Background to Let Girls be Girls campaign


'Sexy' slogans on young girls' clothing, pole-dancing kits for tweens, Playboy-branded stationery sets, padded bras for prepubescent girls - these are some of the products manufacturers have tried to sell in UK supermarkets and high street chains in the past few years.

Mumsnetters have responded extensively to this creeping (and creepy) sexualisation of children in products and marketing:

"Ghastly, vile and just plain wrong! Why can't children be allowed to be children?" Servalan

"Normally a 'live and let live' type of person, but I was totally incensed at this as my daughter thought the bunny logo was cute! Is it me or is the sexualisation of kids getting earlier and earlier?" JC03

"Little girls are being groomed into passively accepting their place as objects in our increasingly pornified culture, and it stinks." TenaciousG

So we're launching a Mumsnet campaign called Let Girls be Girls. The idea is to encourage retailers to sign up to a simple pledge that commits them to selling only products which do not sexualise children.

Here's our stab at the letter we'd like to send to retailers. We've also clarified our aims following your suggestions.

The great thing about this campaigning lark is that can be useful even if it doesn't develop into a fully-fledged action (with chainings-to-railings, marches, love-ins etc). Simply by debating these issues here on Mumsnet, we are giving them a wider platform - it's all useful stuff.

Thanks to all who've chipped in with their views so far. Do keep 'em coming.

Mumsnet Let Girls be Girls campaign

The Mumsnet campaign offers retailers and manufacturers a positive course of action - to take the lead in ending the premature sexualisation of children through their products and marketing.

It's hardly news that the worlds of entertainment and celebrity encourage girls to believe their sexual attractiveness is paramount. But, increasingly, this same trend is visible in products marketed at young children. A growing number of toys, clothes and accessories encourage them to enter the world of adult sexuality.

There are plenty of reasons to be worried by this trend:

  • It introduces children to the world of adult sexuality, when elsewhere we are rightly encouraging them to resist the pressure to become sexually active at a young age
  • It tells girls that the most important quality they need is 'sexiness' and that female sexuality is all about pleasing others
  • It encourages a culture in which children are viewed as sexually available
  • Authorities as varied as the NSPCC, the NUT, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams have all weighed in on this issue, calling for a halt to the premature sexualisation trend

So we're asking retailers to back our campaign and to let parents know they don't and won't sell products which sexualise children.

Any thoughts on how we can maximise the impact of this campaign? Please add your support, comments, ideas or extra research to this campaign thread.

The Mumsnet campaign offers retailers a positive course of action - to pledge that they will only offer products which don't play upon, exploit, or emphasise children's sexuality. And we hope that many of them will take this opportunity to show parents that their company believes that children should be allowed to be children.

Definition of terms

We reckon that children should not be presented as sexual or encouraged to believe that attracting the opposite sex is something they need to consider. Retailers who sign up to the Mumsnet Code pledge not to sell products which play upon, exploit, or emphasise the sexuality of children.

What we're NOT doing is attempting to lay down the law about which products are or aren't OK – it's never going to be possible to write a definitive list of everything which wouldn't pass muster, and there's always going to be some debate about specifics.

But as a guide, most of us think that children's underwear shouldn't mimic adult lingerie and that padded bras for pre-teens are not appropriate. We think clothing shouldn't feature slogans which are likely to be read as 'sexy', provocative, or 'flirty', and lots of us feel that little girls' shoes should not have high heels.

As we say in our letter to retailers, we expect that they will err on the side of caution, and use common sense when making decisions about products. We've explained that retailers who are consistently thought to be sailing close to the wind will lose their accreditation – we've said to consult us if they're uncertain.

But what about parental choice?

Some think that this is something best left to the market – if parents don't want it, shops won't sell it. And of course, parents always have the option of not buying products which sexualise children.

But we all know that parents are subject to 'pester power', and also that the more available these products become, the more acceptable - even inevitable - they are perceived to be.

And most of us accept that the relationship between enterprises and children should be regulated in some way – in advertising, for example, or in the certification of films and videogames.

The bottom line is this: we don't believe that there actually is a positive demand for these products from parents. In fact, quite the opposite – we believe that, in making it very clear that they will not stock products which sexualise children, retailers will attract new customers who care about the messages we are sending to our daughters.

The bigger picture

In our letter we've asked retailers to consider the full range of the products, which they stock for children. We've said that you're unhappy with how hard it is to find girls' clothing in any other colour than pink.

While we know that many girls like to dress up, we've told them that short skirts and crop tops do not encourage the kind of active play that young girls need to be healthy and confident - we want more clothes that do. We've also said that many of you are fed up with boys' clothing, which casts them as aggressive macho men, and that so many boys' clothes have a military theme.

Finally, many of you have pointed out that this issue is only one element of a much bigger problem - the sexualisation of girls and women generally. Lots of you have mentioned lad mags and their visibility to children, and some of you have mentioned Page Three - there is certainly an important debate to be had about whether the environment in which younger and teenaged girls are growing up is a healthy one.

With that in mind we're going to get in touch with two groups, with a view to finding out what they're up to and seeing at which points, if any, our interests intersect. These groups are Object and Pink Stinks.

Effects of premature sexualisation on girls

There's been no research into the impact of premature sexualisation on very young girls that we've heard of (if you have, please let us know), but there have been two recent studies into the effect on older girls, both of which make pretty depressing reading.

  • In 2007, a study by the American Psychological Association found that: "Sexualisation has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development."
  • A 2008 study by Girlguiding UK and the Mental Health Foundation found that premature sexualisation and pressure to grow up too quickly are two "key influences" in the anxiety felt by girls.

The Mental Health Foundation said: "Girls and young women are being forced to grow up at an unnatural pace in a society that we, as adults, have created and it's damaging their emotional well-being. We are creating a generation under stress."

If there's any other research you know of which might be relevant, do drop us a line at or add it to the campaigns thread.

All of which begs the question: if it's all so blooming awful, why do parents buy this stuff? Possible explanations include pester power from children who are themselves under huge peer pressure, the might of marketing departments and (like everyone else) parents are susceptible to the general tide of pop culture, which seems, over the last decade, to have been moving in an ever more explicit direction in terms of the role models it presents to girls and young women. 

Want to know more?

Here are some of the books and articles we've come across which deal with the subject, either specifically or tangentially. It's by no means exhaustive - so if you know of any others please do post on the campaigns thread and we'll add it to this list.


Last updated: over 5 years ago