The furore over sexy clothes for small girls is the sort of thing that I would normally raise my eyebrows about for a second, and then move away from. After all, no one is putting a gun to parents’ heads and telling them they have to buy padded bras for their seven year olds. If they don’t want this stuff in their houses, they won’t buy it. If supply really follows demand, then stocks of ‘Lolita’ beds will wither up pronto and we will all be a lot happier.
Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that. I was beside myself with rage when Child One, at the age of seven, was given as a birthday present a bright pink plastic stationery set with ruler, rubber, pencils, all emblazoned with the slogan ‘Top Totty.’ I couldn’t just hurl it straight into the nearest bin, as it had been a gift which she had excitedly unwrapped and really liked. Nor could I have a go at the parents in question, as we were then living abroad, English was not their first language, they had no idea what ‘totty’ was and they weren’t even at the birthday party anyway. So I was left fuming, until a decent interval had passed, Child One had forgotten all about the set, and I could ease it into the rubbish under cover of darkness.
And, of course, all this marketing of the concept of sexiness to children has its own insidious effect. Even if the rows of crop tops saying ‘jail bait’ remain swinging on the stands in Primark, shunned by parents who have no desire to cheapen their daughters and shorten their few years of carefree innocence, children themselves see them and their bright, glittery colours, know that older girls wear similar provocative things and aspire to become trailer trash.
It wasn’t long after the ‘Top Totty’ incident that Child One came home saying all she wanted in the world was a pencil case with a bunny rabbit on it. This was a lot more like it, in my book, for a seven year old and, as she needed a new pencil case and as I needed to bury her occasional musings over the whereabouts of the ‘Totty’ set for ever by getting a replacement, we set off to the big stationery store. She ran ahead to find the display she wanted. I walked over, only to stop in my tracks in front of three shelves groaning with merchandise covered with the Playboy bunny logo. So this was the latest must-have at her school! These were items marketed specifically at young, pre-secondary age children – cutesy rubbers, little fluffy cases, notebooks – all with the insignia of the magazine which regularly puts staples though women’s navels. I don’t have a problem with porn, though I would go more for Anais Nin than Playboy, being a words girl rather than an airbrushing fan – and do any magazines actually offer visual porn for heterosexual women? Magazines for gay men must surely have quite a different, er, angle on things – but nothing on earth was going to make me buy a Playboy bunny for my daughter. I explained that this particular bunny was the sign for a type of magazine featuring women with no clothes on. My daughter asked who on earth would want to buy such a thing. I said that men sometimes liked to look at women with no clothes on. My daughter said, ‘euwwwwwwww!’, put back the pencil case, and has showed no interest in the Playboy bunny since.
It’s a tricky one, isn’t it? We love films which have one level for children, and another, tongue in cheek, sly dimension that goes over the kids’ heads and makes the parents chuckle. But if a seven year old unknowingly has a Playboy pencil case, it is the adult with too much information who has the problem with it.
All I really know for sure is that childhood is very short, and seems to be getting shorter all the time. Any product in a shop which seems to accelerate the path to adulthood is bad, as far as I am concerned. Wandering through BhS yesterday, I noticed that all the boys’ T shirts had vaguely cheeky logos, like, ‘it wasn’t my fault’ or ‘he did it’. Is this really what we want? A generation of boys who behave badly and blame other people for it, and girls who are only fit for lapdancing, fake tans or, horror of horrors, the truly grisly fate of marrying a footballer and facing a lifetime of public humilation.