by Linnea Smith

From the magazine MARIE CLAIREJan.,1997 issue; "style & gossip page:

"nymphet watch: Eccentric, a woman whose personality doesn't change because her clothes do, a woman who knows how to move well in life: Lolita's daughter."

- Gianni Versace on his summer 1997 woman

  Photo: GQ Magazine, Versace ad, October, 1997

According to the Canadian Advertising Foundation's Code of Advertising Standards, advertising is defined as any paid message communicated by the media with the intent to influence the choice, opinion or behavior of those addressed by the commercial messages. IT FOLLOWS THEN THAT THE SEXUAL EXPLOITATION OF CHILDREN IN ADVERTISING WILLFULLY AND IRRESPONSIBLY ENDANGERS MINORS BY INFLUENCING CONSUMERS TO CHOOSE, THINK AND ACT AS IF THE CHILDREN INDEED ARE THE SEXUAL OBJECTS THE ADVERTISER DEPICTS THEM AS BEING.
     According to the Committee on Child Abuse & Neglect, North Carolina Pediatric Society, the sexual exploitation of children in advertising that must be eliminated includes:

  • uses pre-pubertal girls made up to mimic adults in sexualized poses
  • invokes adult sexual themes by dressing or making up a child
  • unduly emphasizes the clothed or unclothed genitals and buttocks of children or adults made to look like children
  • confuses the true age of a child-like model depicted in a sexualized pose or situation
  • sexualizes the nudity of a child or child-like model, whether the nudity is real or implied
  • equips adult models with childhood props and facial expressions that create a sense of helplessness and vulnerability in a sexual context
  • sexualizes a child by association with an adult who is nude or sexualized

Of course the standards of taste are constantly changing above and beyond the differences found person to person and community to community. But the one thing that doesn't change is that sexual exploitation of children is unacceptable. The Canadian Advertising Foundation states that advertising should avoid irrelevant or dehumanizing sexualization of adults and any sexualization of children. "There is nothing wrong with positive, relevant sexuality in advertising which portrays a person [adult] in control of and celebrating her/his own sexuality...Boys and girls...must not be portrayed as displaying adult sexual characteristics. Similarly, adult women must not be portrayed as girls or with child-like characteristics while maintaining adult sexual characteristics." And a consortium of representatives of the worldwide press presented a paper at the August, 1996, World Congress in Stockholm calling for limits while still protecting freedom and rights. Exploiting children is NOT protecting freedom. It is putting children at risk and contributing to society's readiness to hold children responsible for their own victimization. And it's wrong - even members of the press are willing to take a public stand.
     According to Michele Elliott in her chapter "Images of Children in the Media: 'Soft Kiddie Porn'" from the book PORNOGRAPHY: WOMEN, VIOLENCE, & CIVIL LIBERTIES 'soft kiddie porn' is contributing to the problem of child sexual abuse.

  • It is condoning the use of children in inappropriate sexual contexts.
  • It is desensitizing the public and setting new standards for what is acceptable.
  • It is strengthening the argument of paedophiles that children are asking for sex.
  • It is exploiting and dehumanizing children without their informed consent.
  • It is glamorizing children as sexual objects.
  • It is saying to children that adults agree with the idea of them being sexualized.
  • It is suggesting to other children that this is a desirable way to be portrayed.

..."Yet we are now seeing daily images of children being used as sexual objects to sell products...While more advertisers are careful to portray children as children, some have stepped over the bounds...SOCIETY CANNOT CLAIM TO ABHOR THE SEXUAL ABUSE AND EXPLOITATION OF CHILDREN...IN PORNOGRAPHY AND YET ALLOW THE PORTRAYAL OF CHILDREN...AS SEXUALIZED OBJECTS IN THE POPULAR PRESS AND IN ADVERTISING," Elliott concludes.
     Actor Roger Moore called for media responsibility in his role as the UNICEF Special Representative for the Film Arts at the World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Stockholm this August.
     "...increasingly we seem to see images of a young child whose sexuality is used to sell products in the adult market, to titillate and to tease. Even non- child models, in fact, are increasingly chosen for their child-like bodies. THE LINE BETWEEN CHILDREN AND ADULTS, BETWEEN SEXUALLLY READY AND WAY-TOO-YOUNG IS BEING BLURRED. Moreover, these images are offered to us silently, with no sense of judgment that they might be inappropriate, harmful, confusing to our children and to the adults who see them. THE CREATORS OF THESE IMAGES, OF COURSE, WILL ARGUE THAT THIS IS 'ART'. And goodness knows we all want to protect art, creativity and the freedoms that they require. BUT LET'S START THINKING, TOO, ABOUT 'ART WITH RESPONSIBILITY'. Surely we can't accept that the dignity, childhoods, maybe even lives of thousands of children might be sacrificed for the sake of art without responsibility?...AS A CONSUMER OF IMAGES - A TV VIEWER, FILM-GOER, MUSIC- LOVER - I AM ALSO A MEMBER OF THAT CIVIL SOCIETY THAT IS OVERWHELMINGLY MADE UP (WE ALL HOPE, AT LEAST) OF RESPONSIBLE, CARING HUMAN BEINGS WHO KNOW, FROM DEEP INSIDE, THAT THE SELLING OF CHILDREN FOR SEX IS SIMPLY WRONG. From the bottom of my heart I know, as you do, that it has to stop."
     IT IS CRITICAL TO CLEARLY DEFINE BOUNDARIES TO STOP THE SEXUAL VICTIMIZATION OF CHILDREN. IT IS CRITICAL TO DEMAND ADVERTISERS STOP USING SEXUALIZED DEPICTIONS OF CHILDREN TO SELL PRODUCTS. The stripping of children represents the chiseling away of our commitment to protect them from exploitation - the exploitation of innocence and vulnerability - and making it sexual. Those concerned with the well-being of children must unite, and with one voice, ask those companies who promote this dangerous image of children to stop and accept responsibility for the material they present. But above all else, to stop. Part of the promise of a democratic society is to be able to grow up in a community that fosters safety, trust and care. Sexual exploitation in advertising traps children in more dangerous communities built on lies. It is the right, but more importantly, the RESPONSIBILITY of citizens of this same democracy - especially professionals working with children - to take to task these industries who exploit children. Making opinions known...getting educated...AND involved is what participation in the democratic process is all about. And an integral part of protecting children.      Following shortly after the Calvin Klein simulated-child-pornography ad campaign to sell over-priced, understated casual clothing this Versace ad in GQ (Gentlemen's Quarterly) appeared in the October, 1996 issue. The campaign by Klein, a pioneer in expliotitive media-child-abuse advertising generated considerable controversy and free access to mainstream media. While we don't know the strategy behind this brazenly explicit Versace ad displaying the nude image if a small girl in order to sell expensive, barely visible, men's clothing to the upscale male GQ reader, this can only represent "crass mainstream commercial exploitation of childhood nudity" and grossly socially irresponsible action.
     What was that experience like for the toddler at the photoshoot with strangers busy with lights, cameras, etc. and intensely focused on her wet, nude body with suds carefully dabbled at sites other than her vagina? The male model, holding her up without any apparent nurturing interaction or hint of intention to dry her, has his eyes looking at male viewers while he presents the child to them for consumption.
     Versace has a history of using explicit, hypersexualized, and bizarre or startling images to sell clothing. Although he believes in irrelevant and dehumanizing nudity displays, the commonness of nudity does not mean that it has in fact become so insignificant that the public may now have free access to the nudity of children. Whether the motive is commercial, sexual, or artistic, children must be protected from intrusions into their intimacy. According to one child advocacy agency: "...children must not be asked to undress for the sake of any adult interests. Regardless of the motive, it is far too easy for an adult to make a child feel unable to refuse, even though the experience is often just as traumatic and unfair as forced nudity would be for adults. ...A minor's inexperience, impressionability, total dependence on adults, and vulnerability to adult pressures prevent a truly free choice or informed conse nt--even under the "best" conditions. Minors simply are not ready to make the important, irreversible decisions involved in posing nude...".