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.


  • Trevor Davies has worked in African media and development for 26 years. He challenges the conventional gendered stereotypes of Africa with innovative approaches. He is currently co-ordinator for the Africa Fatherhood Initiative -- a continent-wide institutional base for the generation, collection, connection and dissemination of gender-sensitive knowledge and skills about fatherhood in Africa.Follow Trevor on twitter @BabaZuwa


Trevor Davies

Trevor Davies has worked in African media and development for 26 years. He challenges the conventional gendered stereotypes of Africa with innovative approaches. He is currently co-ordinator for the Africa...

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