Two-piece bikinis for three- or four-year-old girls, foam tops to shape ten-year-old girl models, sexy poses in summer ads. The arrival of good weather triggers alarms about the commercial strategies of some companies that, according to various organizations and associations, sexualize girls. In the first three weeks of June alone, the Women's Image Observatory, which reports to the Women's Institute, has received 111 complaints against ten different brands for these reasons. In a decade, between 2010 and 2020, the same body received 140 complaints on the same matter.
The complaints go in several directions: some point to brands that offer padded bikinis for girls, others criticize the fact that fashion companies are generally offering two-piece swimsuits for children under two years of age whose breasts, obviously, are not visible. They have developed. There are also complaints about the way in which advertising shows girls in bikinis, imitating adult models and with sensual poses.
The director of the Women's Institute, Toni Morillas, confirms the rise in complaints received by the Observatory, something that has led them to launch a statement in which they "draw attention" to this type of sexualization practices and strategies. "It underpins and reinforces sexist values that can end up leading to discriminatory practices and even contribute to sexual violence. There is also a deep burden: if the elements that are the measure of social success are certain gender stereotypes and beauty canons, we are generating a damage to girls in their life expectancies and may be incurring a violation of the rights of girls. The normalization of eroticism in the body of girls is also a breeding ground for child sexual abuse, "argues Morillas.
A review of the offer of well-known brands serves to verify that these practices happen. "Boys and Girls 3 Piece Holiday Cow Print Swimsuit Set. Note: 9-10 years and up padded inserts included," reads an advertisement for the brand PatPat, which includes those inserts in more Models. Last year, the brand already faced the complaints of several users and also to the public complaint of the consumer organization Facua, which demanded the withdrawal of these padded models that were even for 5 and 6-year-old girls. The association spoke that these products were "part of the perpetual objectification that women suffer from an early age" and represented "a dangerous eroticization of childhood."
Contacted by elDiario.es, PatPat assures that until they received the first complaint they did not know that such small models also included padding. "It was an oversight on the part of the factory that supplied that style, as well as our internal quality control teams. We sincerely apologize. We agree that it is unacceptable for girls and boys to wear padded bikinis," they say. However, the brand maintains several models of bikinis on its website in which it includes "padded inserts" from nine years old. His argument is that many girls start to develop at that age and that the padding is removable. "It is not to encourage more breasts but to cover if they wish," says the brand, which speaks of "respecting" and "giving confidence" to girls to choose "what they feel most comfortable with."
The co-education technician of the Asturian Women's Institute Marian Moreno Llaneza wonders what message is sent with the tops with 'foam' so that the nipple is not marked or with the huge offer of two-piece bikinis for very small girls who still do not they have chest "A body that is not sexualized is being sexualized. You are telling girls that they have to cover up, that they cannot go as freely as a boy even though at that age they still have the same chest. You are teaching them differences of gender, a message about hiding the body or being careful with it, with what that means later also for the sexuality of women, hidden in front of the masculine one, which is exhibited", she says.
Another of the brands mentioned in the complaints to the Observatory is Decathlon. Some of their bikinis for girls ages 10 and up include padding in the bra. Company sources emphasize that 'foam', which is removable, is in no case to "give volume to the chest" but to "avoid transparencies, although our bikinis are not transparent, and prevent the nipple from being marked". They assure that the objective of their brand is to promote the practice of sports by girls and that many mothers told them that from the age of nine or ten, with the beginning of development, their daughters were embarrassed if the bikini marked their nipple.
Marian Moreno gives as an example that there were swimsuits with padding for children's genitals. "Why are we ashamed that our nipples are marked and not their package? It is a question of culture and gender, of teaching us women from an early age to be ashamed of our bodies." The coeducation expert reflects on what is the look that society, family and education are putting on girls and to what extent hypersexualization is becoming naturalized.
The general secretary of Facua, Rubén Sánchez, reviews other cases in which the association has acted in the face of this sexualization of girls. Sometimes, he says, bad practices reproduce the idea "that girls have to portray an image of a much older age than their own." "Intentionally or not, they are being sexualized: maybe there is no bad intention or bad faith, maybe their justification is that girls want to look like their idols and they are given that opportunity, but they are also being sexualized with the consequences that this has." In addition to padded tops, on other occasions the association has denounced, for example, the sale of costumes for girls such as the "sexy nurse" and the firefighter with a miniskirt and stiletto boots.
The director of the Women's Institute explains that, once the complaints from citizens have been received, the Observatory is analyzing each case and, when the time comes, they will send individualized letters to the companies requesting the withdrawal of products or campaigns and justifying why they may be constituting a form of illicit advertising due to sexism. Without sanctioning capacity, Morillas admits that the instruments they have are not always the most effective, although in this case and depending on the responses of the companies they will assess, together with other departments such as the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, if they take legal action. The director stresses, however, the importance of raising awareness on this issue and promoting "social rejection" of these practices of hypersexualization of girls.
A report by the Women's Institute on sexism in toy advertising prepared in 2019 found that 8.5% of the analyzed ads featuring girls appeared in a context "associated with sexuality or eroticism." The study put different examples, such as "minor dressed, made up and/or with poses and attitudes of older women; characterizing young models as suggestive pre-adolescents; resorting, as a sexual fetish, to the representation of adults as schoolgirls; with children's costumes with erotic connotations, or with the offer of toys and leisure activities that constitute a learning of roles and stereotypes for objectification". The Committee on Women's Rights and Equality of the European Parliament has warned of the "negative influence on self-esteem" of these practices, which can lead to eating disorders, but also of the danger of "self-objectification that increases the possibility of behaviors aggressive towards girls.
Another of the big brands pointed out by the complaints is Mango. Company sources explain that in its line from 0 to 4 years old there are only panties and not two-piece bikinis, which appear in its line from 4 to 14 years old, although they also offer panties there. "It's for production reasons, it scales from a size 5 to 14." From that barrier, the 14, those same sources acknowledge that there can be "some bikini with 'foam', but there is no desire to generate volume, it is only to assemble the bikini." About their advertising, they assure that the slogan of both their products and their campaigns is always innocence.
The visual artist and gender expert Yolanda Domínguez shared an advertisement on her networks a few weeks ago in which the models exhibiting children's underwear were, at least, teenagers. "You have to put bodies suitable for the age for which you sell the product," she remarks. Domínguez, always very critical of advertising, rejects the fact that the girls who act as models pose with adult attitudes, such as akimbo arms, tilted hips or open mouths. "What does that open mouth mean?" she asks herself. In advertising, she continues, shoes, false nails or bags have replaced balls or computers as accessories.
"It's one more part of gender learning. It's a socialization process: you learn that you're not going to be valued for being active but for being a specific, attractive body, whose value is to be contemplated and seduced. A girl goes to the beach to to play, not to seduce", he emphasizes.
The coeducation expert Marian Moreno insists on the risk to a self-esteem that, she says, will be built on the external gaze instead of the internal one. "Reflection is important. If we talked about this with some families, they would surely feel disgust, however we entered that wheel of naturalized hypersexualization." Moreno defends coeducation as an essential part of the solution to also generate a critical mass of families and consumer population.