Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

Feminspire | April 23, 2014

Scroll to top



Sexualizing Children Through Fashion: Who’s To Blame?

Sexualizing Children Through Fashion: Who’s To Blame?

According to the world of children’s fashion, Elizabeth Hurley might as well be the devil she portrayed in the 2000 film Bedazzled.

Between filming episodes of Gossip Girl, Hurley has been working on several clothing collections, the latest being a line of swimwear for children 13 and under.

From halter one-pieces covered with red hearts, to pink bikinis with cupcakes and desserts, the suits are expensive (most are around $80) and lean heavily on the pink and frilly side of femininity, but don’t look very different from the swimsuits I remember wearing as a child of the 90s.

But mommies of Millennial children are raging on the Internet about these “sexualizing” suits, citing a 2011 Live Science study that found girls as young as 6 want to be seen as sexy.

And what parent, feminist or not, wouldn’t find that appalling? Children are arguably the world’s most impressionable “consumers.” Do we REALLY need to impose the same beauty ideals adult women struggle with onto kids who don’t even have a full set of permanent teeth?

Feminspire Editor Kaya Green doesn’t see the suits as sexualizing, but the argument is “drenched in slut-shaming.” In response to “People I Want To Punch In The Throat” blogger Jen M.L., who said “There were several dresses that looked like they should come with a complimentary pole and hooker heels,” Kaya says “Really? Young kids frequently run around topless, so it’s not like they’re showing off any MORE skin in a bikini than they usually would.”

And Hurley isn’t the only offender: Kate Gosselin of Kate Plus 8 Tweeted what she thought was an innocent picture of her 11-year-old wearing a pair of mom’s heels. The photo didn’t show a whole shot of Mady striking a pose or pretending to catwalk, as I remember doing as a child in my Dollar Store costume heels and feather boa, but just her bare legs and the sparkly pumps. Twitter users went so far as to call the picture “pedophile fodder.”

“If you’re sexualizing a child, you’re the problem, not what the children are wearing,” said Feminspire Editor Jess Mary Aloe.

Herein lies the dilemma of the sexualization of children’s clothing: Who is doing the sexualizing? By law, children are not supposed to be thought of as sexual creatures. Any “sexually explicit conduct,” which usually involves intercourse, actual or simulated, or the exposure of the genitals of pubic area for the purpose of manufacturing and publishing, is constitutionally defined as child pornography and child abuse. Children posing in swimsuits for magazines may be considered mature, but it is not pornography.

As Feminspire writer Jessica Knox summarizes, “Basically, if you find anything disturbingly or inappropriately sexual about little girls wearing bikinis, then you need help.”

This leads to a larger discussion of children’s clothing as a whole. Children’s fashion seems to exist more for parents than their offspring, hopefully because the kids are, you know, playing outside or hosting dinner parties for their stuffed animals or driving race cars made out of cardboard boxes. Parents are paying for the clothing their children quickly outgrow, so the amount of money they spend and what they spend on is their prerogative.

Before I had a say in what I would wear, my mother’s clothing discretion leaned heavily toward the pink and frilly. With one male and one female child, she had full access to the gender binary, but the lines didn’t usually blur. Baby Lauren wore girlish pink one-piece swimsuits with ruffles and matching bonnets and sunglasses, and looking back at pictures, I was as precious as can be. But Baby Lauren wasn’t concerned about feminist principles so much as not getting sand on her feet and walking toward the waves, then running away screaming when the tide came in.

I spoke with my mother over the phone while she was at work about the idea of this sexualizing swimwear, and she bounced ideas off of her female co-workers who had female children. One woman argued that bikinis on children may not be appropriate because they are not designed to properly fit a child’s body, and expose too much skin.

“These children are dressing up as adults far too early,” said my mom. “If you make them wear fashion trends when they’re little, they’ll want to follow fashion trends their entire life. Why cant they be kids for a while?”

Feminspire writer Sully Moreno, who remembers wearing bikinis as a child, disagrees. “It seems weird for people to think that children need to cover up more than adults,” she said.

My mother and I agreed on the reason I wore one-pieces, which didn’t have a thing to do with fashion: my “outie” bellybutton. My mother feared other children might make fun of me for having an outie, and she was right. Playmates told me it looked like I had a little penis, which made me feel gross and ugly. But children will find ways to be cruel regardless of fashion choices.

Another clothes-related story from my childhood involves a closet full of dresses I was more than happy to wear, until one day I wasn’t. “I don’t want to wear dresses anymore,” Pre-Grade School Lauren said.

“Children at some point have a mind of their own and start arguing with parents about what they want to wear, and it happens a lot earlier than you might think,” my mom said.

From then on, I was wearing everything from light-up sneakers and sweatshirts to my Pocahontas Halloween costume to school. I was being a kid, not following fashion trends, and most definitely not worrying about being “sexy.” I was already carrying the weight of concepts such as “What do I want to be when I grow up?” and “If I evolve my Evee now, will my Pokemon team be strong enough to beat the Elite Four?” I had no time for pattern mixing.

That line of reasoning may be where my views on fashion as a young adult are rooted. I buy and wear clothing that makes me feel good, whether that means professional, flirty, snuggly or sexy. I feel like a baby giraffe when walking in heels, so I stick to ballet flats. I sometimes feel uncomfortable about being large-chested, so I research types of tops that will downplay my breasts. I’m spending my hard-earned money on my wardrobe, so I try to buy reasonably priced items I can wear over and over.

Before following trends I follow my heart, and I think that’s the kind of woman Baby Lauren would have been happy to grown-up to become.

What do you think of Elizabeth Hurley’s swimwear line? Do you think fashion is sexualizing children too young, or is something else to blame? Share your thoughts in our comments below.

Written by Lauren Slavin

  • majorstranger


    Sorry, Pokemon nerd here.

    • Lauren Slavin

      I cannot emphasize how sorry I am.

      • majorstranger

        Love you, girl.

  • majorstranger

    Also, it’s the same type of argument as blaming the outfit on a woman for her being raped. Children in bikinis do not welcome pedophilia, pedophiles welcome pedophilia. It doesn’t matter what they’re wearing, if someone wants to sexualize children, they will. This is the same reasoning as to why I get cat-called when I’m sick and going to the pharmacy for medicine in pjs. When will people stop putting the blame on victims and potential victims and place the onus where it should be?

    Let kids wear whatever the hell they want. Yes, even their birthday suit.

    • majorstranger

      Oh and to that point, if people spent all of their energy trying to help find and rehabilitate pedophiles and child molesters rather than criticizing kids and parents for their fashion choices, this world could be a way different place.

      • TPierce

        As far as I know, no one’s yet found a way to rehabilitate pedophiles/molesters. Every therapy attempt has failed.

        • majorstranger

          “Every therapy attempt has failed.”

          Really? Every attempt ever? You’re so wrong it physically hurts.

          Pedophiles/molesters are frequently jailed and/or leper-ed from society and rarely given access to proper rehabilitory measures. If they were, especially prophylactically, we could save a lot of kids from being harmed and a lot of sick people from never having the opportunity to live a “normal” life.

          • R

            I understand where you are coming from, but the problem is these “sick” people generally aren’t caught until after they’ve already hurt someone. I’m not aware of (though there could be) a pre-crime/preemptive effort to stop, detain, and rehabilitate would be or potential molesters. So, with that in mind, though callous to many, I believe they relinquish their right to a “normal” life the moment they touch a child.

          • majorstranger

            I mean, that’s totally fair…but there needs to be a program to help prevent these people from ever acting on their instincts and make sure that if they have acted on them and been punished accordingly, that they never do it again. Jail cannot and does not do that. Neither does being put on an sex offender registry. In order to protect the children of the world, we need to also treat and rehabilitate these people.

  • EJ

    I definitely think it has to do with the sexualization of women and nudity that persists in out society. We see women and any skin showing as being sexual which then gets put upon underage girls. I do think its possible to dress a child in a sexually inappropriate way, but a girly two piece swimsuit or mommy’s heels are not it. Little boys put on daddy’s shoes all the time and no one freaks out that they’re going to be seen as sexually virile studs. All because men aren’t constantly seen as sexual objects.

  • Caroline Slavin

    I also think there is something to be said for young girls wanting to be like their mothers or other role models in their lives. It’s one of the reasons I liked walking around in my mom’s heels when I was little. It’s why I loved getting hand me downs from my older sister. I just wanted to be like them. You can’t expect a little girl to not want a leopard-print bikini if her older sister wearing a leopard-print bikini.

  • zandi

    From a practical standpoint, anyone who has ever taken a child to the beach can appreciate the value of a two piece bathing suit, especially if they are still in diapers or pull ups. I’m of the camp that there is nothing sexual about a child’s body, and people who DO see them that way will think it regardless of what kind of swimsuit they are wearing.

  • Marlena Carcone

    This is a fantastic article. I love the way you approached it.

  • Tamora Pierce

    Where are these people when the toy stores put out the makeup toys, the toy high heels, and the Bratz dolls? Where are they when Vogue uses underage models in blatantly sexual poses? Those bikinis cover as much territory as a regular kids’ two-piece suit.

    What the hell is sexualizing about a kid walking around in her mother’s pumps?

    I squick a little at Hurley’s line, but those bottoms are perfectly respectable, and the kids–or their moms–will learn the ugly truth about bikinis the same as I did at the age of 12–when you boost yourself out of the pool, some things come down and some things ride up. You need actual curves to keep a bikini in place.

    Yes, fashion is sexualizing the hell out of kids, but not here. Vogue is being called out right now over an underage model, and last year there was a major scandal about sexualized child models in a French magazine.

    And it isn’t only fashion. Go into a toy store and look at what’s being peddled to girls as toys. Barbie is to us a sweet childhood memory, but she’s also a fashion icon and a peddler of female brainwashing. She has help with other doll lines, too. And then there’s those toys that are sold to girls so they can look and act just like mommy: crafts, play kitchens, makeup, high heels, purses. There’s your sexualization, cheerfully purchased by parents so the kid will quit whining and quietly play with her toys.

  • R

    These bikinis are cute bikinis and the child models are posing in a way that is not suggestive…

    However, I do think involving children in certain aspects of the adult realm is problematic. I am someone who had an issue with the Vanity Fair Miley Cyrus cover (circa 2008), where a fifteen-year-old Cyrus is depicted naked, save for a white sheet and smeared red lipstick, and is sporting perfectly disheveled (after sex?) hair. The problem is not me or anyone else imposing meaning to the photo, when all the textbook elements of an intentionally sexy shot are present. The picture was intended to be racy, regardless of employing a minor as the main attraction.
    Sure, plenty of fifteen-year-olds are sexually active and mature, so the likelihood of this scenario being a reflection of her real life was entirely possible. But, her or any other minor’s sexual activity was/is to me irrelevant. My beef was with the image being on the cover of a publication with a 25-40 y.o. demographic. Why create laws that tell men it is wrong to pursue minors for sex, while also parading them in their face naked, with ‘come hither’ looks?
    This is obviously NOT to say it would’ve been Cyrus’ fault, had something happened to her post production of the image. The fault would be the attacker’s and only the attacker’s. I agree with majorstranger in stating pedophiles will sexualize children regardless of their apparel. Though, I disagree about efforts and energy…we can always put more focus into finding and stopping them, but I don’t believe they can be rehabilitated.
    My example of the VF/Cyrus scandal is quite different than parents taking their daughters to the beach in a two-piece. I just wanted to bring up an instance of a child clearly and intentionally being sexualized in an adult space.

    • TPierce

      My problem with that cover was that her father let her do it. He had no business giving her permission for something like that. He was acting like every other showbiz parent, doing anything that would mean more fame and bux.

      • R

        I agree!

  • Pingback: мертвое море

  • Pingback: Creative Greeting Cards Templates

  • Pingback: Charity templates free

  • Pingback: url

  • Pingback: Grover Isaza

  • Pingback: Agustin Keno

  • Pingback:

  • Pingback: achroglobin brideknot bitulithic

  • Pingback: video seo services

  • Pingback:

  • Pingback: Cal-Fix

  • Pingback: Atlas

  • Pingback: Visual

  • Pingback: Remco Ocmer

  • Pingback: Jeep Rental Costa Rica

  • Pingback: P90X Schedule PDF

  • Pingback: atlanta home builders

  • Pingback: his explanation

  • Pingback: catering

  • Pingback:

  • Pingback: e smoke

  • Pingback: car donation new york

  • Pingback: LG refrigerator

  • Pingback: video seo houston

  • Pingback: Pa

  • Pingback: discover more