A storm in a -A cup
In October 2006, fashion designer Ashley Paige came under fire for using a ten-year-old girl to model a skimpy bikini at the Los Angeles Fashion Week. The designer, famous for her knitted and crocheted ikinis, worn by the lanky likes of Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson, allowed the youngster to parade down the catwalk next to older models, most of whom were virtually naked. The bikini in question hardly covered anything on the youngster and only stayed up thanks to a few strings in strategic places.
Despite the uproar from shocked parents and media commentators, high-street shops have carried on stocking barely-there bikinis for children as young as three. Despite us trying to contact a few high-street chains to see why they opted to sell these items of clothing, their press offices declined to respond.
Frills are fine
But these items of swimwear are nothing new: bikinis have been around for decades. So are we merely overreacting to a fashion trend or should we be concerned about the way children’s clothes are going?
Dr Janine Spencer, child development expert at Brunel University, thinks that bikinis as an item of clothing are not inherently wrong, it’s whether they are age-suitable that is of concern.
“Bikinis with flowers, frills and girly designs are fine, but anything that is aimed at enhancing the bust (such as bra-type styles or plunge necklines) is not, and neither are G-strings. Basically you should try to avoid costumes that are ‘sexy’ in design.”
It seems that boys’ costumes are not so risqué as girls, but why is that so?
“The trouble is, girls inherently do want to look older, and like their mums,” Dr Spencer explained. “So shops know there is a market for unsuitable clothing for the fairer sex. The other day I saw a girl who couldn’t have been more than seven years old tottering down the street in high heels and through her flimsy white trousers it was obvious she was wearing a
G-string. It’s terrible: children have such a short childhood and we should let them enjoy it.”
You never know who’s watching
The question about whether our children are losing their childhood has been raging in the media over the last 12 months or so, and the bikini debate comes into this arena. Are we trying to speed up the rate at which our children – or at least our daughters – are growing up? Dr Spencer is sceptical.
“There have always been people who try to sexualise children but it is our job to protect them,” she said. “And this doesn’t just mean avoiding sexy swimwear. I would also advise against letting your child run around naked on a crowded beach. While this is a completely innocent act, and innocently done, you just can’t tell who’s watching them.”