Britney Spears... school uniform video didn't help the cause.
Britney Spears... school uniform video didn't help the cause.

Sexualisation of school uniform is just plain creepy

IT'S back to school in the UK this week, which means lots of 11-year-olds proudly donning their new school clothes. It's a short-lived joy.

The tie will soon grow uncomfortable; the colour will soon be deemed uncool and, for the girls, there's one additional reason to loathe your uniform; it's a magnet for pervs.

When I was 13 and 14, I was sexually propositioned on three different occasions by adult men during my journey to or from school.

I've since learned this isn't an unusual experience, but at the time I was frightened, annoyed and, above all, confused.

It wasn't as though they could have mistaken me for someone older; after all, I was in my school uniform. How much more obvious can it get?

Shortly after I turned 15, Britney Spears released the video for her No 1 single "... Baby One More Time" and I began to understand.

Watching the way she danced in an unbuttoned school shirt, with her hair in pink-ribboned bunches, the truth dawned: schoolgirls are considered sexy, and not just in the mind of the occasional pervert, but in normalised, mainstream, popular culture.

We can't shake our heads in fond disapproval at the St Trinian's films from the 1950s when two much filthier sequels came out only a few years ago.

We can't pretend that it's only on the "barely legal" porn sites where (hopefully) adult women dress up as virginal girls; they're doing it every weekend at school-disco themed club nights.

The sexualisation of underage girls is so prevalent in our culture that there seems little point in stating the obvious - but it is a bit creepy, isn't it?

That's why the Advertising Standards Authority's decision last week to ban American Apparel's "back to school" ads was such a welcome surprise.

The images in question feature models in school uniform-style miniskirts bending over to expose their underwear and buttocks. The ASA judged these "had the effect of inappropriately sexualising school-age girls".

American Apparel insisted that its models were all of age - one was 30, it said - but that's beside the point.

If you are fetishising a school uniform, then you are fetishising the exact part of the image that signifies childhood. And surely we can expect advertisers to avoid actual child abuse on set as a bare minimum.

The private fantasies of individuals are unpoliceable, of course, but this isn't about what's private. It's about what's publicly deemed acceptable on billboards and in broadcasts. In a culture that's so anguished by historic child abuse cases, and still reeling from the Rotherham report, the figure of the "sexy schoolgirl" is an odd and shameful disconnect.

Schoolgirls should be allowed to reach adulthood without these constant bullying reminders that their consent is not required to turn them into sexual objects.

As the leak of nude photos of female celebrities showed last week, they'll get enough of that when they're older.

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