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Today in dispatches from obvious-land: 7-year-olds don’t need padded bikinis. That’s what the British clothing line Primark learned after it was lambasted by children’s advocacy organizations for introducing a sparkly pink-and-gold bikini, complete with cleavage-boosting cups for the tween set. Primark removed the top from the racks yesterday, apologizing and donating any profits from the teeny-weeny bikinis to a children’s charity. Children’s advocates applauded the move, and officials expressed outrage at Primark’s decision to stock the item in the first place. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, backing a campaign by the parenting forum Mumsnet to “Let Girls Be Girls,” pretty much nailed it: “All of us parents can recognise there’s something wrong when companies are pushing our kids into acting like little grown-ups when they should be enjoying being children.”
The bikini top is only the latest in a long line of sexualized products for children, from Tesco’s ill-conceived kiddie stripper pole to “bralettes” for 6-year-olds and bikini waxes for prepubescent girls. Even the less outrageously explicit kids’ toys have disturbingly grown-up undertones, like the scantily clad Bratz dolls. As Gigi Durham, author of “The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It,” noted in her 2008 interview with Broadsheet, these marketing tactics are all kinds of bad news for kids:
“There’s this insistence that younger and younger girls are sexual. There’s this huge emphasis on linking youth with sexuality. ..Children who are 12, 13 years old are not in a position to understand or cope with their sexuality very well. Linking sex to youthfulness is really dangerous.”
Sex sells, as the saying goes. But using sex to sell to children? It was the right move to yank the swimsuits. But what would have been really great? If they had never hit the shelves in the first place.
Margaret Eby is an editorial fellow at Salon.More Margaret Eby.
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