Although humans began wearing clothes to protect themselves from the harsh weather, clothes today are much more than mere covers. They have clearly become a fashion statement.
What you wear today has come to define who you are — or so we think. From bell bottoms to low waist jeans, Indian girls have indeed come a long way. But, how do you feel when you see a little girl dressed in a hot sweat pant with ‘juicy’ written provocatively on her butt? Or when you come across children’s clothing fashioned like that of adults’ with sexist comments printed on their T-shirts or pants? Or when you see two-piece bikini suits and adult lingerie, like thongs or padded bras for little girls?
British Prime Minister David Cameron has repeatedly called for the urgent need to “stop sexualising little children.”
The world over, children are constantly bombarded by indecent content. Children dance to ‘kiss me and touch me’ songs in reality shows and wear indecent clothes without understanding what they mean. In India, we conveniently dub this trend as ‘Western influence.’ But, it is important to realise that even in the ‘West’ parents do not want their children to wear inappropriate clothes.
This September, Liz Hurley, came under fire for sexualising young girls. The actress has her own line of luxury beachwear, and she recently launched a new range of beachwear for kids between 8 and 13. Many children, modeling for the bikini swimsuit posed with their hands on their hips, and this didn’t go down well with their mothers. Mothers who were interviewed on The Huffington Post called the range “disturbing.”
So, what do Indian mothers think about dressing up their little angels?
Priya Swaminathan, a mother of three girls aged 12, 5 and 1, is clear about what she’ll let her kids wear. Her children wear both Indian and Western outfits. Right now, she doesn’t let her 12-year-old wear sleeveless clothes. “These are tricky years for her and I am extremely conscious of what she wears,” she says. But, her five-year-old can still wear a short skirt for another year or so. Priya, however, adds that she clearly does not allow tank tops or suggestive clothes for her. “I don’t want my girls to draw unwanted attention.”
Meenakshi Hariharan, a 69-year-old former professor feels that it is just fine and we are over-reacting to the whole “dressing-up-the-girl” idea. “What is wrong if the child is wearing a certain kind of clothing? They are called ‘kids’ for a reason,” she opines exasperated. “Once the child reaches a certain age, parents can educate her about good and bad clothing. Until then, just her wear anything,” she says.
Binny and Vince are parents of two lovely girls, Sarah and Sandra, aged 4 and 9. They share a similar view and are open to the idea of letting children wear any kind of clothes. Interestingly, Vince believes that restriction in the kind of clothes one wears, leads to curiosity which could in turn lead to rebellion. “I would let them wear anything, even if it’s a little suggestive, as long as it’s not vulgar,” says Vince. But, they both mutually agree that nine-year-old Sandra cannot bare her waist. This only goes on to prove that most parents worry about what their kids wear, as they grow older.
Let kids be kids
Sexist suggestions are every where — from cartoons to movies. Little children even play husband and wife in popular advertisements making adult conversations. Are we sending mixed messages to our children? Let us not believe that “the child is innocent and does not know anything.” Children know a great deal. However, they may not be aware that they could also become the object of sexual desire.
Parents all over the world lament about how children are growing up all too quickly. Then, why are we in a hurry to dress up our little doll in suggestive clothes or let her gyrate to sexy music? It is important to sensitise people regarding issues that could arise out of dressing up provocatively. Popular CNN contributor, LZ Granderson, in his column, ‘Parents, don’t dress your girls like tramps,’ talks about how parents should think about their kids growing up with high self-esteem and stop buying clothes that are outright sexy. This could even include low-waist jeans for a second grader!
Many times, children want clothes that other kids are wearing. Also, retailers constantly, advertise their product as ‘cool’ and tell the world that they ‘actually understand’ the mind of a child. But, why are we letting advertisers tell us what is good for our child? Have we, as a generation, become so insecure about parenting that we let somebody else tell us how to dress up our little ones? And yes, because, we are parents and not their friends, it is perfectly fine for us to tell our children what they should NOT be wearing. Most importantly, we need to understand that, sex sells because people buy it. So, it could be very simple to just stop buying it.
Effects of sexualisation of children
The American Psychological Association (APA) has conducted a number of studies about ‘sexualisation of little girls.’ In their extensive report, they have indicated a number of disorders in girls who have grown up objectifying themselves as sexually desirable. They found that a number of things — from media to toys — promote sexualisation of girls.
Whether it is Britney Spears or our own movies where girls have pig tails but wear short skirts and dance around trees, we are constantly sending the message that, it is ‘cool’ to be the object of desire. To top it all, we have many dolls in the market, dressed in netted stockings and revealing clothes. Furthermore, television seems to only add to the woes.
Somehow, we have now come to believe that looking sexy and desirable is paramount. We are unconsciously telling our children that they need to look good and ‘not fat.’
We let them believe that being attractive is extremely important. We may do this by casually commenting that they should look like Kareena Kapoor, not realising that we are hinting that our kids can idolise her. This is when children start to believe that their physical appearance is of vital importance and that they have to look desirable for others.
APA, in its extensive report has said that sexualisation of children has caused three major problems in girls/women. First, it leads to eating disorders, second to low self esteem and third to depression.
Most importantly, children who wear ‘adult-like’ clothes often have trouble understanding femininity and sexuality, with the result that children grow up with the notion that in order to look feminine, they need to look sexy. The media and the Internet also constantly drive home the fact that, what matters is how hot a girl looks. So, what do weas parents do? Should we succumb to the all powerful media or should we have the guts to ignore them and help our little girl?
Remember, as parents we are equally powerful. It is extremely important for our children to know that they are important. So, teach them to value themselves for being who they are and not for how they look.If you are a parent of only boys, it is equally important to teach your boys to value girls for who they are and not for how they look.
Girls who are overly obsessed with clothes and looks may need help. Listen to what they have to say and teach them how their obsession can take away their attention from other activities that could be more interesting.
There is no point denying children access to certain TV shows or certain clothes. Validate your point.Remind your child often about how important she is and what she/he is truly capable of achieving.Help your child build her strengths. Encourage extra activities and most importantly, be a role model.
It is very stressful to conform to peer pressure. Instead of yielding to pressure, give it a thought — it is never worthwhile to compromise on yourself for some clothes. Help your child deal with such pressure by being a constant support.
Finally, yes, there is a lot of hype about how being ‘hot’ is the perfect way to be cool. In the end, it is not worth the sweat. It is also worthwhile to remember that, we, as parents, do have the power to do many things. In fact, in 2008, a popular retail outlet called Woolworths, was forced to pull out a range of furniture from the market because, it had inappropriately named it Lolita.
Yes, we want our kids to enjoy their childhood. So, why waste it over clothes and looks? It is about time we let our children excel in what they are good at — that of being just children. Let them just be.