‘We should be protecting childhood’ - Are children’s clothes too sexualised?

"We are saying something when we put on small children clothes that are designed, really, for adult female bodies"
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

14.34 2 Apr 2024

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‘We should be protecting child...

‘We should be protecting childhood’ - Are children’s clothes too sexualised?

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

14.34 2 Apr 2024

Share this article

The oversexualisation of children’s clothes is closing the window of childhood too early – and could lead to mental health problems in young girls, a leading psychotherapist has warned.

It comes amid concerns that the lines between childrens’ and adults’ clothing are becoming increasingly blurred.

Newstalk reporter Sarah Madden spoke to psychotherapist Joanna Fortune for The Pat Kenny Show.


"I think we should be aware of us projecting adult ideals and adult messaging on to children," Ms Fortune said.

"In lots of ways you want to say, 'Clothes are just clothes and they don't say anything'.

"But we are saying something when we put on small children clothes that are designed, really, for adult female bodies.

"When we do that we are conciously putting on to children our own ideals."

'Closing that window of childhood'

Ms Fortune said children are growing up much faster than before.

"The way society moves now, I think social media, the influences that are children are exposed to is actually closing that window of childhood even more prematurely," she said.

"I think we should be protecting childhood and clothing is one step in that.

"I also think we have to be very aware of what version of themselves little girls are seeing represented on all of these platforms?"

A stall selling trousers in London, UK A stall selling trousers in London, UK. Image: Matthew Ashmore / Alamy

Ms Fortune said children could internalise several aspects of how they think they should behave.

"If they're internalising, 'I'm supposed to look this way, behave this way, pose this way and appeal in this way... then that's what they're going to soak up.

"A lot of what we see with young girls, in terms of their mental health and wellbeing are not always obvious and overt signs and symptoms.

"It can emerge in low self-esteem, anxiety, low sense of self-worth.

"You could take that a step further and if that intensifies... you could be looking at eating disorder patterns".

'How we're looking at them'

Broadcaster and mother of a young teenager Sarina Bellissimo said she doesn't think the clothes are the problem.

"They're not really - I think is it us who's looking at them in a sexualised manner?" she said.

"A top that my 12-year-old wore when she was six, a tight top, if she wears that same top now she's starting to blossom.

"And because she's not flat-chested anymore people going, 'Oh, that's very sexualised' but is it? Or are we looking at it in a sexualised manner?

"Do we need to change the way we're looking at them?"

Sarina said a topless boy on the beach is not seen as the same as a girl in a bikini.

"We are sexualising them, that item of clothing is not a sexual piece of clothing," she said.

"It's just a little girl wearing a bikini, covering her top and covering her bottom.

"It is only girls that we ever sexualise and I think we need to start looking at that".


Retail Ireland introduced a set of guidelines around the sale and marketing of children's clothing back in 2012 ensuring age-appropriate, non-sexualised design and marketing.

Retailers who signed up the code include Arnotts, Marks and Spencer, Next, Penneys and Tesco.

ISPCC Head of Public Affairs Fiona Jennings said such guidelines are likely out of date with the internet boom.

"The whole area of e-commerce has exploded and we can buy and consume clothing from all parts of the world," she said.

"I'd be curious as to just how those guidelines do translate to the online space and is there a gap there now that maybe we need to do something about?"

A rack of clothes, 24-2-06 Image: © Darren Greenwood/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

Ms Jennings said lines can be blurred.

"When we're thinking about the sexualisation of children what we can be referring to is placing adult attributes on a child's body and then perhaps assigning meaning to them," she said.

"That is concerning that if you've got a child dressed in a particular way, and if an adult were to dress in that particular way, certain connotations would be made about them".

Ms Jennings said while it can be "very innocent" certain imagery projects something else that children wouldn't necessarily be aware of.

Main image: A woman tries on clothing. Image: Alamy

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Children's Clothes ISPCC Joanna Fortune Newstalk Retail Ireland Sarina Bellissimo Sexualised The Pat Kenny Show

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