Sexy Baby…? No thank you.

A subject I’m often asked to comment on for various news programmes or papers is The One About Kids Growing Up Too Young.

Oh you know the drill: our children are missing out on their childhood because the advertising industry/the media/our society/dumb-ass parents who buy clothing more suited to prostitutes than 10-year-old girls are turning them into push-up bra-wearing, attitude-oozing, bum-wiggling mini-adults by the time they enter primary school.

And that’s just the nice kids.

I wrote a whole book about childhood and its GIGANTIC-ENORMOUS-HUMUNGOUS importance, here http://bit.ly/gkXSDa , and as a mother of three children aged 13, 11 and almost 8, letting them remain children for as long as possible is something that I’m obviously very aware of and tuned into in my own home life, as well as professionally.

This week yet another survey hit the news about the early sexualisation of children, joining many surveys, studies and news stories on this subject. In the last year or two I’ve been asked to comment on stories about padded bras for five-year-olds, high heels for babies, the Infamous Playboy Pencil Case Fiasco, the banned Jack Wills ‘hey, high-school girls! Buy our clothes and you too can shag in the shower’ photos ( http://bit.ly/dEacwe ), the so-grim-it-makes-your-eyeballs-drop-out Bratz dolls and the Rihanna X Factor furore at Christmas where millions of us sat down with our pre-teen children to watch a ‘family show’, only to gawp in stunned, blushing, slightly aroused silence as she and her family-friendly dancers simulated fucking and basically had an orgy right there on the screen, prompting thousands of children ask why Daddy was jiggling his hand so much under the pillow, and did Rihanna have an itch or something, Mummy, because she keeps rubbing her Lady Bits? …And thousands of mums to press the OFF button.

 Oh. Maybe that was just in our house.

But you get the picture – sexual images and words have crept into young children’s lives to the extent that the two are virtually inseparable now. Unless you live 400 miles away from a passing bus, a shop front, a TV or a computer, your children are going to come across imagery, advertising, products and marketing that drip-feeds them the splendidly helpful idea that girls need to use their bodies sexually in order to Be Cool And Popular And Have Everything They Want, and boys should like the girls who stick their tits out and rub their Lady Parts the most.

Of course there has always been an element of this since some bright Stone Age marketing spark discovered that sex sells– even to children who have just grown out of pooing in their pants. But when I was a girl it was much, much simpler, more innocent and less in-yer-face-everywhere-you-look than it is now. And I think I and my peers were far happier for longer for it.

Anyway, this latest research is part of a government-commissioned review conducted by the head of the Mothers’ Union, Reg Bailey, and the many questions it asked parents (of children aged 5 to 16 years old) included whether they feel their children are exposed to too many sexual images in public places, such as advertising, shop fronts, sides of buses and so on, and whether they feel their children are having to grow up too early.  

90% of respondents answered yes to the latter.

It doesn’t take my science degree for me to conclude that that’s Quite A Very Extremely Large Majority. I’d also say that I probably wouldn’t like to have an encounter with the children of the 10% who said no….

 Rrrrrriiiiing!!! Goes my phone, and I’m asked to go on BBC Breakfast. So off I go. At 4.30am…

Below are links to the discussion – sorry, boxing match – but before you watch it, please read this:

  • I’ve been working in broadcasting for thirteen years and have shared a sofa with hundreds of guests, but this is the first interview I’ve ever done where the person next to me turned their entire body away from me for the duration of the interview. If you have even a quarter of a brain then you’ll know it’s impossible to have a normal, polite, flowing conversation with the back of someone’s head. It’s especially hard when they also don’t pause to draw breath while speaking and don’t make eye contact more than three times in 10 minutes, because they are too busy rolling those eyes….and sighing/laughing/snorting condescendingly. Which I found…..y’know…not very helpful really. (Watch it you might see what I mean.)
  • The result of this ‘Talk To The Back’ situation was that I was forced to interrupt my fellow guest….a LOT. I felt extremely uncomfortable and rude doing this and watching it back I gave myself several slaps on the wrist for Bad Behaviour, and made myself write 400 lines. It’s not the way I usually conduct myself during interviews, but it was that or sit there like a pretty lemon, saying nada. I chose not to be a pretty lemon….
  • Even in the most confrontational cases, fellow guests and I on these programmes are always polite and even friendly to one another off screen. Even Piers Hernu and I, who couldn’t have disagreed more (see this clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1eQI8LYM5I ) shook hands politely, said ‘hello’, agreed to disagree and wished each other a good day afterwards. It’s basic manners. But in this case I got neither a ‘hello nice to meet you’ handshake when I offered it, nor a ‘goodbye’, despite my genuine, friendliest efforts. If my children behaved like to that to anyone I’d drown in a deep pool of shame.
    And it didn’t get things off to the best start, to put it mildly…

 The debate took pace in two parts, which I shall call Round 1, and Round 2. In between the two we retired to the green room to have our wounds patched up, water splashed on our faces and a pep talk from…erm…our twitter followers. Go Liz!! You tell ‘er!! Left hook, Liz! Left hook! And so on. All the encouragement was greatly appreciated – thank you! 🙂
So, you watch, you decide:

Round 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blNG8W3PbQo

Round 2:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6EcRAgRSZQ 

Of all of the points raised, the one about nakedness being something normal and natural and important for children to feel comfortable with is one of the most important, yet rarely talked about.

I feel that we often shy away from nakedness in this country as if its something shameful, or rude  – people cover up on the beach, hide in cubicles in swimming pool changing rooms rather than showering in the buff as is done in other countries quite normally, and shudder at the thought of sitting in a sauna naked with others.

And yet nobody bats an eyelid if a young girl walks down a street on a busy Saturday morning with her breasts spilling out over her low-plunging dress, in three inch heels and a skirt that barely covers her knickers.
The rule seems to be ‘It’s OK to sit your six year old child in front of a TV screen where groups of young dancers are gyrating and dry-humping in thongs and a bra…..but not to let them run around the local paddling pool naked.’

I find this very, very strange and it’s not at all how I was raised, nor how I raise my children.

It gives ALL the wrong messages to our children about our bodies, and what they are for. A naked child is NOT sexy. If you think  it is then you have a serious problem. And a young child dressing up in a sexy way, moving in a sexy way and trying to act sexy is just…..oh it’s just ghastly. And so unfair on them, because they cannot understand what any of it is about.

And yes, I do think this anti-nudity prudishness / pro-sexual-imagery carelessness is worse in the UK than in other European countries, having lived in several of them.  Even now when I visit Germany, Czech Republic, Italy and other European countries I find the children there are YOUNGER for their age, compared with here. They seem more like…..more like children.

So it’s a good thing that parents are speaking out against the overkill of sexual messages sent to their kids, and I send a hearty slap on the back to all of you who take a stand against it, either at home, or by joining the many who campaign against it.
Talking is the first step. And DOING is the second.

Switch the TV off. Don’t let them watch pop videos. (We still have no MTV in our house.) Monitor that they’re doing online and on their mobile phones. Don’t buy T-shirts with ‘Sexy Bitch’ written on them for your ten-year-old. (Oh, you knew that already? OK, you win TEN Good Parenting Points. Go YOU!)
Of course we should always lead by example…but be aware of the massive influence of peers and the media.

Don’t give in to eye-rolling, pooh-poohing people who say you are prudish, and that this is ‘mass hysteria’ and panic-mongering, and there’s nothing wrong with it at all. There IS something wrong with it.

It’s Very Bloody Sensible to be concerned about this, and to want to join the growing numbers of parents who are saying Enough Is Enough. Please can we leave kids to be kids, and stop trying to turn them into sex objects before they know what sex even is, by bombarding them constantly with images of sexual behaviour and dressing that they then want to emulate.

And yes, there is evidence that a) they do and b) it’s not good for them. If you need some evidence that a constant exposure to sexual imagery and advertising puts pressure on young people to grow up younger than they feel ready, and causes problems for them, then here are some links:

That’s all folks. I’m off to squeeze my eleven-year-old into her boob tube so she can practice her raunchy disco moves. I mean, how else is she going to get anywhere in life, eh???
Or maybe I, and the 90% of parents questioned, are just panic-mongering…

; -)

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22 thoughts on “Sexy Baby…? No thank you.

  1. Marisa Birns

    Wow. Tough interview. Interesting that the other author had her back to you, and the male interviewer had his back to his colleague.

    Don’t know why the other guest sighed and snorted at places. Quite unattractive.

    Interesting debate. By the way, I am one of those who would be appalled being naked in a sauna with others. I blame the nuns.

    Reply
    1. lizfraser Post author

      Ah, but Bill’s fine….it doesn’t matter because they are BOTH interviewing us. When you sit in the middle on a sofa you have to sit slightly facing forward, and make sure you turn to the other guest a lot, to bring them into the conversation.
      Oh….you knew that. I’ll shut up now! 😉

      And bother those nuns! 😉 *she says, not having been naked in a sauna for……a long time*!
      x

      Reply
  2. Erin

    I completely agree that prudishness about simple nudity is linked to over-sexualizing children… in fact I feel a blog post stirring within about this topic.

    I also think that this problem is connected to the issues that American universities are currently having with hostile sexual environments – google Yale sexual assault protests if you haven’t heard about this – because teens become so habituated to and coarsened by this aggressively porn-ish type of sex imagery.

    Reply
    1. lizfraser Post author

      Thanks for your great reply, Erin. I was raised by a non-English mother and father, and they were (and are!) always totally comfortable with nudity. I find it SO sad when a young child is gawped at and made to feel awkward when they run about naked in the summer, as they should absolutely be able to do! ‘ve even seen people ask parents to ‘cover up’ a naked child, as if it’s pornographic or something, which it so obviously isn’t.

      We mix sex up into everything, and it’s so damaging.
      Thanks for reading…and taking the time to comment 🙂

      Reply
  3. Grumpyhatlady

    I hate the sexualisation of children. I hate that once a female child hits 18 months the available clothing is no longer cute baby styles and turns into teeny not-quite teenage whore. George at Asda do a lovely line in c*nt skirts and crop top WAG tshirst for kids in single figures. The more flesh on show the better it seems and stupidly parents accept this and buy it.

    I’ve been told won’t be able to refuse my begging child driven by media and peer pressure But if she thinks I’m letting her dress like a prostitute before she understands the implications of such attire she has another thing coming. Maybe some parents are unable to say no to their little princess but this mother wants her daughter to aspire to more than life as a Disney princess in a golden bikini.

    Reply
    1. lizfraser Post author

      Well, sounds to me as if you have your head screwed exactly the right way on. You carry right on. I say ‘no’ to my children the whole time if they are asking for things that I just don’t think are appropriate for their age.
      It’s called good parenting, right…?

      And…..are you SURE about those c*nt skirts????? My jaw just made a hole in the floor!

      Reply
      1. Grumpyhatlady

        I’d need to check recent lines but around Christmas party season when my wee one no longer fitted baby clothes there was a *cough* lovely micro skirt for ages 3 and up. We’ve always referred to them as c u next Tuesday skirts.

      2. lizfraser Post author

        C U Next Tuesday is fantastic! Made me laugh so much. Yes, nothing quite as beautiful as a 3-yr-old in a skin-tight mini and heels. Nice. *sarcasm alert*

  4. James Hughes

    An extremely intelligent post and video extract by the astute Liz, as she addresses one of the biggest fears parents of today have. How parents are able to keep their children from the sexualisation of the media is beyond me.

    In a record store recently I had to watch a 6-7 year old gyrating to a current pop song whilst also singing the explicit lyrics without even realising what she was saying. She thought it was simply harmless fun of enjoying her favourite song when it comes on.

    But where will this generation of children end up? What will happen to a generation who seem to jump the innocence of childhood far too soon? The job of a parent was already hard enough without society rushing these children to adulthood so they can sell them more products.

    I only hope that the tireless work of Liz and others are able to begin to push the sexual tide back out away from the shoreline of the children.

    Reply
    1. lizfraser Post author

      James – wow, and thank you. SO glad to have reponses from men on here too, as it is an issue for boys, men and dads JUST as much as for girls and their mums, as I was keen to stress in the interviews.
      I hope one day the tide will turn and pop videos will no longer be soft porn aimed at randy blokes in their twenties (and 30s, 40s…..and 70s!), when the makers know damned well the people who buy the songs and idolise the singers are 12-year-old girls.

      Really glad you read it, and thanks for such a lovely comment.

      Reply
  5. Grace Bowman

    I saw the debate that day and was engrossed. Thought you were hugely articulate and convincing. As a former anorexic, and someone who has spent a lot of time in girls’ schools talking bout bodies and body image, I know that this is a problem and it’s way younger than people expect. Got two daughters of my own now and am doing everything I can to be positive role model, but I also believe in balance and to educate them rather than deny that this stuff exists. I know they are going to be exposed to pop/sex culture because it is everywhere, so I’d rather let them see it in small doses with an informed opinion present – i.e. me! I have no idea if this will work. But I want to show that they are more than just a body, and that their body is a good thing to be used in strong and powerful ways beyond the shape/sex they are. Grace Bowman

    Reply
    1. lizfraser Post author

      Hi Grace, and thank you so much for posting such a moving, thoughtful comment. I also had a terrible eating disorder, for fifteen years until I was thirty, and it’s something I have written about a lot.
      You’re quite right: they WILL be exposed to all the pop/sex culture at some point – there is nothing we can do about it. But as you say, we CAN shield our young children from it for longer if we try, and to try and give them a really positive attitude towards their bodies, and themselves.
      By the sounds of it you’re a fantastic role model for your daughters, so thanks again, and you just carry on doing what you’re already doing!
      🙂

      Reply
  6. edsiegle

    Thought this was a really interesting discussion, nice and feisty, and you came across a whole lot better than your sparring partner… I’m certainly in your corner (Ok enough of the boxing analogies) and will be very interesting to see how things pan out for our daughters – have a two and a half year old and another little girl due any minute. I also have a step-son, though the worst concern we had when he was growing up was a threat he might become addicted to Games Workshop. Being serious, I guess this issue does affect boys indirectly too, in influencing the way they perceive girls and shaping what they expect of them. I can’t believe there is even 10% of people that think this isn’t a worry.

    Reply
    1. lizfraser Post author

      Thanks Ed. Wow, another one on the way….exciting! Hope it all goes really well.
      Thanks for posting. You’re right about the gaming thing….mine’s Star Wars obsessed, although to be honest the biggest obsession is Lego and has been for 3 years…..and I’m very hapy about that! Can’t go wrong with Lego…
      You know the saying…’Better Lego Than Push-Up Bras’. Or something like that….; -)
      Liz

      Reply
  7. Gillybobs

    Hi Liz

    This is a subject that’s been on my mind for the past few years, my sons are 9 and 12 and I am honestly sick and tired of trying to protect them from soft porn in everyday life.

    I am far from prudish but I am in total despair that kids are being denied the innocence of childhood and “fast-tracked” into sexual awareness because of the deluge of sexual imagery everywhere they look.

    Something that really shocks me is the way otherwise intelligent friends laugh as their tiny kids dance and gyrate to Rhianna et al , innocently singing along to lyrics about whips and chains.

    I try to discuss life/love/the universe openly with my boys, my older son initiated “the big talk” when he was almost 11. Whilst this was earlier than I had anticipated, he was ready to learn having heard rumours in the playground, and he thanked me for telling him the truth “I dont need to be embarrassed any more Mum”. I always wanted him to feel he could come to me with any question, any time, and get an honest answer and I’m so glad he felt he could do so.

    As a mother of sons I am determined they are going to grow up with a healthy attitude towards sex, towards women, towards their bodies. I do however feel that I am swimming against the tide at times as media bombard them with porn like images, how do you counter these effects and explain that woman shouldnt be judged by their cup size and that personal success/happiness isnt solely dependant on sexual prowess?

    Sorry for the length post, it’s a subject very close to my heart!

    Reply
    1. lizfraser Post author

      Hi Gillian. Great to get the perspective of a parent of only sons. I have a son too, and I’m also acutely aware of how we perceives women, given all the images of women pouting, wiggling, wearing next-to-nothing in order to impress/get a recording contract/sell a car etc. Luckily he has three very strong, clever female figures in his house (ahem!) so he gets a pretty good grounding at home….but the drop-feed of ‘women are all about giving you sex and your job is to be a sexy hunk and Get The Girl’ is certainly going to make him stop and think sometimes.
      The ‘sex chat’ is always so funny – we’ve not really sat down and Talked About It, and to be honest with you I think 7 is too young to know about the nitty gritty anyway. I know parents who disagree with that, and explained EVERYTHING to their very young children. I remember thinking: WHY?? Why does my Year 2 child need to know where his penis will go one day?? Haha. More like 11 seems sensible to me as they’ll start to find out from whispers at school anyway.
      Thanks again – keep up the good work 🙂

      Reply
  8. Josephine

    Dear Liz, I’m with the 90 per cent as well. I feel that nowadays children are being forced into growing up way too early and not just with the sexualisation of images and the media but also from children being treated a lot as mini-adults. There is an Australian site which is focused on these issues as well. Here’s a link to it.
    http://www.kf2bk.com/about.htm
    And the body language in those videos is pretty chilling. Good for you for being so articulate and holding your ground. xx

    Reply
  9. Ben Walker

    Bravo for your interview performance, Liz! Just watched the videos and wanted to whack The Snorter over the head with sofa cushions until she stopped intentionally twisting everything like a politician. However unscientific the survey may have been, 90% is definitely statistically significant…

    My only suggestion to stop the pop video nonsense is to get kids listening to better music! Pop is pure marketing, and marketing is all about sex and fear. My dad brought me up listening to Little Feat and The Band, and even as a teenager the music videos I watched were Queen and Ben Folds Five. Apart from Freddie in drag doing the hoovering I never saw much sex in music videos. Can you imagine an indie band simulating sex while singing to try to sell records? Not a great plan…

    There’s always a healthier alternative to the mainstream (McDonalds, Starbucks, Rhianna, Hollywood). For music, the Internet is so much better than TV. Kids still need to be educated about what to avoid, but I’ve spent many afternoons watching endless brilliant (and sexless) music videos on YouTube. It’s not all evil. 😉

    Reply
  10. whatsaysyou

    Sexualisation of children is harmful and terrible. I agree with the fact that children nowadays are made to grow up too fast too soon and I feel this is not good. Seeing a little girl in some over-sexualised clothing is extremely wrong in all levels. Thank you for showing that I am not alone being concerned and upset towards child sexualisation. Last but not least, it is our role as parents, caregivers and sensible people alike to nip child sexualisation at the bud and take a stand against it

    Reply
  11. Mel

    Hi Liz, Have only watched part one but just wanted to say that I thought you did very well under difficult circumstances. She was very rude to you. You didn’t deserve that sort of treatment. Thanks for speaking out on these issues. 🙂

    Reply
  12. James Hughes

    They have now opened a beauty salon for children:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13722926

    Which follows on from Germaine Greer’s extraordinary comments on Question Time this week, that ‘all fathers teach their daughters how to flirt with them.’ Saying that a Father encouraging his daughter to kiss him goodnight is actually teaching her how to flirt. Her comments did not go down well with anyone in the studio and left many speechless or angry.

    Reply
  13. evenifitdoesntmakesense

    ALL IN MODIRATION- COME ON ARE WE THIS WEAK?!

    Im a mum and im 22 years old, so i still do look at people like rhianna and nicki minaj and think she looks hot i wana dress like that…but i dont, IM NOT STUPID.

    To be fair, there is a massive number of kids-teenagers now who are ‘over’ dressing like SLUTS and can see other aspects of fashion. I took a picture on my blog of fashionable Teens in Sutton Surrey.

    i have a 1year old, the thought of her aspiring to these women terrifies me but its all in modiration, its down to us as PARENTS to teach our kids to take aspects of their style and add it to their own.

    Reply

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