The commercial world’s impact on girls

I am sitting on a sun lounger by the side of a swimming pool in France reading Living Dolls by Natasha Walter. My brother is making full use of the water slides and flumes, running impatiently up the stairs, sliding down with a manic grin on his face and heading back to the steps in a quick, shuffle of a run, eyes darting towards the life guard on duty. It is whilst reading chapter 3, Girls, of part 1; The New Sexism that I stop and take in my surroundings. I am startled and in many respects horrified by the fact that what I see before me confirms and indeed proves beyond reasonable doubt the very topic upon which my current chapter is based. It focuses on how although at a glance we may feel that our society is improving and reaching equality for men and women, the gap between the genders is becoming more of a chasm than ever before, primarily on account of the commercial market and materialistic mindset of the public. Girls are encouraged to wear pink, boys to wear blue and whilst we may consider this has always just been a tradition – nothing sexist, we are wrong. In the late 19th and early 20th century pink was considered a boy’s colour, as it was stronger and brighter. Blue was associated with girls because it was the colour of the clothes supposedly worn by the Virgin Mary. This goes to show that there is no logic in the colour divide, purely a trend to which clothes companies, toy manufacturers and the media latch onto. Not only does today’s pink is for girls, blue is for boys attitude present the genders as entirely different species; insinuating that a girl should be entirely feminine – or indeed what is socially classified as feminine, but it also presents girls, especially, with a means of sexualising their image from a particularly young age. Some sworn pink brands include Barbie, Hello Kitty and Playboy. The latter was never intended as a brand for children, and yet now it has branched out into child sized clothes, pencil cases, stationery and bedspreads – should this be the message we send to the future women of our country?

As I looked around the swimming pool complex I was astounded but the sudden realisation that I could have been looking at any one of the young girls there through a pair of rose-tinted spectacles; real ones. The vast majority of girls aged between 2 and 10 were mincing around in skimpy pink bikinis, wearing inflatable Barbie armbands and clutching a candyfloss coloured Bratz towel. The boys, free to their own choice, were clad in any colour imaginable – other than pink. Not only is the commercial world, filled with smaller sizes of adult garments, forcing girls to grow up too fast it is teaching them that image is everything and by sexualising themself as a person they will get further in life.

After my holiday I took it upon myself to do some further research in order to gain a broader understanding of just what message clothing brands are offering the girls of today. Being a teenage girl is a strange time in every female’s life, a lot is changing; be it your friends, school, or purely you as an individual. Your body is changing, your maturity is increasing and you are learning how to be an adult however with the assistance of top clothing brands, you are learning incorrectly. You are being taught that by looking fantastic and indeed sexually attractive doors will be opened to you that may not have been if you took little to no care in your appearance. The casual, semi-designer, hugely acclaimed fashion label, Hollister has attracted wide criticism regarding the bold, anti-feminist slogans used on many of their t-shirts. Whilst researching I was shocked to come across a top whose text read, “Flirting my way to the top.” Hollister sells its clothes to a wide age range however it is massively popular with secondary school girls, girls who may be unsure about what path to take in life and consequently decide that their social lives, boyfriends and appearance are more important. That t-shirt was by no means the most shocking with others reading, “Two boys for every girl”, “Save a wave, ride a surfer” and “Legal-ish”. Each of these will be worn by eleven year old girls who will be seen by the outside world as a sexual object. Many of the girls may not even understand what they are wearing but for the ones who do their attitude towards their body image and physical appearance will be immediately altered.

Why shouldn’t shops like these sell products which sexualise girls from a young age? Aside from the obvious reasons, such as it promotes the idea of underage sex being acceptable and heightens the risk of teenage pregnancies, it is sufficiently shortening the already brief opportunity these girls have to enjoy their childhoods whilst they last. After around the age of 18 they will have the rest of their lives to be adults in society but by encouraging them to grow up quicker we deprive them of what is, in essence, the foundation of their life. It is a chance to find themselves; to understand who they really are. By encouraging them to wear make-up, dress like models and present themselves as dolls the commercial world takes a pen to these girl’s opinions and scribbles them out – convincing them that by looking good the rest will come.

A popular make-up brand, especially in America, Blue Q, recently received much criticism for its latest racy product which contains two lip-balms in one package, split down the middle. One half is blue and shows and angel with the word Virgin on a calm blue background whilst the other half is a fiery red with a devil and the word Slut. The slogan and product name reads, “Lips to match your mood.” Many who opposed to this item of make-up questioned why one had to be either a virgin or a slut, is there no halfway line – where does the everyday woman stand? (Pictured).

Perhaps the most shocking and frankly disgusting product which I came across whilst researching was made by Zazzle.com and was marketed at children, sold in a specially made-to-fit toddler size as well. It was a plain black t-shirt sporting a Kate Moss quote: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” My jaw dropped when I read this. Who could have made the executive decision that this would be an appropriate slogan to present to children, or indeed women of any age? If trying to combat childhood obesity then this is definitely not the way to go about it. Should feeling skinny, looking physically attractive and getting male attention be a priority to leading a healthy lifestyle?

Living in what many consider to be an age of feminists, equality of the genders and a balanced society the image of female perfection to which women are encouraged to aspire has become more and more defined by sexual allure. Are we doubling back on ourselves and returning to pre-suffragette Britain? Little girls are growing up surrounded by an endless supply of pink dolls; eerily perfect bleached, waxed and tinted representations of humans which are taking over their lives. No longer do they grow up and leave their Barbies and Bratz behind; they are now expected to model themselves on such playthings as an adult. A five year old can be sitting at home watching Sleeping Beauty on television, clutching an accurate Sleeping Beauty doll in her hand whilst dressed herself in a shiny replica of Sleeping Beauty’s dress. She is being encouraged to believe that such a lifestyle is attainable – that she can do nothing but look beautiful and get by because of that. These dolls and products are just a fragment of a wider culture in which young women are expected to see their sexual allure as their primary passport to success. As one writer in The Guardian said, “Instead of desperately longing for the right to be seen as human beings, today’s girls are playing with the old-fashioned notion of being seen as sex objects.” It appears that we are never satisfied as a gender. Will we always be in a never-ending circle, wanting what we cannot have? This sexual objectification is now seen everywhere, it is having a serious effect on the ambitions of young women. In the words of Natasha Walter, “The dream that feminists first spoke about over two hundred years ago is still urging us on, the dream that one day women and men will be able to work and love side by side, freely, without the constraints of restrictive traditions. This dream tells us that rather than modelling themselves on the plastic charm of a pink and smiling doll, women can aim to realise their full human potential.” 

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  1. This is a compelling analysis. When my baby daughter was born she was given a knitted pink hat in the maternity ward, as opposed to a blue one. Why? This compartmentalisation of society begins at the very beginning. As Depeche Mode once wrote ‘People are people’, sexist capitalism however places people in convenient marketing compartments. How tragic: marketing brands people and consumers buy it.

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