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.

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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.

4 looks.. One pair of treggings!

Ever since I bought these two weeks ago, I have become completely obsessed with these ‘leggings’ from Topshop. I’ve always been a lover of patterned leggings, and I especially love the aztec tribal design on this pair. They just seem to match everything, and they look great; either dressed up for a night out, smartly for a job interview, casual for day to day wear and as a casual/smart look.

They retail at £28 and what’s great about this product is that Topshop stock them in all the ranges, including tall, petite and maternity, so anyone can get away with wearing them. They are just as comfy as leggings due to the Elastane, but because of the Ponte material and the side zip, look more like a pair of skinny leg trousers.

I understand that they are quite bold for some people’s tastes but here are four different ways I’ve styled these for various different occasions..

Click to enlarge all photo’s!

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Style One.. The job interview

These trousers add a bit of vibrance compared to a normal interview look. I paired them with a pink pasha camisole, a simple black blazer, white pointed toe stiletto’s, a black and white handbag and cat-eye sunglasses. The pink camisole makes a bit of a statement and adds a hint of colour amongst this otherwise monochrome look. Apologies for the football in the background, a tad un-classy!

me

Pink Pasha Camisole @ Topshop, H&M Black Boyfriend Blazer, White Pointed Toe Stiletto’s – Boohoo.com, Handbag – Fiorelli for TK Maxx, Sunglasses – Prada at Sunglasses Hut.

Style Two.. Casual day to day look

For this style, I kept it really simple with a plain black t-shirt, Primark sunglasses and a black pair of Converse. Jazzed it up with a leather jacket!

casual

River Island Black T Shirt, Black Converse – Office, Sunglasses – Primark and Leather Jacket @ Topshop

Style Three.. A night on the town

I pulled the trousers up a bit in order to make them high waisted, and tucked in a simple white boob tube. I paired it with a studded belt, black leather waistcoat and suede black wedges for a night out. I also added the black and white bow to the hair to make the look more girly. Definitely 80’s inspired!

out

White boob tube – Primark, H&M Studded Belt, Waistcoat – River Island, Black Wedges – Missguided.co.uk and Hair Bow @ Topshop

Style Four.. Out and about smart/casual

This time I paired the trousers with a green pasha camisole to add colour once again to the look. I added studded accessories to this look to rock it up a bit, such as the studded bracelet, over the shoulder bag and Kurt Geiger sandals.

smart

Green Pasha Camisole @ Topshop, Studded Bag – Primark, Studded Bracelet – Topshop and Kurt Geiger Sandals

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These are definitely my four favourite looks, but the possibilities are endless. I could easily mix and match the accessories, shoes and tops in each style to make a numerous amount of other outfits. It’s all about trial and error!

I definitely think it would be a great idea to invest in a pair of bold print trousers/leggings for summer. Here are some of Topshop’s greatest S/S13 styles:

trou

Websites of clothing mentioned:

http://www.topshop.com

http://www.boohoo.com

http://www.hm.com/gb/

http://www.sunglasshut.com/uk

http://www.tkmaxx.com/

http://www.riverisland.com/

http://www.office.co.uk

http://www.missguided.co.uk

http://www.primark.co.uk/

http://www.kurtgeiger.com/

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