weigh in . sexualizing children

September 16, 2011 separator Fashion

This Gap ad is cute. I daresay it’s even adorable. Actually, I kind of wish that panther sweater came in grownup sizes. But I digress. Point being, this is a tasteful ad for children’s clothing. The kids are goofing off, and they are quite adequately clothed. 

Moving on though. What about all these 14 and 15 year old runway and high fashion models? The girls in this picture (below) are so young, yet they’re pictured here living the party life in Tel Aviv for a magazine feature. This goes back to that whole example-setting thing. This isn’t what kids should be seeing other kids do. In the scope of the rest of this piece, however, it’s small potatoes. 

What happens when children, kids who are still years out from awkwardly darting through the halls of a middle school, begin taking on the high-fashion role? This ten-year-old is all over the media right now for her incredibly revealing and adult feature in French Vogue. I’ll let you Google the details if you’re interested. This situation alone isn’t the point I’m trying to make. What I’m wondering here is when is enough enough? When is a child no longer a child, and when does that quit being socially acceptable? Why are we sexualizing children in fashion magazines and differentiating that from the cheap, dirty pictures that people get in trouble for?

What do you think of all this? How do you feel about using children in these revealing, overly-made-up capacities in the name of “high fashion?”


  1. As a child, wearing half a shirt and denim underwear are the last things that should be on their minds. It disturbs me that so much morality has been destroyed in the name of fashion, and not just in the children and their parents, but the adults who serve as role models to these children as well. When they look in fashion magazines, they see older girls wearing strips of clothing caressing a shirtless guy with no emotion on his face; They think, ‘Wow, I wanna be like that!!’, and soon enough, they are dressed the part. If you really want to wear that sort of clothing, wear it when you’re older and you’re working at a strip club.

  2. It’s absolutely wrong! It’s even more wrong than sexualizing anyone – “even” grown women – in fashion editorials or ads of any kind, which is wrong to begin with… sadly, the sexualization of female bodies in non-sexual marketing contexts is omnipresent in our society, and it’s only consequent that it’s spreading to children and (to some lesser extent) to men. How do we make it stop? I don’t know, but consciousness-raising posts such as yours must be a good first step!

  3. I think this is an interesting debate. I am personally a little terrified at the idea that children this young are being sexualized in media. On the point that 200 years ago women were married by 14- they were married to further population, not because they were attractive, and to younger men. These adds are aimed at enticing older people (what 10 year old can afford Gucci?)to give in to the sexual nature of the ad. It is even possibly making a comment about youth and how once you’ve reached legal adulthood, you are old, not hip, which I think is a dangerous idea. Why is the media telling people that they have no worth once they figure out what self worth even means?

    Which brings me to the next point. I was once 13. I thought I knew everything and I had sexual experiences. At that point in your life, however, you are not aware of consequences and are not sexually mature. In this society, with social media and “friends” as parents, I think we have given our youth an overwhelming sense that they know best and are the center of the universe. Just because you are having sexual thoughts doesn’t mean that you should share them with the world. That sounds harsh, but I guess what I’m saying is that the 10 year old in these pictures doesn’t even realize what the implications of the photo are. She can’t. It’s ok to have sexual experiences as you grow. But, in today’s society, sharing those with on such a large scale (I talked with friends and my mom, and that is healthy, imo) to promote self worth is dangerous. And it makes the emphasis of our youth to be finding worth in sex. Sex is supposed to be a natural thing, not a forced state because you can, because it makes you feel pretty when someone looks at you. Sexuality is an innate sense that grows over time.

  4. I agree completely! I can’t imagine what’s going through the minds of these people who come up with these concepts. I feel like a pervert just looking at these images!

    We’re so careful in this country to avoid child pornography but I think these types of images are just one step away.

  5. Cody, it’s so nice to hear a perspective from somebody a little closer to this age group! You make a good point about children discovering these things for themselves, and I do think that it could be detrimental to a child to limit or restrict that type of development. I also agree that 15 is heading towards adulthood.

    Where I disagree with you is that anything about these campaigns is appropriate. This child is ten years old. Those images do not depict how she would develop off-camera, either sexually or socially. She would not have put herself into those situations or poses of her own volition, and this lifestyle will undoubtedly accelerate the “growing up process” for her. At ten years old, she likely has not actually had her period or in any way reached adulthood biologically.

    Maturing and coming into your own is a process in which many youths struggle to maintain a strong sense of self in the face of pressure from peers, media, and conflicting impulses. Why put children and very young women through that process on camera for all the world to see?

  6. I have to say, as a teen myself, I disagree with this. i remember being seven, hanging out with friend after school, playing games, and definitely having some minor sexual experiences even then. Now, this wasn’t an idea we got from school health books or television or videogames or music, it just happened. Even children have some sexual identity, and I think more people should appreciate that. Not to mention, I don’t see this pictures as sexual at all. Nudity does not equal sex, in many cultures a fifteen year old is an adult. it’s also kind of silly tosay to a young girl, “Hey! you’re body is growing, you feel new feelings, you probably have your period, and all these things mean you have reached adulthood biologicaly. But DON”T YOU DARE FEEL SEXY!” Feeling sexy or comfortable in your body doesn’t make you have sex or make girls loose. i know as a small child I wore revealing clothes in summer, not to show off, but because it was hot, why make it all so dirty? You’re pushing a preconceived idea of sexuality onto children that might be developing their own ideas, and we should let them.

  7. Wow. That last photo is just wow. Great article and thoughts on this issue; definitely not a fan of seeing children sexualized so young. Let them be kids!

  8. I tend to agree with XandY on most points.

    15/16 year olds aren’t really boys and girls anymore – they are YOUNG men and women. Some of those 15 year olds are more mature than others, just like some are more equipped to handle their own bodies… just like some of their bodies are more matured than others.

    Until -very- recently in our culture (less than that 200 year mark) women were of reproductive age at 16 and married as a result of it, some married before that in preparation of their new life with their husband. Men are genetically programmed to find a young woman attractive because she’s a capable breeder.

    Our society, however, is changing. I find the message of the Tel Aviv ad to be more disturbing than the girls— the idea that the night is as young as these tantalizing beauties is pretty creepy.. or that you can find under-age girls in Tel Aviv? I don’t know, just a weird message.

    The final two, of Thylane Blondeau are fairly beautiful. I like the second one of her – it oozes richness, but also this portrayal of her sneaking into mum’s clothes. As to her in the Indian costume.. it’s very “on trend” as well as adorable. If she weren’t such a beautiful child there would be less controversy. She’s beautiful, thus sexual – and it wouldn’t matter if she was wearing a burlap bag. The difference is in her face. She ‘looks’ like a model. She’s not a kid running around with a big grin and a jokey little face like that Gap ad, she’s posing.

    And she’s been doing it for years, so now she’s quite good at it.

  9. XandY – Nice to hear a differing opinion. I definitely get where you’re coming from, and it’s a good point. I do think, though, that we have made many advances as a society in the past 200 years – advances that have enabled us to give kids today the childhood that earlier generations couldn’t afford to lavish upon them. I think that our standards are, or at least should be, different today.

    I’d love to know what everybody else thinks of the point XandY has made!!!

    – Lindsay

  10. Ahh, yes, I remember seeing something of this sort on AOL news (which I avoid reading, because I believe most of it is just… not real news).

    I was a very modest girl. Even as an adult now, I continue to be so modest. I don’t like revealing a lot of myself, and I believe that if I am to be so revealed, it is for one person and not for the world. I feel I am digressing.

    Not just children, but people altogether are too sexualized, I believe. Sex makes up way too much of our culture — music, fashion, advertising — it’s absolutely everywhere. If people in general embrace this, then it is only a matter of time before the people embracing it are younger and younger.

    For shame.

  11. I just want to remind people that the idea of childhood is still relatively new. 200 years ago 14 year olds weren’t still in school unless they were from wealthy families. Not only were they laborers, they were wage earners. It’s also important to recognize that 16 year old girls have been sexually portrayed in art practically since the beginning of art.
    I do get what you are saying, and I’m not a fan of the child beauty pageants where pre pubescent girls wear bikinis and makeup. Some of the younger examples that you mention are too young. But seriously – at 15 we’re not talking about little girls, we’re talking about young adults.

  12. 100% here too, they should not “use” chldren and make them appear 15 years older and desiderable, just to sell.

  13. I’m sooo glad we’re all on the same page here, ladies! I am just so appalled by what flies these days. Let these kids have a childhood, instead of making them grow up overnight and set impossible standards for their peers!!!

    – Lindsay

  14. I think it atrocious to sexualize children and whatever those ads are trying to sell, I would not want any part of.

    I am also opposed to the children’s beauty pagents that don’t celebrate the child for what they are, but paint and doll them up to look like adults.

  15. I’m totally with you on this one, what happened to children looking and acting like children?!
    I think there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed when it comes to the portrayal of children in fashion ads and editorials,
    and many of these photographers and fashion editors just don’t get how inappropriate these images are. Not just for adults to look at but the effect it may have on children themselves.
    This is a great post by the way, I found you on the LALM thread and am now following 🙂 xoxo

  16. Sigh. This makes me so sad. We have a huge problem developing in our society. I agree with the above responses – this creates an unhealthy self-image, which leads to problems in adult life (difficulty trusting others/partner, building emotional intimacy, perpetual discontentment, etc.). However, my first thoughts were – if we are sexualizing children in this manner, how does that affect the adult population? When men (or women, but more often men) are bombarded with these types of images, will we see a shift in sexual desire? What kind of messages are we sending – pedophiles are deeply scorned in our society YET we produce images like these, virtually saying, “it’s okay! look and appreciate!” I never want adults looking at these images, which are meant to produce sexual desire? arousal? thoughts?, and believing those reactions are appropriate. Honestly, it really scares me, considering the huge problem we already have with objectifying children through abuse and neglect.

  17. I completely agree with you. That’s just wrong and sad that society is the way it is. I can’t believe the parents would allow their child to portray themselves like that. I guess money talks and that’s what some people care about.

  18. I agree with you. This is not how children clothing advertisment should look like, children should stay children as long as possible!
    Those ads are horrible. 🙁

  19. Not cool! And what’s sad is that normal behaved teenagers will look at these ads and begin to criticize themselves for thinking they are not sexy enough. In my opinion it’s an act of violence towards young women.

  20. I’m with you, I personally think that even sexualizing teens is a real problem, I mean with all their hormones raging and the way boys are hyper sex focused at that age I think that’s the time we need to be extra careful about what messages we are sending and make sure that we are having good, frequent conversations with them about not just the physical but the much more important emotional aspects of sex.

    I’m not saying to pretend sex doesn’t exist, my kids are 5 and under and I refer to everything by it’s correct name and we have conversations even now about how certain parts of their bodies are extra special and need to be treated that way, I just think that allowing sexuality to permeate into their clothes, images and minds at a young age puts the focus on the wrong things and creates the perfect storm for teen pregnancy, STD’s, and body and self esteem issues.

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