The skimpy clothes that sexualise young children
IRISH shops are under fire for selling inappropriate clothing to young girls, with children's charities warning that they "contribute to the early sexualisation of children".
Teenagers I spoke to said that while they did not wear revealing clothes during the day, the need to upload pictures to social networking sites to prove that they "have a social life" was pushing them to buy sexier outfits.
"When we started going to discos in first year it was kind of a big deal so a lot of girls tried too hard to look older," a savvy 16-year-old said.
"They would wear bandeau tops, and miniskirts with heels, it was trashy, they looked like prostitutes but they didn't know any better.
"A big part of going out is getting ready with your friends and putting up photos on Facebook when you're messing around before the night out so they'd put a lot of effort into their clothes because of that," a 15-year-old added.
"It's sad really because they look like porn stars, and it feels like it's getting worse now than it was for us.
"We'd never have mixed short top and short skirt, you can't expose everything at once."
The girls felt that the pressure to look alluring rather than pretty came from boys and their evolving tastes.
They, themselves, admitted that they would love to look like curvaceous singer Beyonce (30), model Georgia Salpa (26) or reality star Kim Kardashian (30), who became famous when a sex tape of her and a boyfriend was leaked.
"Celebrities give guys such bad expectations, they're so critical all the time, they think we should look like them," a 15-year-old said.
"I do like the way some of them dress, especially their heels, they always have huge platforms. I love them but my parents won't let me get them, I can only wear wedges.
"Some of my friends do wear 'hooker heels'... I've borrowed them but I can't walk in them," another 15-year-old admitted.
Irish children's charities have repeatedly expressed their concern that high streets are profiting and even driving the early sexualisation of children.
The controversy has gained momentum as dozens of UK retailers agreed to sign a new code of practice in June that effectively prevents them from selling clothes to children with sexually suggestive material.
Items of clothing which have been criticised include heeled shoes for toddlers, "cropped tops" shaped like sports bras for five-year-old girls and suggestive underwear for pre-teens.
The guidelines, which were drawn up by the British Retail Consortium, have already garnered the support of brands available in Ireland as well as Britain, notably Marks & Spencer, Next, Debenhams, Argos and Tesco.
While no offensive garments appeared to be sold in these shops in the Republic, the Herald uncovered some of the controversial items in Penneys among other stores.
Padded bras for girls as young as nine years old were available for purchase in Irish stores.
The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) said that such products were totally unsuitable for children, while Barnardos Director of Advocacy Norah Gibbons urged parents to not purchase these clothes.
"Our message to stores is 'don't sell them' and to parents 'please don't buy them'.
"The biggest complaint you can make is to leave them on the shelves and challenge not the poor people in the stores but the managers of the stores.
"I think we need to ask a question to the retailers: 'What good do they think they are doing in selling these types of underwear for small children?'
"What part of children's development and mental needs would they argue that they are meeting?
"I would say to parents that the fact that retailers are looking to make a quick and easy profit and are selling their items, does not mean that parents have to buy them. I think the worry is that for people who would want to view children as in any way being sexual, and who want in their thinking to persuade themselves that little girls or indeed little boys are interested in sexual matters, these kind of clothes can allow these people to build their own warped thinking around children.
"We need to protect our children from that and let our children be children."
One such item, which is sold in Penneys for €4, consists of a white and baby pink triangular padded bra which includes the inscription 'cutie' on one of the cups.
While the bra does not mention an age, it is advertised for girls who reach 140cm in height or 29 to 30 inches around the chest, that is to say, age nine to 10.
It appears that the age range was previously mentioned on hangers but that it has since been removed, perhaps to avoid controversy.
A similar item, sold in Primark -- Penneys' counterpart in the UK -- last year also claimed to be for girls of that height, and the hanger, which was photographed in a national newspaper, clearly stated that it was aimed at 9- to 10-year-old girls. A tag included with the underwear also read "my first bra".
Tops for five to six-year-old kids were also brought to the attention of the Herald.
The items are advertised as "girls crop tops" but they are clearly designed in the same style as women's sport bras with demarcations around the chest area.
They are also only available in the underwear section of the shop -- next to the girls' padded bras.