Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
21 Jun 2010
The fast-growing grass roots movement, Collective Shout is taking on iconic Aussie underwear manufacturer, Bonds and its bra marketed to eight-year-olds by calling for it to be removed from sale immediately.
"Children as young as eight do not need padded bras and if some are developing early, as Bonds claims, a crop top is all that is needed for support and to meet any issues of modesty," says Melinda Tankard Reist, founder of Collective Shout.
In February this year, the group was responsible for another bra aimed at young girls being withdrawn from sale.
Sold as Tweenage bras at Best & Less stores across the country, these push-up bras for Australia's tween age group defined as between six and 12, promised to give flat-chested pre-pubescent girls "adult curves."
Collective Shout instantly protested, pointing out "adult curves" were unnecessary in children who had not yet reached puberty, and citing the Tweenage bras as yet another troubling example of the sexualisation of children by corporations and manufacturers.
Withdrawing the bras from sale, claiming they had been intended for a women's petite range of 8 AA to 12 B, the company apologised, saying Best & Less prided itself on its strong family values and had strict guidelines relating to the sale of products for young people.
But now less than four months after the Best & Less Tweenage bras were withdrawn from sale, one of Australia's most well-known, mainstream underwear companies is marketing a similar bra to eight year old little girls.
"This is a further reflection of the sexualisation of our children and what has long been known as middle childhood, the period from nine until 14, which is an essential and critical part of growing up, is fast disappearing," Melinda says and pleads for Australia's children to be allowed to develop and grow into adolescence at a normal pace rather than catapulted into it by a culture that seems obsessed with sex.
"To its credit, from the time we made our objections known, Best & Less responded and within 24 hours of our blogs appearing on line, the Tweenage bra was withdrawn from sale," she says. "I just hope Bonds will respond as quickly."
Equally concerned about the latest addition to the Bonds' range of undergarments, is Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, one of Australia's best known psychologists and a former Associate Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Melbourne.
"A bra for eight year olds blurs the line between what is a little girl and what is a woman and in doing so violates an important societal norm that states that children should not be seen as sexual objects," Dr Carr Gregg said at the weekend, calling on the company to withdraw the product immediately. He also called for parents to boycott Bonds products until this was done.
While Bonds' general manager, Kate Hann has defended the company's "Soft Cup Bra" for eight year olds, insisting that the line has been "driven by consumer needs," arguing that girls were maturing earlier, sometimes as young as eight, Melinda Tankard-Reist is sceptical.
Well-known as an activist, speaker, commentator and author of last year's best seller, Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls, Melinda who is the mother of four - three of whom are daughters - says in most cases any so-called development by the age of eight is simply fatty deposits rather than evidence of a child entering puberty and the emergence of breasts.
"Certainly children at age eight do not need padded bras," she says and refutes Bonds claim that it is responding to demand.
"I would argue they are creating a demand and if one or more little girls wear one of these bras, then others will want to be like her and others will quickly follow suit, with many worrying about the fact they have not begun developing and thinking there is something wrong with them," she says.
Studies by academics across Australia and the rest of the world have unequivocally shown negative effects on a child's mental health as a result of today's continual barrage of advertisements, music videos, billboards and magazines that use the sexualisation of young girls to grab attention and sell their products.
"From a mental health perspective young children do not have the critical awareness and capacity to evaluate sexuality in popular culture and it can definitely effect their self image, self representation and self esteem," says Professor Louise Newman, Director of the Monash University Centre for the Development of Psychiatry and Psychology, and urges everyone to do what they can to raise community awareness of this issue to re-empower families so they can make healthier decisions about what their children are exposed to.
Dr Emma Rush, Lecturer in Philosophy and Ethics at Charles Sturt University and co-author of the Australian Institute Report entitled: Corporate Paedaphilia: The Sexualisation of Children in Australia, says she was very shocked that a bra for eight year olds was yet again on sale.
"The first time I came across a bra for children this young, I went out and bought one because I didn't believe such a thing was possible unless I had one in my hand. Now in 2010 another bra is back on the market for young children," she says expressing her concern. "For a family company such as Bonds to produce a bra is troubling and I definitely don't think going from Chesty Bond to bras for eight year olds is a good idea."