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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 719

Ms VAMVAKINOU (9:14 PM) —I would like to begin by congratulating the member for Kingston for bringing to the House this evening this very important motion on the sexualisation and objectification of girls in the mainstream media. The relationship between modern media and our children is of ever-increasing importance to us all. It is a complicated issue that becomes more challenging as the media and corporate interests seek new and innovative ways to influence and encourage the thoughts and behaviour of children and, in particular, young girls.

I speak to this motion this evening as a mother of two teenagers. I am keenly aware of this issue and watch with a degree of anxiety as both my children grapple with the pressures of their adolescence. I watch as they try to keep up with the latest fads and fashions, and I have watched with concern as they and their peers have been enticed by the many forms of media that target them and attempt to sell them images and lifestyle choices that are well beyond their years.

As parents we strive to make our children feel happy and confident despite the media’s constant influence on their image and lifestyle choices. But it is a difficult battle given that you are also up against peer group pressure, which is itself heavily influenced by television, the fashion industry, the IT industry and of course the internet. Most vulnerable to these pressures are young girls, and it is my 15-year-old daughter and her peers that I have in mind when speaking to this motion. It is the fragility of how they perceive themselves physically and how that relates to their sense of self-esteem and self-worth that is the essence of this motion tonight.

Children begin to pick up messages at a very young age. Therefore the messages we as parents and as a society send them become critical to their development. The level of sexualisation and objectification of young girls in particular needs scrutiny from this House precisely because it can have negative consequences, consequences that we all know about and are concerned about: negative body image that leads to eating disorders, low self-esteem that can lead to mental illness, and gender role stereotyping that can lay many traps for the unsuspecting young mind still in the developmental phase.

I recall some years ago standing in the children’s clothing section of our local Kmart store. I was mortified to see hanging on the racks little bralettes, with matching undies, on sale for girls as young as five. While some see this as cute and harmless, it is actually a new frontier in children’s fashion. I objected to the availability of this attire for young girls, yet many parents would have bought it, encouraged further by the many glossy girlie magazines and supermodel reality TV shows that reinforce and in fact normalise and set the trends that make their way onto the clothes racks of our stores. Well-meaning parents become unwittingly complicit in the sexualisation and objectification of their young girls.

I am not suggesting we should regulate the personal choices parents make for their children’s day-to-day dress. But I do urgently wish to pose the questions: is this acceptable; what are the societal outcomes of dressing girls as young as five in bralettes or bras; and who is accountable? In its report Sexualisation of children in the contemporary media, the Senate Standing Committee on the Environment, Communications and the Arts made a number of important findings. The report said:

Narrow or stereotypical portrayals of body type, beauty and women were commonly identified as the major source of sexualisation of children.

While the report acknowledged methodological limitations in accurately linking the media and the sexualisation of children, it noted:

… the report’s findings may be cautiously applied to at least conclude that some level or preponderance of sexual material in advertising and media content has the potential to contribute to, and perhaps even cause, emotional and physical damage to children.

Many of the submissions to this inquiry were from individuals, grandparents and parents. As one parent submitted:

Childhood is a time of joy and innocence, and this should be an absolute right for all our children. They become adults soon enough, and childhood is a time to be cherished.

I strongly agree with this. Ultimately, however, this issue is about responsibility. This motion is important because we have a collective responsibility as legislators to hold to account those who influence but also profit from children and young people. It is their responsibility to adhere to appropriate standards and industry guidelines. We must therefore work together with the industries concerned so that children and parents can be assisted in managing and understanding the influence of sexualisation of girls. Ultimately our aim must be to give our children and indeed our young people every chance— (Time expired)