Primark, a popular discount chain, is not the first retailer to draw criticism for offering padded bras for kids younger than 10. But the outcry of protest is prompting a growing number of companies to pledge support for Mumsnet's "Let Girls Be Girls" campaign. The popular online forum said such clothing indoctrinates the idea that sexiness is the most important quality for girls and "encourages a culture in which children are viewed as sexually available."Because the bikinis are seen as making girls objects of sexual desire, it has been dubbed by the oh so clever British tabloids the "paedo bikni" (pedophile bikini). In a follow up story, the Sun found
KNICKERS for girls aged seven bearing the slogan "You've Scored" - sold at Primark. A £10 low-cut padded diamante BIKINI for eight-year-olds sold by BHS-owned Tammy. A brightly-coloured padded BRA in a tiny Size 28AA, which fits seven-year-olds, sold in girls' sections at Tesco.Okay, let's see- sexy underwear, sexy bras, and sexy bikinis for tots is pretty offensive, but the truth is it's also completely ubiquitous in kids' clothes. Take a look at almost any discount retail store in the US (e.g. Walmart, K-Mart, Old Navy) and you'll find "sexy swimwear" for girls. Admittedly I didn't see any padded bras online, but there are certainly high cut suits, whole piece suits with the middle cut out, super short shorts, and low cut dresses. In other words, the "girls" clothes don't really look that different than the "juniors" (aimed at prepubescent and barely pubescent girls and definitely marked as sexy) and the "womens" (aimed at adult women, but again, infantilized to look like children's clothes). Even more depressing, the boys' clothes are all imbecilic: covered in cartoon characters, sports logos, or militaristic camouflage. Why don't the tabloids and politicians or even the "mums" get upset or angry about making little boys into soldiers? Children's clothing plays out large societal issues. Women are worthwhile to the extent they're "sexy" and "sexually available." Men are worthwhile to the extent they're "heroes" (Spiderman, football player, soldier). All clothing- children's and adult- is hyper-gendered so that even previously unisex items like jeans and tee shirts are now either his or hers. And the only way retailers will change what they're selling is if we change what we're buying. And the only way we as a culture will change what we're buying is if we take sartorial signifiers seriously. Clothes mean something. It isn't cute to dress kids up as pole dancers or Marines. It isn't cute when our clothes are so hyper-gendered that even diapers come in blue and pink. What would be cute would be a revolution- where people shopped on both sides of the gendered aisle for clothes that did not scream messages of corporatized gender roles ready made for our children and for us. A clothing revolution that demanded an end to sexualized girls, militarized boys, and infantilized adults would be way more fun at the beach this summer than padded tops for tots.