Let Them Be Young: A psychologist’s point of view

Young children in the UK are exposed to sexualisation on a daily basis. From music videos to magazines, there is evidence to support that these factors can have a long-lasting psychological effect on children. Recent evidence has concluded that there is a direct correlation between clothing and media content, which could cause mental health risks, particularly in adolescent girls.

Dr Arthur Cassidy is a media psychologist who specialises in the over-sexualisation of children’s clothing in the fashion industry.

Let Them Be Young: The rise of independent retailers

Jan Shaw has been making clothes for as long as she remembers. As a child she would knit clothes for her Barbie dolls, which led to her making clothes for herself and selling some on to friends. It wasn’t until later life when she had her first grandchild four years ago that she decided to start making clothes again.

Jan was involved in a project in the Philippines where she sponsored a young boy who was living as a street child. She visited the country for two weeks to help teach children various skills, but when she returned to England she left wondering how she could raise money for those desperately in need.

The church which Jan is a part of started up a charity to support these street children, and she initially organised a craft fair, which raised over £2000. Knowing it wasn’t viable to host an event every week she began selling her clothes online where she donated all profits made to the charity.

Based in Dorchester, Dorset, Jan runs her business Jan Jan Creations from a sewing room in her home. Her products are then advertised online on her Etsypage. Jan designs her products with the children in mind; she considers comfort, appropriateness and usability the most important qualities in her work.

With the rise of sexualised clothes in the mass market, it seems that increasingly more people are starting up independent clothing business to fill a large gap in the market. Retailers are simply not providing the public with the best clothes for their children and are turning to alternative methods as a resolution.

Let them be young: Outlining the problem

Leather bodycon skirts, studded high heels and padded lingerie are all products you would expect to see hanging in a women’s high street store, not something you’d stumble across whilst in the children’s section. Nevertheless in the last five years, there has been a sharp increase in products marketed in large retail stores that are deemed highly inappropriate for young girls to wear.

Four years ago, to try and bypass the issue, the Department for Education released the Bailey Review – Letting Children Be Children. The government believed that children of the United Kingdom were living in a pressurised environment, conditioning them to ‘grow up too quickly,’ and requested guidance from the Chief Executive of Mother’s Union, Reg Bailey, on how to address the sexualisation of childhood and the ways in which it could be resolved. In total he came up with fourteen various recommendations that included the introduction of age restrictions on music videos and Internet censorship of adult online material.

The sixth recommendation was to develop a specific code of good practice when retailing to children. This meant restrictions on all products for girls including clothing, accessories, underwear, bikinis, high heels, slogans and even certain fabrics used to make them, such as lace. Bailey stated that ‘parents want age appropriate clothes, not scaled down versions of adult fashion.’

But in the time that has passed not a great deal has changed, and retailers are still selling clothing that many people feel are too ‘explicit’ for children. Searching through racks of clothes for her kids, Ruth Lopardo realised that clothing made for girls these days were one of two things; either highly gender-stereotyped or extremely over-sexualised.

“Most of the clothes that are marketed on the high street towards girls are so stereotypical, they are pink with ‘little princess slogans’ or are highly sexualised, and that really concerns me. From about eight or nine, up to when a child is fully grown and can wear normal clothes, there’s a real scarcity and a lot of what there is, is just scaled down adult clothes.”

Fed up with being offered minimal choice, Ruth decided that she would fill a gap in the market with the creation of her Newcastle based children’s brand – ‘Love it Love it Love it.’ Knowing this wasn’t enough to make a substantial impact on the issue, Ruth and her business partner Francesca Aitkin initiated their first campaign ‘Let Clothes Be Clothes,’ which aimed to create a movement here in the UK.

One of the most recent shops to feel the wrath of Ruth’s campaign was retail giant John Lewis. Just before Christmas 2014 during the hype of ‘Monty the penguin,’ the company sent tongues wagging when they began advertising bras for girls as young as two on their website. Parents and various campaigners like Ruth from around the country complained, and when contacted the store stated that there had been ‘an error in loading the item onto our site, which meant it was labelled incorrectly by age and not by size.’ Nevertheless, the product description remained the same for some time, until they eventually altered the name of the product from bra, to crop top.

Other leading fashion brands have also come under scrutiny in recent months. Ruth believes that Next and River Island are also in the long list of culprits that aren’t adhering to retail codes of practice.

“In terms of sexualisation of clothes in the high-street, we see Next as a company that keeps continually being pointed out for over-sexualising girls, and also some of the more fashionable stores like River Island that are aimed at adolescents and young adults and then expand into kids wear. It may be due to a lack of experience in dealing with children.”

An aspect that concerns many, especially child psychologists, is the long-term lasting effect that exposure to over-sexualisation has on children. Recent evidence has concluded that there is a direct correlation between clothing and media content, which could cause mental health risks, particularly in adolescent girls.

Ruth was not the only mother to be concerned about the psychological effects that clothing may have on young girls. In October last year, Huffington Post journalist Stephanie Giese wrote an article about how retailers are ‘normalising sexy before children even understand what sex is’. Like Ruth, she also had young girls to clothe, so using her position of power as a journalist; Stephanie made the issue a matter of public interest.

“We need to take responsibility as a culture for the messages that we present to our girls and show them that we value their bodies as well as their minds. We need to remember that we are not raising girls, we are raising women.”

Back in 2010, Mumsnet, one of the largest UK websites for parents, developed a similar campaign to Ruth and Stephanie’s called Let Girls Be Girls. It stemmed from users of the website who were concerned that increasingly sexualised products were affecting the minds of children. Their aim was to challenge retailers and ask them to not sell products that exploit children at a young age.

Five years on and spokeswoman Jane Gentle has said that ‘since the main thrust of support, numerous large retailers continue to back the campaign, and along with the support and endorsement by the government’s Bailey Review, change can and will certainly be achieved’.

“We continue to talk and highlight key issues as and when users ask them to. The aim of the campaign isn’t to demonise any particular person or retailer; it’s about joining forces for a change.”

Ruth believes that parents will eventually boycott large retailers, and turn to independent clothing makers that can be found online on social media or on websites such as Etsy – but she has her concerns over the pricing of unique products.

Let them be young

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At the start of this year, I took on the challenging task of researching a topic that is not debated near enough as it should be in our society, and that is the over-sexualisation of children’s clothing within the UK fashion industry. The project was initially posted through my University’s news website; however, due to the upgrade of my blog, I thought it was time to upload it to here!

Admittedly as a young girl, I would always think about growing older. I would put on my Mother’s clothes and makeup, and pretend to be a grownup way before my time – let’s face it, all girls do it. But luckily my mum saved me from myself and always dressed me in appropriate clothing. However, when walking around high street stores nowadays, with family members of a young age (without trying to sound too old!) I always think to myself that the clothing for children is far too explicit, some you could describe as ‘scaled-down adult clothes.’

Using this observation I chose to develop it into a university project and whilst talking to peers and parents, I realised that this wasn’t just an issue that parents believe to be of high importance, but also the younger generation. Let Them Be Young explores the past, the psychological issues and the resolution to the problem to help raise awareness.

N.B. Results as of January 2015

A big thank you

A few days on from my post about anxiety and panic disorder I have received a huge amount of messages saying how helpful it was to know that someone else was going through the same. It was extremely difficult to write, but the response has made it so much easier to talk about. I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone that has either viewed, or messaged me about the post.

Just to re-iterate it is common, more people suffer from it than your realise; but if you do, you are normal, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

Hope you all have a great weekend.

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The struggle with anxiety

This is definitely going to be one of my most serious blog posts, and also the most difficult to write; but I think that it is something that is long overdue, and should be done in order to help overcome the problem I have faced.

Some may or may not know that I am unfortunately a huge sufferer of anxiety. I have dealt with it for the majority of my life, and still suffer to this day – although not as much. I do not want this post to be considered as a ‘cry for attention’, or asking people to feel sorry for me. I want to use it as a positive platform to help both myself genuinely think about what I, and many others have to deal with, and also to help individuals maybe get through the emotions they are feeling, as well as informing others who are unsure of the disorder.

Most people do not realise that it is a mental illness. When people think of the term ‘mental’, they think of an unpredictable psychopath who could snap at any moment, which is completely untrue. The connotations that come with a mental illness in general, are mostly negative. People need to realise that even stress is considered a mental illness, but just because someone is stressed, does not make them ‘crazy’. Luckily, through charity awareness weeks and social media, the barrier is slowly being broken down, and it is becoming more acceptable to talk about mental health with a positive outlook. However, I believe that more does have to be done if we want to completely diminish the overall negative views on mental health. Nevertheless, that is another story. I want to talk about the various stages of my life and the anxiety I dealt with.

As mentioned above, I have suffered with anxiety and panic attacks from an extremely young age. My Mum reminds me now on how I’d say I had ‘gone all funny’. I did not realise what was actually going on, but now looking back, I can see that in fact I was having a panic attack. The first proper panic attack I can remember is when I was about 10 years old. It was a Friday evening and I had just been dropped at my old best friends house for a sleepover. We were sat round her dining room table with a drink (no it wasn’t alcoholic!), when all of a sudden I felt sick, dizzy and hot. I wasn’t there half an hour until my Dad had to come and pick me up. Without knowing what was going on, my Dad drove us to our nearest shops as we normally did on a Friday evening to get snacks for the weekend, and went back home. When we got back, my panic attack had increased. By this time I had been panicking for 20 minutes, and I was certain that I would need an ambulance. I asked my Dad if we should call 999, but obviously I was fine and we didn’t. (Someone that has anxiety will know this horrible feeling). It may sound silly but as a 10 year old who has no knowledge of anxiety and panic, it was the scariest time in the world.

Unfortunately my teenage years were not any easier, for numerous reasons.

The transition of moving from primary school to secondary school is a nerve-wracking time. To face a new school with new challenges will definitely pressurise children, but at the time I moved I was also suffering with Glandular Fever, which didn’t help my anxiety. In lessons I would have to leave because I’d feel too ill, and sometimes I wouldn’t bother going in which made the girls in my class think that I was faking it. This carried on for a few years, but I had months of not having any panic attacks at all, to having around two or three a day.

At the age of 15 my dad was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, a terminal illness in which the muscles waste away, leaving the sufferer paralysed. This was an extremely difficult time, but oddly enough my anxiety wasn’t too bad, my family were still just maintaining hope that we could maybe find a cure. Eleven months after he was diagnosed, Dad passed away a couple of months before my 17th birthday. At any age losing a parent is horrendous, and the grief hits you like an atomic bomb, especially when they are taken from you so suddenly. At this time in my education I was studying my AS Levels, which didn’t make things easy. My school tried to make me leave on numerous occasions, and sometimes I was keen on the idea of just walking out, but knew in years to come I’d regret that decision.

The most annoying thing is that panic can arise in the calmest of situations. I could be watching the X Factor when all of a sudden I was certain I was dying or I could be lying down in bed and I would panic, for no reason. Like clockwork, it would happen every Sunday evening. One particular attack that I can remember so distinctly was one Sunday evening; me, my Mum and my boyfriend were watching The Apprentice Final (when Ricky Martin won), when all of a sudden I felt extremely panicky. I felt like my brain was shutting down, my heart hurt, my whole body was shaking, I was hot, I was certain that I needed to go to hospital, and was certain that that evening I was going to die. My Mum and boyfriend were just telling me to calm down, but during a panic attack, there is no telling someone to calm down. I was saying that I needed to go to hospital and was angry that they were just sat there, thinking I was going crazy. But your body feels so wrong, you don’t feel like yourself, and nothing feels real.

A year and a half on from my father’s death, and a week before my A Level final exams another huge event in my life happened. On Jubilee Monday, my house was destroyed in a fire. I had been home from work only 20 minutes when all of a sudden we had a loud knock at the door, and to our shock, someone was screaming at us to get out because our roof was on fire. Leading up to this I was sat in the lounge watching the start of the Jubilee celebrations, when me and my Mum had said that our next door neighbours must have been tidying their garage. On the other side of the wall our sofa is placed against, it sounded like they were moving things about. What in fact was happening were paint pots, gas canisters and electrical items exploding. I grabbed my dogs, phone and iPad (priorities?) and left the house immediately. When we got outside and looked at our roof it was completely on fire, and we had been sat under it for at least five minutes without any knowledge. As we watched five fire-trucks and over 40 fire fighters try and extinguish the 50ft flames, you can imagine, my anxiety was at an all time high.

Due to everything that happened leading up to my A Levels I was more than certain there was no chance I was going to pass any of my exams. I had already deferred my UCAS application and was prepared to have a year out working. Nevertheless, in August 2012, I received BBC in Business, Textiles and English – something that I could never have predicted. Within an hour I had called Bournemouth University to see if I could still go that year, and luckily got in through clearing. Again at the time of moving on from school to university, it is another scary time in your life. Luckily I had the comfort of still being at home, because I did not feel ready to leave home so soon after everything that had happened. In my first year I did deal with panic attacks – as you can imagine being in a fire, I was concerned about being able to get out of somewhere quickly, so I would worry in lectures, which made it difficult to learn, and most of the time, I would avoid them where possible. This may sound completely stupid to some people, but I guess everyone is different. 

I have dealt with anxiety and panic disorder numerous ways. I have been prescribed beta-blockers a few times, which stops the random rush of adrenaline, which initially starts the panic attack. But you have to learn not to rely on them, so I only used them when I felt like a panic attack was about to start. I’d listen to some music and have a sing along. Scientifically, you are more aware of your breathing when you are singing and breathe deeper, so you get more oxygen in your lungs. A panic attack makes you breathe very lightly and shallowly, and this will not help in terms of dizziness or the faint feeling you may get. This brings me to my next point – meditating. I’d often lie down in bed listening to a YouTube self-help video where someone will take you through a relaxation period, make you think about your breathing, and teach you how to clear your thoughts. I know it sounds annoying, but I think the only way to properly overcome the disorder is to ride it through like a wave. Everyone is different; some may like to meditate, some like to medicate. But the one piece of advice I can give is to just keep telling yourself: you are not going to die. A panic attack can not kill you. Although at the time you feel like everything is coming to an end – it’s not. Keep telling yourself that and you’ll soon get over it.

I know it is a pretty deep topic to discuss, and although I’ve talked about periods of my life which I don’t like to draw upon – they have all made me who I am today. I don’t think I would ever be as strong as I am now. And as mentioned before, I really have not done this for pity in anyway, shape or form, but I already feel like a large weight has been lifted off of my shoulders, because I’ve never discussed it in such great detail before. But everything I have dealt with has made me even more motivated and determined to work harder for what I want in life. I realised that even during some of the worst situations, I can still manage to get some qualifications! I realised that life is far too short to spend 90% of the time worrying about what could happen. I realised that all that effort going into me over-thinking could be put to good use thinking about something positive. I’ve got a lot of extremely exciting events to look forward to which I will talk about at a later date – some that I do feel anxious for, and worry that I will have a panic attack. But I have to take my own advice – and remember that everything is OK!

What needs to be mentioned is that anxiety and panic attacks can occur for no reason at all. I am in no way saying that my anxiety is any worse than anyone else’s due to the situations I’ve dealt with. Everyone with it feels the effects differently, but they suffer all the same.

Some time on, and halfway through my degree, I can finally say I’m in a steady point in my life anxiety-wise. Yes I get anxious every now and then, and sometimes have the odd panic attack – but it’s nowhere near as bad as what I used to get, which I am so thankful for. Now, I get good anxious – the excited anxious you feel when you are stepping into the unknown, not the bad anxious, what you feel when in midst of a panic attack. I have to thank all my amazing family, boyfriend and friends for being so supportive during the tough times, and I really honestly could not thank them enough for everything they have done for me. Sorry if it has ever annoyed you! At these times you definitely learn who are the ones you can truly rely on, cliché as it sounds.

I really do hope this may have helped other people, and I know it has definitely helped me get certain things off my chest. If you have any questions, or need to chat about it then please do send me a message on twitter, or by email.

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Sex and no city

It is fair to say that I love everything about New York. The fashion, the lights, the hustle and bustle, the smell of street pretzels, hell I even love the angry taxi drivers. But my biggest love about it – is a television programme that came out of it. No not Friends – although I do love that – but Sex and the City.

I have been a huge fan of Sex and the City from the young age of 10 when I went downstairs one night, way after my bed time to see my Mum, who was watching the 6th series finale on Channel 4 when Mr. Big races to the oh-so romantic Paris to save Carrie from the quite honestly creepy, Aleksandr Petrovsky. I wondered to myself then what the huge deal was when I saw my Mum welling up with happiness, but my poor little naive self did not understand or appreciate the love of love that consumes every female on this planet.

Anyway, nine years on, and a more suitable age; (being thirteen and watching a sex scene with your Mum isn’t the nicest thing), I can admit that now, I understand everything that little Fern never even thought about. However; on a boring Tuesday afternoon, after re-watching my Sex and the City box set for the nth-hundredth time, I decided that I wanted to see where it all began for the beautiful and very fabulous – Carrie Bradshaw, by watching The Carrie Diaries. And all I can say is that just like the adult series, I was hooked. Thirteen episodes down and one and a half weeks later, I have finished every episode. And loved every minute.

As silly as it may sound, but watching both Sex and the City and the Carrie Diaries inspired me to really start taking writing seriously again. I have become a bit lax over the summer as any other student becomes. But seeing how she started off with just a pen and paper, dreaming big – which led to her having her own column in the city newspaper just made me think maybe anyone could do it if they work hard enough. I think maybe Candace Bushnell designed the Carrie Bradshaw, not just on herself, but as a representation of every woman out there. Dreams can come true if you make it happen. And oddly enough, despite it being fictional, it made me realize what I want to see of my writing career, or journalism career in general.

Nevertheless, I find it difficult to be inspired when living in Bournemouth. Yes it’s a pretty town and it is filled with amazing sights and people, but it doesn’t hold as much opportunity as a big city could. I want to be able to walk down a street and see a crazy piece of clothing or person or artwork that could instantly make me want to write or blog or design. Unfortunately, walking down a little road and having to pick up your dog’s crap doesn’t involve that kind of inspiration!

sex and the city

This may not make much sense to some people, and I may sound like an absolute idiot for idolizing and taking inspiration from a fictional character, but as long as it’s motivating me, then that’s all that matters. I hope that in a couple of years I can look back at this and see that some of my aspirations have been achieved, and that I am a step closer to fulfilling my life long goals.

And as much as I wish I could be writing this from a cute little studio apartment in Greenwich Village in Manhattan, with the world outside my window – I’m sadly writing this on my bed in my small bedroom in the town of Bournemouth, listening to the sound of nothing but rain outside.

Oh well, maybe one day. A girl can dream.

Sex and the Town just doesn’t have the right ring to it.

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