.

      What are the most controversial subjects in society? So these controversies are being utalised to create trends…

      My above example in the foreign city was also happening because those kids would go and buy those items from stores themselves, with pocket money, and then go to friends, get dressed there and go to town. Parents blissfully unaware. (Kids having more freedom there to roam around on their own, due to safety generally being less of an issue – but not a non-issue), BUT imagine this scenario in the South African context.

      Or is rape not an issue anymore?

      Where are the feminist voices in this?

      We should be absolutely outraged! Are we?

      Thank you Trevor for raising the issue.

    • Benedick Louw

      The consumptive behavior in this case is indirectly proportional to the pedophilia taking place in educational facilities, churches, traditional authorities, government space and other less conspicuous pedophilia -infested places.

    • J.J.

      Are there any consumer watchdogs in the this country?

    • Mariana De Leuca

      @ Mommi Cyndi.

      I can understand when there are issues of body consciousness and self-esteem involved. However, the young girl in my daughter’s class had it done because she was a model. I know I’m being judgemental but my concern is that not enough medical studies have been done on the long term risks of breast implants in developing young girls.

      Slightly off topic again but still somewhat related, have you seen that film “Little Miss Sunshine”?

    • J.J.

      Related CNN article with 5000 + comments, from 2011:

      (The controversy over there didn’t stop the trend from arriving here. Now the only question is: How much are parents complicit in this?)

    • Momma Cyndi

      Mariana De Leuca

      It does sound rather foolish but I guess a young woman of 18 is about as developed as they are ever going to be so I wouldn’t imagine the implants would be any more (or less) of a problem than they are in older women.

      No, I haven’t seen that movie but I have heard about it. I have, however, had the misfortune of accidentally coming across both Toddlers and Tiaras and Honey BooBoo whilst flipping through channels – both made me want to get onto a plane and go slap some sense into someone. France had the best idea when they banned this nonsense

    • Joe Kutoane

      Great read. We need to do more to protect the kids who are our future, without overprotecting them.

    • Nicole

      A very relevant topic, thanks! I don’t understand parents who buy such clothing for their children. Don’t they have any brains? It’s wrong on so many levels!

      This is exactly how girls are funneled into being “sexy” where looks trump other characteristics. Why are girls always complimented with “you’re so pretty” instead of other things like “brave” or “strong” or “clever”? It’s all part of the same problem.

      Sarah Murnen said it best: “girls are taught to view their bodies as ‘projects’ that need work before they can attract others, whereas boys are likely to learn to view their bodies as tools to use to master the environment.”

    • Mariana De Leuca

      @ Momma Cyndi

      Toddlers & Tiaras, yes. Out of sheer morbid fascination I’ve watched an episode or two … much to my regret. Depressing, grotesque and disturbing (to me at least). Those are exactly the kind of ‘parents’ who would see nothing wrong with a 5 yr old wearing a padded bra or lipstick – “it’s kinda cute” they would say!