Editor-in-Chief Chelsie Henshaw discusses the release of New Look’s padded bikinis, arguing that this type of clothing encourages the sexualisation of young girls and should not be defended
Content Warning: Discussions of the sexualisation of minors and mentions of sexual assault
Society never ceases to amaze me in its sexualisation of young girls. From a young age, girls are subjected to the male gaze and taught that their bodies define them. Following on from Redbrick’s ‘We are the 97%’ series, it is clear that sexual harassment does not confine itself to a specific age range, with many women recounting being harassed from as young as 10 years old. Yet, this only makes the news that New Look has begun selling padded bikinis for nine-year-olds even more shocking to me. New Look, a brand that was definitely a staple in my childhood wardrobe, is feeding into the narrative of sexualising young girls. The use of padding in their bikinis for children only serves to contribute to the age old sexualisation of female nipples. The question that begs to be asked is: why are women’s nipples so overly sexualised, and more importantly, when did we start sexualising the nipples of young children?
It is a disturbing thought that young girls should feel the need to wear padded bikinis, especially when it seems that well-known companies are actively contributing to society’s dangerous sexualisation of children. What is more worrying is New Look’s reaction to the backlash they received following this product launch, when many people took to social media to express their concern and disgust at the new product. The backlash originated in a tweet by Vicky Snowdon, who first spotted the bikinis. Snowdon, who has daughters, stated that she is ‘angry and just baffled at the same time,’ referring to the bikinis as ‘just awful.’ Following Snowdon’s tweet, Object, an organisation fighting to end the sexualisation of women, told New Look to ‘stop sexualising children,’ whereas another Twitter user, observed how ‘girls just don’t stand a chance at childhood.’ In my opinion, New Look’s response to these tweets only adds fuel to the fire. Amidst the statement provided by a spokesperson, one phrase sticks out to me: ‘to provide modesty for the wearer.’ Surely New Look are not suggesting that girls as young as nine need to wear padded bikinis in order to be modest. Children should not be taught that they need to be ‘modest’, young girls wearing unpadded bikinis should not run the risk of being deemed as immodest by society. All this thinking does is further sexualise young bodies and contributes to the dangerous narrative that young girls and women can be held responsible for being sexually harassed or assaulted.
The idea that young girls are subjected to such standards not only terrifies me, but also hits extremely close to home. My little sister is only nine years old, and she is bubbly and full of life, unaware of the true horrors of society. She is innocent and blissfully ignorant, her biggest concern being whether she can play Minecraft or not. Does New Look not think that she should be allowed to continue to enjoy her childhood, instead of being told she needs to be modest and cover up? It is all too easy to create a product for those ageing from nine to 15 without truly understanding the repercussions and New Look is a prime example of this.
Furthermore, the padded bikini is also problematic in other ways. First of all, women often wear padded bras for further support of their breasts, and thus New Look’s padded bikini promotes harmful standards surrounding how femininity is portrayed. Most young girls will not have hit puberty yet and may feel self-conscious about this fact. Equally, some may have hit puberty and be experiencing gender dysphoria or simply do not feel comfortable in their bodies. Young girls should not be made to feel that their normalised swimwear is a padded bikini, or that they have to dress a certain way to represent their assigned gender identity. The idea that young girls should dress a certain way to protect their modesty and fit into a homogenised beauty feeds into the damaging beauty standards that are consistently forced upon girls and women from a young, impressionable age.
What is also shocking about New Look’s padded bikini is that it has been released in 2021. Whilst I would not agree with it having been released in the past either, it might have been more understandable. However, in recent years other brands have hit back at the sexualisation of young girls, so why has New Look not followed suit? For example, back in 2010, Primark, among other retailers, vowed to stop selling padded bikini tops advertised at children, following a Mumsnet campaign aptly named ‘Let Girls Be Girls’. Despite this happening over a decade ago and including many brands, New Look still claims that ‘this type of swimwear is widely available from other brands on the highstreet.’ Whilst this may be true, it does not mean it is right, and many brands do not offer this type of swimwear. It is clear, therefore, that New Look needs to be more socially aware and in touch with the current views of society.
If you are going to take one thing away from this article, let it be this: young girls should be able to enjoy their childhood freely. They should not need to be taught to be ‘modest’, instead, society needs to be taught to stop sexualising children.
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