Story transcripts

Little Women

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Reporter: Peter Overton

Producer: Sandra Cleary

You have to wonder what on earth's happening to our kids. Especially little girls.

They're bombarded with sexy images. Raunchy video clips, billboards and store catalogues.

Then there are the trashy fashions, explicit undies, even Barbie dolls in skimpy costumes.

The message is you've got to be "hot" to be cool.

No one can deny that sex sells, but why sell it to young children?

That's a question currently confronting the politicians in Canberra.

They've launched a Senate inquiry into the whole issue of the sexualisation of children.

Fair enough, but many experts simply say - let kids be kids.


For more information about:

Danielle Miller's education programme

Julie Gale's action group Kids Free 2B Kids

Miss Princess Parties


PHOTOGRAPHER: So, wind it up and unwind it. There you go...and wind it up and unwind.

PETER OVERTON: 13-year-old Morgan Featherstone has grown up in front of the camera. She started modelling when she was just a baby.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Little bit further towards me.

PETER OVERTON: Like all young girls, Morgan loves to dress up and she gets paid for it.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Go, good girl. One more time... and go.

PETER OVERTON: What do you love most about it?

MORGAN FEATHERSTONE: Getting my hair and make-up done, that's what I like the most.

PETER OVERTON: Have you earnt a lot of money from it?

MORGAN FEATHERSTONE: Yeah. I've recently bought a house.

PETER OVERTON: As a 13 year old?


PETER OVERTON: Buying a house is a very grown-up thing to do, but Morgan is still a child and her Mum Amy has very strict limits when it comes to her modelling. She is in a swimsuit now, is that the outer end of the limit?

AMY FEATHERSTONE: Yes. It's a full-piece swimsuit, so, you know, she would wear that down the beach, so I've got no problem with that.

PETER OVERTON: But despite her mum's best intentions, five years ago these photographs of Morgan shocked the world. She was only eight years old. These images were seen as seductive, provocative and just way too sexy for a little girl.

AMY FEATHERSTONE: That was the look the client wanted for that particular shot.

PETER OVERTON: So how old was she meant to look?


PETER OVERTON: Did you understand, as an eight year old, what was going on?

MORGAN FEATHERSTONE: Not really, 'cause I just saw photographs and I just thought people were going way over the top. (Sings): # When I grow up, I want to be famous, # I want to be a star, I want to be in movies. # When I grow up I want to see the world, # drive nice cars, I want to have boobies...#

PETER OVERTON: But five years on, there's no denying that kids are being bombarded with sexual imagery everywhere they turn. Exploitation of children in the media and the marketplace has reached such a level there are fears kids are growing up too fast. Their childhood being eroded by the constant sexual messages that dominate their world. Images that are all about selling.

DANIELLE MILLER: Let's be real here. I mean, one little doll is not going to rattle a little girls cage. But when she's got that doll and she's got that billboard and she's got that song and she's got the fashion and she's got the magazine. You know, this is just relentless and it's too much. Who's feeding that little voice that's telling us we're not good enough, because we are.

PETER OVERTON: Danielle Miller sees first-hand how this sexual barrage affects young girls. A former teacher, she now runs a programme to make school girls more media savvy.

DANIELLE MILLER: So when we see ads like this what parts of the girls body is given all the attention?

STUDENT: Her legs.

DANIELLE MILLER: Her legs, right, big focus. Yes Angel?

STUDENT: Her breasts.

DANIELLE MILLER: Right, her breasts. It's just boobs and bums and legs.

PETER OVERTON: She's teaching them to be critical of the sexualised images of women they're exposed to every day.

DANIELLE MILLER: This is girl disease. When I work with the little girls, I feel a bit like that's a vaccination program, you know. They're not unwell yet. But what were trying to do is give them some strategies they can fall back on so that they don't end up doubting themselves, doubting their bodies, engaging in dangerous behaviour.

PETER OVERTON: These girls are known as tweens. Aged 7-12 and they represent a $10 billion market. This generation is under pressure not just to be thin and pretty but to be hot. Even their dolls are sexy.

DANIELLE MILLER: This is my Bling Bling Barbie. Does she look comfy?


STUDENT: That top doesn't even fit her.

DANIELLE MILLER: Well, it doesn't cover much.

STUDENT: It just covers her breast. If it was any shorter, you'd be able to see her breasts.

DANIELLE MILLER: You would, wouldn't you.

STUDENT: It's like, have a look at my stomach, wait - I don't have one.

PETER OVERTON: How do you describe those Bratz dolls and Barbie dolls are looking like?

ELISE: Skimpy. Want attention from boys. Don't care about what's on the inside, Just what they look like on the outside and things like that.

GEORGIA: If you go out looking like how those dolls do - it's probably, you'd probably go out in shame. I'd just come home and go - why would I do that?

DANIELLE MILLER: Hands up in you read some of those magazines like 'Total Girl'?

PETER OVERTON: Many of these girls learn about life Not from mum and dad but from glossy mags.

DANIELLE MILLER: 37% of you have kissed another girl, why did you do that?

PETER OVERTON: Research shows that half of all tweens read at least one girls magazine a month. And it's the graphic content of these magazines that's worrying.

DANIELLE MILLER: I mean whoever picked that image of Ashlee Simpson without a bra on holding at her crutch was just an idiot. You know, that's just not appropriate.

PETER OVERTON: What should be done? Is there an easy solution.

DANIELLE MILLER: What we need to do now is step in and set boundaries and say this needs to be regulated and you need to clean up your act because these toxic messages aren't good enough for our children.

PETER OVERTON: Many children are already caving under the pressure of this sexual overload according to the head of Child Psychiatry at Newcastle University, Professor Louise Newman.

PROFESSOR LOUISE NEWMAN: I've seen children in my practices as young as four who are concerned that they look ugly. That they're never going to be pretty.

PETER OVERTON: Four years old?

PROFESSOR LOUISE NEWMAN: Four years of age. Worried that they're not going to be popular. That they're going to be too fat. Ugly, not able to wear the clothes that are being marketed at them and very distressed. This sexualisation of children in the media is actually taking childhood away from our children.

PETER OVERTON: It starts very young and in very subtle ways. This is called a 'Miss Princess Party' and to these kids it's innocent fun.

GIRLS' PARTY HOST: Make sure you keep your toes still after you've had them painted otherwise it will smudge.

PETER OVERTON: Pedicures, manicures and chocolate facials good enough to eat. But even this has been criticised for encouraging kids to grow up too soon.

TROY THOMPSON: Just remember girls, you have got to take the nail polish off before you go to school.

PETER OVERTON: Their creator Troy Thompson is shocked that something he says is so innocent, can be seen as somehow inappropriate. How do you respond to critics that you have gone too far?

TROY THOMPSON: I stand behind what I do because this is not overexposing children to adult forms of behaviour. And the minute they come in and see what we actually do, then they realise it's the complete opposite and it really is just child fun. Let Princess Antoinette pass it around for you.

PETER OVERTON: What are these - bralettes?

JULIE GALE: Yeah, little bras for little girls.

PETER OVERTON: What sort of age group?

JULIE GALE: Some are aimed at 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds.

PETER OVERTON: But there's nothing innocent about these blatantly sexual messages on children's underwear.

JULIE GALE: Bite me. Spank me. Smile - it's the second-best thing you can do with your lips.

PETER OVERTON: Well, this says it all. I mean who in their right mind would put a child in a T-shirt like that?

JULIE GALE: That's right. It's a good question.

PETER OVERTON: Julie Gale heads up the action group Kids Free to be Kids. She's campaigning against retailers who target children with raunchy marketing.

JULIE GALE: It's fundamentally exploitation of children by the corporate world. And that's what they're doing. The dollar before kids wellbeing.

PETER OVERTON: Is it as blunt and as stark as sex sells?

JULIE GALE: Sex sells - yes.

PETER OVERTON: What's your opinion of the bras and undies for 7- and 8-year-olds?

ELISE: I think its disgusting.

PETER OVERTON: Did you ever want to buy them or wear them?

ELISE: No, I'm happy with the singlet.

PETER OVERTON: Selling sexiness to kids is bad enough but even more concerning is when provocative images of kids are used in general advertising. Such has been the outcry that the Senate is currently conducting an inquiry into what has been called corporate paedophilia.

PROFESSOR LOUISE NEWMAN: Paedophiles I've spoken to have told me directly that they collect those sorts of images because they find them sexually arousing. They want to see children in sexual poses, adult sexual poses.

PETER OVERTON: So were feeding the paedophiles?

PROFESSOR LOUISE NEWMAN: We are potentially feeding those sorts of interests in vulnerable people.

PETER OVERTON: But some believe we're over-reacting to what are actually innocent images.

CATHARINE LUMBY: We are reaching a juncture where we are starting to see children through the eyes of a paedophile at times. We're now talking about banning nappy ads, Peter.

PETER OVERTON: So what is age appropriate, do you feel, for watching this?

CATHARINE LUMBY: I don't think 8-year-olds should be sat in front of this.

PETER OVERTON: Catharine Lumby is Professor of Media Studies at the University of NSW and a member of the Advertising Standards Board.

CATHARINE LUMBY: As a parent of a six and eight year old, what deeply concerns me is that my children will get the message that their bodies are dangerous. That they can somehow provoke child sexual abuse by what they wear or what they don't wear.

PETER OVERTON: What about a child in a catalogue in a bra or underpants?

CATHARINE LUMBY: I don't see that as sexual.

PETER OVERTON: But what does a paedophile see that image as sexual?

CATHARINE LUMBY: Peter, if we start running society because of paedophiles and in relation to what paedophiles think, I think were going down a very dangerous path.

PROFESSOR LOUISE NEWMAN: I think if this sort of images attracts even one paedophile to a preschool - then we have a significant issue.

CATHARINE LUMBY: Are we going to cave into these people? Are we going to start running society according to their way of seeing the world. No, we're not on my watch. And I don't want my children being sent that message. It makes me furious.

PETER OVERTON: It was the same debate when a Sydney art gallery displayed nude photographs of a 13-year-old girl taken by Bill Henson. Were they art or child pornography?

PROFESSOR LOUISE NEWMAN: Whether the artist considers it to be looking as an erotic image or not is really inconsequential and again I think the argument is that if one paedophile views those images as sexual arousing and that encourages them in their behaviour, then we have a serious problem.

PETER OVERTON: You are the same age as the girl in the Bill Henson photograph. What do you think she is going through?

MORGAN FEATHERSTONE: Maybe feeling like a bit scared that some people are judging her and might be feeling that she did the wrong thing. But I certainly would never do that.

PETER OVERTON: But even though Morgan Featherstone was fully clothed in her controversial photograph, it sparked a similar outrage. When you look at that photo, you couldn't see?

AMY FEATHERSTONE: I see a beautiful young girl, who to me, is still the innocent young girl that she was in that photograph.

PETER OVERTON: But at the time it was described variously at the time as pornographic, evil, disgusting, stupid.

AMY FEATHERSTONE: Again, that's other peoples interpretations of it. Its not who she was or who she is.

PETER OVERTON: Wasn't it about the look? Isn't that the key? She wasn't nude, but it was the look?

AMY FEATHERSTONE: Oh, the look. As I say, make-up washes off. It's just a look. It's just a photograph.

DANIELLE MILLER: Afternoon teas ready.

PETER OVERTON: In this home, there's no sexy dolls, no skimpy clothes and no teenage magazines. Danielle Miller is making sure her 10-year-old daughter Teyah doesn't grow up too fast. She's hoping the Senate inquiry delivers some tough recommendations that will make it easier for all families. She believes it's time to let little girls be little girls.

DANIELLE MILLER: We can lose track of what does a 10-year-old look like. It's easy for it to blur into this little adolescent vision of someone who's quite worldly, walking around going - 'whatever'. Little 10-year-old girls don't look like that. They look sweet - they've got pigtails. I am a whole person.

ALL: I am a whole person.

DANIELLE MILLER: They don't need to be buying into all of that just yet.

ALL: I am more than just my body.

DANIELLE MILLER: And I think every parent watching this will know instinctively you know, enough is enough.

ALL: And I embrace you.

DANIELLE MILLER: What does embrace mean?

ALL: Hug.

DANIELLE MILLER: Hug, Let's all hug.

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