I was not outraged by the audacity of the clothing chain Primark in selling padded bikini tops to girls aged seven this week. Frankly I was not even mildly surprised. Let’s face it, these pink and sparkly fake breasts were quite mild compared to some of the other vile tat that’s been sold to children as good, harmless fun. Pole dancing kits spring to mind.

Anyway, there was enough outrage coming from all sides to render any I might have drummed up, redundant.

Firstly, I want to stress that I did not, under any circumstances, consider it to be a ‘good thing’ for this product to be in shops. I am glad they have gone. It is a good move for Primark and it is a good move for parents who already have a hard enough job keeping daughters dressed appropriately for their age rather than their preferred future career.

It is not, however, a victory for The Sun newspaper which reported its own ‘outrage’ on Wednesday that these ‘paedo bikinis’ were on sale, encouraging paedophiles everywhere (to do what?). Hours later when, after caving in to all the negative publicity Primark pulled the offending items off its shelves and offered to donate any profits from their sales to charity, this was hailed by the newspaper as ‘The Sun wot won it’ or some other ‘amusing’ headline.

The rank hypocrisy of this tabloid beggars belief. Condemning ‘sexy’ products for the under-10s on one page, while encouraging teenage girls, not even a decade older, to ‘get them out for the lads’ on Page 3. This is a national newspaper that makes its money out of objectifying young women and turning them into sex objects. And yet it never questions that this ‘in yer face’, and on the breakfast table, socially acceptable sexuality might arouse the curiosity of, and a desire to emulate, in pre-pubescent girls.

The Sun makes money by pedalling soft porn and fantasy femininity and then attempts to take the moral high ground against another, equally cynical, business venture which is trying to hook these girls in younger and younger. Who gave The Sun’s editor the moral compass?

I reserve scorn too for the politicians – all of them. As expected, all three major political parties claimed to be outraged by these bikinis. But still, even in the 21st century, all of these politicians are so busy trying to be popular with Britain’s biggest selling tabloid, that they would never dare risk its wrath by condemning Page 3. None are willing to take a stand and demand soft porn mags like Nuts and Zoo be placed on the top shelf, nor are any prepared to admit that there just might be a connection between the images girls and women are exposed to in the media and the ever increasing numbers of breast augmentations et al. being carried out year on year in the UK. It used to be an insult to call somebody plastic. Now our girls aspire to it.

And finally there is the outrage coming from the Left. There seemed to be a backlash against parents for objecting to the sexualisation of children.

One blogger wrote: “The pubescent padded bra has been hijacked by the faux-feminist family values brigade as a symbol of moral decline. There is a distinct class element to this puritan agenda.” She continues by arguing that middle-class mums are ganging-up on Primark because working class mums shop there? Really? Wouldn’t middle class mums gang-up on Sainsbury’s if it were selling sexist clothes for children?  Oh, I did.

So, in a world where, judging by Channel 4 news’s vox pop on this issue, we are becoming immune to these things – most Primark shoppers hadn’t even registered this garment was on sale, let alone judged it inappropriate – in a world where nearly 9,000 British women a year have breast augmentation, in a world where children have internet access to porn before they’ve even reached puberty, in a world where 46% of girls aged 11 to 16 would consider cosmetic surgery and that girls start finding fault with their appearance as early as 10 or 11* and in a world where girls are not encouraged to play dressing-up like their mums but encouraged to play dressing up like highly-sexed pop stars, it’s my argument that we should stand back and take a look at where things are going and then imagine where we want them to be.

Girls don’t want padded bikinis so they’re not teased by the boys at school – for heaven’s sake, they’re hardly going to be wearing them under their polo shirts. They want these bikinis so they look like Hannah Montana, Cheryl Cole and Jordan. Three decent role models? I leave that up to you.

But when I go on holiday with my four-year-old son this summer, the last thing I want is for him to experience a beach  awash with seven-year-old girls playing at being teenagers in push-up bikinis. Girls will always be girls – but they don’t always have to be sex objects.

* A study by the Girl Guides

10 responses to “OUTRAGED? I WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO WASN’T. By Lucy Lawrence

  1. “Girls will always be girls – but they don’t always have to be sex objects.” and “..in a world where girls are not encouraged to play dressing-up like their mums but encouraged to play dressing up like highly-sexed pop stars…”

    Could we be soulmates? Great post, and way to call it like you see it!

  2. I made the mistake of looking at that “Let them eat (sorry, ‘wear’) padded bikinis” blog and it made me very sad.

    Why do people keep equating sexual exploration with sexual exploitation, and personhood with prudery?

    Anyone who suggests that a allowing a girl to “express her budding sexuality” MEANS teaching her that her purpose is to be used by men … ???

  3. Fantastic post Lucy and well argued. Thank you for shaking out these hypocritical institutions and waking up those sleep-walking into accepting this dire set of circumstances.

  4. Fab blog, I also noticed that mumsnet is taking the credit for getting rid of them too, as they have a similar campaign to pinkstinks.

  5. Also, to be fair the Laurie Penny, she does say this:

    “The online mumocracy’s call for retailers to “show parents that their company believes that children should be allowed to be children” is irrelevant to the real experiences of girls growing up in a world where our sexual impulses are stolen and sold back to us.”


    “The problem is a culture of prosthetic, commodified female sexual performance, a culture which morally posturing politicians appear to deem perfectly acceptable as long as it is not ‘premature’. By assuming that sexuality can only ever be imposed upon girl children, campaigns to ‘let girls be girls’ ignore the fact that late capitalism refuses to let women be women – at any age.”

    I think that’s a fair argument along the same lines as Lucy has here 🙂

  6. Great post – for me its not just that girls are being sexualised earlier but that young boys are being subjected to this idea of sexual women at an age where they are learning to form relationships, how can they form healthy relationships with women if they are bombarded with images that are sexual not equal?

  7. I wasn’t shocked either that they sold them. Many of the clothes that they (and others) sell are deeply inappropriate. It just makes me so sad for our girls. Well done for another great post.

  8. Great article. By the way, Primark still sells padded bras for 9 year olds and lots of other hideously inappropriate clothes.
    Everything seems to be sexualised, I can’t let my children look at the childrens mags in the newsagents now because of the Daily Star always being on dispay below, and Nuts, Zoo only a shelf above. If the images of the women looked more healthy and balanced it wouldn’t be a problem, these women are always shown vunerable, vacant with their mouths open and the lights off! Just one more moan, why do female actors, tv stars, think it OK and liberating to pose for these magazines, do they not feel they have any responsilibities, if they didn’t do it perhaps their industry wouldn’t be so ageist, and sexist.

  9. The one thing I do have to note here is that has a girl who, shall we say, developed early, I do remember the embarrassment of those “headlight” moments — and a padded bra was wonderful to keep from showing them…

    That said – The Sun is a disgrace to the concept of “news”, and falls much more in line with “tabloid” from where I’m reading.

  10. Mother’s need to be the judge and jury on this as well as fathers. Wear and choose age appropriate clothes and don’t bend over peer pressure.

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