A culture of premature sexualisation

Posted on 1 May 2012


guardian.co.uk, Monday 30 April 2012

and its inaugural body confidence awardsheld at the Palace of Westminster (Body language, 21 April). As a mother of three young children and head of a girls’ school, I have long been concerned about the growing premature sexualisation of our children and have campaigned against this. As parents, we must be aware of the forces at work that are not only stereotyping our children into gender roles – which is becoming challenged by the excellent work of groups like Pinkstinks, which so rightly picked up an award last week – but also sexualising children at an earlier and earlier age: makeup aimed at tots, inappropriate sexual clothing, and the sexual images which surround our children. As Susie Orbach says (Comment, 21 April), it is indeed “extraordinarily significant” that MPs are beginning to understand not only what a crucial cause body image is but also how “industries which purport to help” are themselves causing damage and hurt. Our children should no longer be sacrificed on the altar of the obsession with celebrity culture and the “beauty” industry it has spawned.
Dr Helen Wright
St Mary’s school, Calne, Wiltshire

• The Lancet papers and Unicef report (Britain has third highest proportion of sexually active teens, 25 April) need to act as a wake-up call to government and the commercial companies ignoring young people’s welfare because of corporate financial interests. Neuroscience has greatly increased our understanding of brain development. Areas of the brain, such as the frontal cortex, are not fully mature until people are in their 20s – the cortex helps regulate impulse control, and this, along with social factors such as peer pressure, is why young people tend to get involved in risky behaviours. We bombard young people with ads about the latest technical gadgetry, fast food and alcohol, and we give them unfettered access to online communication. This means they are becoming slaves to status symbols , leading increasingly unhealthy lifestyles, feeling pressurised to advertise their bodies through “sexting” – the peer-to-peer sharing of explicit images – and being exposed to violence, hardcore pornography, suicide and self-harm websites at the click of a mouse. As adults we are increasing adolescent risk-taking behaviour instead of mitigating against it.
Lucie Russell
Director of campaigns, policy and participation, YoungMinds