‘Take a peek inside any underwear or sock drawer across Australia and New Zealand and you’re sure to find some Holeproof products. With a huge range of popular and instantly recognisable brands, we are one of the region’s leading clothing companies supplying the equivalent of two briefs and a pair of socks for every man, woman and child in our market every year.’ So says the Holeproof Australia website, the company that was under siege a few years ago for a provocative advertisement that appeared on the website for pop princess Kylie Minogue’s junior line of underwear called Love Kylie Princess, which is targeted at girls from 8 to 16 years old. The range features items like bras and high-cut briefs trimmed with glitter. The site directed children to the adult Love Kylie range, describing the items as ‘sexy, lacy, racy, girly, fun, comfortable for every day… and night’.

Instead of admitting a howling error of judgement, Holeproof have become defensive claiming their marketing is “…about little girls. It’s about having fun…we’re really specific about the audiences that we target.”

These companies must think that Australian Mums’ and Dads’ are stupid. In defending the indefensible they have elevated themselves to a hall of corporate shame, alongside the tobacco industry and parts of the alcohol industry, who over the years have regularly claimed that their marketing only targets adults. This is as sensible as claiming you can have a chlorine free part of a swimming pool.

Obviously the folk from the marketing department of Holeproof need to read the report released in December last year, by the Australia Institute entitled “Letting Children Be Children- Stopping the sexualisation of children in Australia”. This report so upset David Jones that their chief executive Mark McInnes threatened the Australia Institute with a lawsuit unless it removed references to David Jones on the institute’s website.

The report’s author Emma Rush noted that images of sexualised children were becoming increasingly common in advertising and marketing material and she used the term ‘Corporate paedophilia’ to describe advertising and marketing that sexualises children in these ways. Notwithstanding  the obvious negative effects of eroding childhood and fast-tracking little girls into adulthood, psychologists have begun to document the consequences of the early sexualisation of girls in media and found them to be very real.

According to a report released in February this year by the American Psychological Association, evidence had been found  that the proliferation of sexualised images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising and the media was harmful to girls’ self-image and healthy development, leading to a lack of confidence with their bodies as well as depression and eating disorders. The researchers said such images also have a negative effect on healthy sexual development in girls.

Holeproof’s production of “hot” clothing in children’s sizes is not the first, nor I suspect the last time we will see as retailers continue to offer G-strings, padded bras and sexy lingerie to the ‘tween’ market. So we must rely on parents to show good judgment and boycott this line of underwear and if Holeproof  continue to show the ethics of a cash register I for one will ‘peek inside my underwear or sock drawer’ and toss out their products and urge parents of Australia to do the same.

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg is an adolescent psychologist working in private practice in Kew, Melbourne and is the author of the Princess Bitchface Syndrome (Penguin 2006). Editor Ramesh Manocha.