Girl, you’ll be a woman soon ... but not just yet

Megan Langton, aged 11, and Playboy wall hanging.
Megan Langton, aged 11, and Playboy wall hanging.
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FOR decades it’s been said that young girls are growing up too quickly. But is it their fault? Star writer Rachael Clegg looks at the societal influences that are sexualising South Yorkshire’s children.

NICOLA Langdon is perfectly aware that her daughter is growing up.

Nicki Langton, of Warmsworth, and her daughter Megan, aged 11.

Nicki Langton, of Warmsworth, and her daughter Megan, aged 11.

Her daughter is, after all, eleven years old.

But Nicola doesn’t want it to happen too quickly.

Like many mothers across South Yorkshire, Nicola, from Warmsworth, Doncaster, is worried about the increasing pressure on young girls to be sexy, sexual and attractive.

She isn’t alone. Mumsnet is still running with their Let Girls Be Girls campaign, which is aimed at curbing the premature sexualisation of children by asking retailers not to sell products that encourage young girls to sexualise themselves.

Megan Langton, aged 11.

Megan Langton, aged 11.

“I do worry sometimes about things like music videos and that they may have an influence on my daughter Megan,” she says.

But Nicola is lucky. Megan has a range of interests, including dancing.

“She doesn’t hang around the streets and nor does she look old for her age. She’s happy to say that some clothes are too old for her. And if she does ever pick up something that’s a bit too old for her, I put her straight. I wouldn’t let her wear anything that isn’t age-appropriate.”

But it’s a fine line, as Nicola explains. “You don’t want to baby them but you do want them to realise they are still young girls.”

Central to this debate is the Playboy merchandise, which has become extremely popular with young girls of Megan’s age. “I’ve chatted about this with other mums but I bought Megan some of the Playboy stuff because she is into bunnies. I don’t see anything against that - it is just a bunny on a T-shirt. I’m too young to remember what Bunny girls and Megan isn’t aware of it.”

But many mothers feel the association between the bunny and the big-bosomed, bunny tail-adorned waitresses of the 60s sets a bad example to young girls.

In fact, the disgust with the Playboy range is such that one vicar in York - Tim Jones - walked out of a stationery store in York after finding Playboy bunny stock on the shelf next to Winnie-the-Pooh and Mickey Mouse products.

But while the Playboy bunny merchandise is open to debate, there are other products whose boundaries are less blurred. ASDA hit the headlines in October 2010 after the supermarket chain was forced to withdraw its 28 AA padded bras on grounds that the bras ‘sexualised’ children’s clothes. .

Mumsnet argues that clothes such as this goes against what mothers are trying to do - encourage their children to resist adult sexuality. Members of the site also claim that products such as these leads girls to rate ‘sexiness’ above other traits, such as intellect, sportiness or get-up-and-go.

The NSPCC, the National Union of Teachers and even the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams have also joined the cause, concerned about that today’s generation of young girls is being prematurely sexualised, with serious and harmful implications for self-esteem.

Their concern is not unfounded. The American Psycholoigical Association found that sexualisation of young girls impacted on a child’s mental health and could have long-term health implications, such as the development of depression and eating disorders.

The brutal fact is that if society encourages only one aspect of self-worth and self-validation, i.e being sexual and sexually attractive, then girls and later young women will know only to aspire only to such phenomena.

Even the government has launched its ‘fact finding’ Review of the Sexualisation and Commercialisation of Children, which includes suggestions such as reducing the amount of ‘sexualised’ advertising in open public spaces and ensuring children are protected when on the internet, their mobile phones or watching television.

For Nicola, the trick is not to wrap Megan up in cotton wool, rather to guide her towards the things that won’t compromise her childhood.

We should, after all, just let girls be girls.