Netflix has come under fire for promoting its new show Cuties with artwork that critics have said sexualises children, and has sparked uproar on social media. The Netflix poster showed children wearing revealing clothing and posing in sexualised positions, with the synopsis describing the film as:

Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew. Hoping to join them, she starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions.”

While Netflix have since apologised and removed the poster, the hypersexualisation of young girls to sell a product should not simply be brushed under the rug. This is even more important when you compare the original French-language poster – which shows young girls simply celebrating as they walk down the street – and understand the intent of the filmmaker Maimouna Doucouré.

The BBC reported that Doucouré’s story “aims to highlight how social media pushes girls to mimic sexualised imagery without fully understanding what lies behind it or the dangers involved”, and that she wanted to explore the issue after seeing how sexualised young girls were on social media.

She went on to state:

“Today, the sexier and the more objectified a woman is, the more value she has in the eyes of social media. And when you’re 11, you don’t really understand all these mechanisms, but you tend to mimic, to do the same thing as others in order to get a similar result.

What becomes clear with further digging is not that the film itself was intending to capitalise on the sexualisation of children for the sake of making money, but conversely, the film itself was an exercise in analysing this process of hypersexualisation. How ironic, how troubling, that Netflix was guilty of the very thing the film seeks to explore: how the intense objectification of women – or in this case children – presents them as having more value, and as being more commercially valuable.

There are many studies examining the links between the sexualisation of young girls and the subsequent commodification of their bodies to sell products, and the increasing concern amongst parents that they don’t know how to combat this. At CEASE, we wholeheartedly agree that the continued and worsening sexualisation of young women and children is an enormous problem, but to understand the issue comprehensively it is vital to look at its root causes, one of which is undoubtedly pornography.

In an age where porn is available 24/7, with no filters, checks, or limits as to just how degrading and violent it can be, its links to the subsequent sexualisation of young children cannot be ignored. One of the most enduring categories of porn is the “teen” category, where adult women are dressed up in outfits such as school skirts, have their hair styled into child-like braids, while they wear braces and lick lollipops.

Titles such as: Tiny Teen Daughter Sister Schoolgirl W/ Braces and The skinniest teen in school concoct the fantasy that the woman is a child – but often with the surreptitious inclusion of the question “how old are you” by the producers at the beginning, with an answer that almost always is some form of “I’ve just turned 18”.

The woman is as close to being a child as is legally permissible, but she isn’t actually a child, at least in the eyes of the viewer.

Couple this with the fact that porn use is an escalating, addictive behaviour that requires increasingly taboo content to sustain arousal, and it is a recipe for disaster. Viewers are becoming increasingly reliant on images and videos of women who look like children – and as the viral global #TraffickingHub campaign has shown, sometimes actually are children – in order to become sexually aroused.

Media giants such as Netflix are tuning into the fact that sexualisation sells – but in doing so, they have to make sure it’s the “type” of sexualised content that people want to see. The porn industry has normalised and commercialised  paedophilic images and videos for millions of people worldwide. Against this cultural and commercial backdrop, it is morbidly unsurprising that Netflix chose the images it did for Cuties.

CEASE UK is calling on media giants such as Netflix, Amazon, and the wider film and TV industry –  as well as advertising and retail brands that have come under fire – to produce a set of rigorous and transparent responsibilities and considerations regarding the non-use of sexualised images of women and girls, that they will adhere to when promoting content on their platforms. It is simply unacceptable that in 2020, brands resort to normalising predatory attitudes and paedophilic images in order to sell products. It’s time to put an end to this behaviour, starting right now.

To support the #Traffickinghub campaign to hold Pornhub and its executives accountable for facilitating child abuse and rape, sign here .