Does the decision to let little girls model bikinis count as child abuse? That’s what some people are saying, and one brand is in hot water over it. Swimwear label Hot As Hell sent elementary-school-age girls walking down its runway during Miami Swim Week over the weekend. Some social media users feel that widely publicized shows like this could put little ones in danger from online predators.
Escorted by adult models, the kids wore skimpy bikinis and more conservative one-piece bathing suits from the brand’s 2017 line. The girls looked confident and seemed to be having fun as they strutted, and one tyke even struck a fierce pose and gave “duck lips” as she modeled a yellow two-piece swimsuit with suspenders. On its Instagram page, Hot As Hell wrote, “Introducing Hot-As-Halo coming #Spring2017 for your mini-me’s.”
A photo posted by HAH | Hot-As-Hell (@we_are_hah) on Jul 16, 2016 at 9:14am PDT
Users were divided as to whether the stunt was inappropriate or harmless — even cute. “Kids are never too young to be taught that their only worth is their physical appearance,” snarked @orvillezombie. Other critical comments appear to be deleted but ranged from “please look after your daughters” to “this is seriously awful” and “child abuse,” according to the Sun.
Other Instagrammers saw nothing wrong with the mini models, saying, “my little sister would love to hang out with these girls on the runway!” and “cute!” and even comparing their own friendships to the scaled-down trio. “Our girl squad at work (I’m on the left),” wrote @simonegracie. But, inevitably, a few users also objectified the little girls, with one person writing,” she gon’ be a hottay in a decade or so.”
Hayley van Zwanenberg, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Priory group of hospitals in the U.K. and clinical director of Priory Wellbeing Centres, said children wearing bikinis and swimsuits was innocent enough, but on a catwalk, it could be misinterpreted and lead to children being judged on — and subsequently worrying and being more self-conscious about — their looks. “Children should not be encouraged to wear bikinis if it is to be ‘more attractive.’ There should not be attempts to make them ‘appealing’ to others. They should be allowed to be young children, which includes being carefree about their appearance. Young children should not be giving their appearance a second thought.”
Other brands have come under fire for using images of little girls in bikinis — or for actually selling the product. In 2013, Gwyneth Paltrow was criticized for promoting designer Melissa Odabash’s line of bikinis for girls ages 4 to 8 in her newsletter, Goop, according to Today.com. A user poll on the site found that readers were split almost evenly on the subject, with the slight majority, 51 percent, finding it wrong to put kids so young in such sexy swimwear.
Similarly, Liz Hurley — who has her own clothing line — was accused by Twitter users of exploiting children by including bikinis in her kids’ swimsuit collection and using pictures of young girls in ads for the line. One animal-print set called “Mini Cha Cha Bikini” was particularly disturbing to users, according to the Daily Mail. “KIDS? Leopard Print bikinis on KIDS!?” one reader incredulously asked.
“It is really important not to sexualize, and put an ‘adult sexuality,’ onto young girls,” says van Zwanenberg, “particularly at a time when girls are growing up in a society which is perpetually pushing stereotypes of the so-called perfect woman.”