Too Sexy, Too Young: Modern-Day Lolitas

At a shopping centre we meet Haley, 10, who is out with her mom. This little Ontarian is rarely caught without her bright red lip gloss and fake nose piercing. When asked why, Haley explains: “It’s pretty, and it matches mommy’s piercing so we look the same.”

The resemblance between mother and daughter is indeed striking. Both are dressed provocatively, in short shorts and red blouses.

Gifty Mane  Files Hypersexuality, Education

This little matching game also pleases Haley’s mom, Nanette: “People think we look the same, and sometimes they think we’re sisters. Haley likes it when we wear the same outfits so we can be ‘just like twins.’ But really, it’s more like she’s a ‘mini-me’ than my twin.”

Young girls don’t act their age anymore. Makeup, nail polish, bras, g-strings, short skirts… Sexy is in, and there doesn’t seem to be any lower age limit.

Children as Adults

Fashion victims are younger than ever. These “Lolitas” want to act like adults. They’re often pushed, way too young, to worship at the altar of beauty. But this trend can be extremely risky to the psychological growth and development of a child. Not every 7-year-old beauty pageant contestant will get their own reality TV show like Honey Boo-Boo – and it is doubtful she will grow up to be normal.

What happened to the innocence of youth? Can anything be done to reverse the trend?

All little children play “mommy.” They put on one of mommy’s nice dresses, slip their tiny feet into mommy’s high heels, wear some of her jewelry, perfume and lipstick, and parade around, repainted like a stolen car, in clothing much too large.

This imitation phase is perfectly normal. What’s more natural than to want to look like your primary female role model?

“In this day and age we tend to perceive kids using adultomorphic criteria,” explains psychoanalyst Marie-Claire Argant-Le Clair. “We impose adult characteristics on them, and see them as such.”

Spas for Tots

Beauticians’ shops specializing in young girls are springing up in many major cities, including Montreal, Toronto, New York, Paris, Brussels… These salons develop and sell beauty products targeted at children: chocolate facials; massages; candy-colored manicures; sequins and spangles… Nothing is off-limits to please young girls. Some beauty spas even throw kids’ birthday parties.

All this begs the question: is it really healthy to let young girls grow up this fast?

“The child is naturally preoccupied with her look, and wants to be like her mother,” explains Dr. Argant-Le Clair. “But when you seriously suggest that your child wear makeup or nail polish, you’re disturbing the proper order.”

Émilie Maine, a family counselor specializing in early childhood development, says that 4 to 5-year-old children girls create a self-image by imitating their parents’ actions as a game: “They play mommy, or wife, or fireman, or doctor… But when you take them to the beautician, it’s no longer a game. It becomes real. You’re pushing a young girl to become an adult. You’re imposing a model without letting the child express her creativity. And that poses problems. You’re not helping her build a self-identity.”


When we turn on the TV or read a fashion magazine, it’s not hard to see where this trend may have started. Teenage celebs from Miley Cyrus to Selena Gomez and beyond wear provocative clothing to get publicity. The media reduces young women to sex objects. In a web age there are no secrets – young girls follow their role models. Letting this happen without some sort of direction can be extremely dangerous.

A quick visit to an elementary school or a mall will tell you that this trend is being exploited by the fashion industry. Indecent clothing is all the rage. That’s what kids want, and sometimes, it’s with the enthusiastic approval of their parents.

Fashion Victims

Dr. Argant-Le Clair argues that it’s the parents’ responsibility to educate children and teach them good taste:

“A parent’s role is to impose limits. And to know enough to say no. We don’t all dress the same way everywhere we go. You don’t go to school dressed like a movie star, or as if you’re at the beach… We have to teach our children about social customs and standards… Everything that’s trendy doesn’t necessarily measure up to our standards for children, nor do adult fashions necessarily suit girls’ bodies. It’s up to parents to determine what’s appropriate.”

Ophelia, 8, and her sister Valerie, 12, both love to shop. Like many young girls, they adore a trip to the mall. And even thought they’re both too young to go shopping without their mother, they already have a precise idea of what they’d like to wear.

“I love color and glitter,” confides Ophelia, “especially pink and purple. When we go shopping I choose the clothes I like, and afterward, my mom buys what she decides I can wear to school.”

Big sister Valerie loves “Jeans and crop tops. My mom didn’t want to buy them for me at first. Later, she said yes. Not to wear to school, but for the beach or the pool.”

School Wear

Their mom Lucie takes her supervisory role seriously. Her daughters are at a crucial age. “As a parent, there’s certainly a lot of pressure,” she says. “They want to dress well, and I want them to be happy. But if I don’t sometimes say no, they’ll follow every fashion trend.

“For example, my eldest (Valerie) wants to wear makeup like her friends. I had to say no, because I think she’s too young. Makeup on a 12-year-old doesn’t make sense. She’s not going to school like that.”

Dr. Argant-Le Clair encourages parents to set limits for their children. “Sometimes social pressures can undermine parental authority. But it’s important for parents to hold their ground. They need to impose boundaries. When you dress a 10-year-old like an 18-year-old, you send a message that she can do anything an adult can. That creates a problem. Without limits there are going to be excesses.”

Parents should also consider how dressing a young girl in an oversexed way can attract the attention of perverts.

“In the long term, these little girls can grow up to be shopaholics,” explains Dr. Argant-le Clair. “They can end up following each fashion trend without asking themselves: does this suit me? Can I exercise my power to choose what actually pleases me?”

Not every trend should be automatically, slavishly obeyed. The Lolita Phenomenon is here to stay. It’s up to parents to protect their children against the inherent dangers of our consumer society.

The Lolita Phenomenon is a disturbing trend in western societies. The name comes from the 1955 novel by Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov, “Lolita.” In it, the narrator, a man in his 40s becomes obsessed with a manipulative, way-too-adult 12 year old girl. The book was widely banned in its time, as was the 1962 Stanley Kubrick film of the same name.

The Lolita Phenomenon can be tied to consumerism. In the name of fashion, we allow pre-teens to use products and services designed for adults. It’s not unusual to see 5-year-olds getting facials or pedicures at the spa; or to see little bodies roasting under sun lamps at the tanning salon.

A phrase often associated with this trend is “hypersexualization.” Experts don’t agree on a definition. Jocelyn Robert, a sexologist, defines it as “representing the child as a sort of sexual mini-adult.” It can also refer to the use of sexuality for commercial means.

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