Retailers came under increased pressure today to take sexualised clothing for young girls off their shelves, after it emerged that shoes for eight-year-olds with three-inch heels were being sold on the high street.
A survey by the Guardian found an array of items available in major chains, from a T-shirt for a three-year-old bearing the slogan "Future WAG" to a top for a toddler with a pink bikini appliqued on the front.
New Look sells a range of high heels starting at size one - about the shoe size of an average eight-year-old - including a pair of £16 dark blue platforms with a 3.5 inch heel, pointed toe and four straps.
Justine Roberts, of the parenting website Mumsnet, called for the shoes to be withdrawn from sale, describing them as horrific. "They're totally inappropriate for an eight-year-old," she said.
"Aside from the issues of young girls dressing to look like sexually available women, heels as high as this are all wrong for growing feet."
Mumsnet recently launched its Let Girls Be Girls campaign, calling on retailers to sign up to a pledge not to sell products that sexualise children. Roberts also objected to a pair of glittery silver shoes with a 1.5-inch heel sold by Next in a size 12, apparently aimed at six or seven-year-olds. "They look pretty adult or sexual," she said. "Why a 1.5-inch heel for a six-year-old? It just seems unnecessary."
Mumsnet members have criticised the "Future WAG" T-shirt available in Primark. "Personally, I know I want my daughter to aspire to something more than being a WAG - basically, someone who usually relies on her looks to get a rich man and then spends years of her life trying to keep that man happy," one wrote online. Others described the top as "tragic". Anna van Heeswijk, of Object, which campaigns against the sexual objectification of women, said: "What does it say about how our society values women and girls, if we are grooming three- to four-year-olds to aspire to be a footballer's wife?"
The latest outcry comes after a week in which Primark announced it was to stop selling padded bikini tops for children as young as seven, after criticism. The company, which came under fire from children's charities and politicians over the £4 bikini sets, apologised to customers and said it would donate any profits it had made to child welfare organisations. David Cameron branded the sale of the bikinis "disgraceful", and Gordon Brown backed the campaign to have them removed.
Yesterday Roberts described a T-shirt for a two- to three-year-old sold by the chain showing a bikini as "creepy", but did not call for it to be withdrawn. "It does seem a bit odd," she said. "I'm wearing a picture of my underwear - what's that all about?"
One mother of a four-year-old girl shopping in the chain's Oxford Street branch, who did not want to be named, said it was "too old for a little girl. A bikini is for teenagers or adults. You'd expect a more childish image for a two-year-old."
Van Heeswijk said: "These clothes are a worrying example of how girls are being groomed at younger and younger ages to fit into a sex-object culture, in which women are viewed as a sum of body parts, always sexually available, and whose value lies in how sexy they look to boys and men."
Early sexualisation is damaging to the aspirations of women and girls and affects how boys and men view and treat them, she added, with implications for incidents of sexual harassment and violence. "The early sexualisation of girls is not harmless, and, if we are serious about achieving genuine equality between women and men, it is time to put an end to women and girls being viewed, treated, portrayed and groomed into sexual objects through clothing ranges like these," she said.
Penny Nicholls, of the Children's Society, said: "There is a big distinction between children dressing up for fun and retailers producing items of clothing that target children and encourage premature sexualisation.
"We have to ask what effects some of these products have on children and young people's ideas of body image and what is appropriate for their age. Retailers and adults have a responsibility to ensure children and young people grow up valuing the right things in themselves and other people.
"Unless we question our own behaviour as a society, we risk creating a generation who are left unfulfilled through chasing unattainable and inappropriate lifestyles and values."
Primark said: "The company has stated that it will review all its product lines in the light of recent events."
New Look declined to comment.
Next said it had received no direct complaints about the shoes or suggestions they should be removed from sale.
"But we'll definitely act swiftly if customers tell us they consider it inappropriate," a spokeswoman said. "Everyone at Next is sensitive to issues of age appropriateness within childrenswear."