Once every few weeks, a sartorial trend takes microblogging website Twitter by storm, with women fabulously flaunting pictures of themselves in a particular piece of clothing or jewellery. In a first, since people have been languishing with boredom in quarantine, #SareeTwitter, #BindiTwitter, and #JhumkaTwitter got simultaneously trending on Twitter. E-commerce platform Flipkart also took part this time. But their entries for the trend were absolutely distasteful.

Flipkart posted four pictures of their trademark child models – all young girls – dressed as adult women in sarees and paraphernalia including bindis, bangles, make-up, and even sindoor, with the caption “Are we doing this right?”

Are you kidding me! There is sindoor on a child. You are absolutely NOT doing this right!

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Social media users reacted to Flipkart’s post, contesting the relevance of still using children for brand advertising.

Young girls as grown ladies? No, thanks.

To see young girls being dolled up as women for the purpose of ad entertainment in 2020 is an indication that we, as a society, are still bereft of social conscience. Our fantasies are so warped that we are settled comfortably with seeing young girls as married women on our screens. Would you chuckle if you were to see a girl, barely ten, wearing a saree, carrying a purse, and sauntering in the aisles of a grocery store, shopping for food?

Perhaps the brand wanted to be “representative”, and went the extra mile to show four different kinds of women. But it didn’t really work. One is the older, grocery-wielding woman in glasses, one is a younger woman with blow-dried hair, another is a junk jewellery-and-sindoor wearing urban woman, while yet another is a “simple” cotton-saree clad woman with grey hair. As outdated as these categorisations are, they are also examples of stereotypical gender casts that women are expected to live in adherence to. And to have underage girls reinforce them? Not okay.

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Child marriage is not funny

When the shopping website first came out with its advertisements featuring young children – Flipkart Kids as they’re now called – way back in 2010, I remember how delighted everyone was. It was a fresh format – kids miming adults in grown-up voices – something never before seen on mainstream television commercials. But the amusement people found in watching two kids bickering like a married couple in full adult gear – beards, mangalsutras, et al. – even back then was rather disturbing.

These ads may seem like harmless humour, but they subconsciously reinforce the worst social practices – the primary one being that of child marriage. I know, these ads are only indicative. But it’s not funny to see two kids dressed as husband-wife conducting a housewarming puja or shopping for furniture together or watching TV while the child-wife cuts vegetables. Appropriating a criminal social practice and selling it as humour should be deemed as illegal as the very practice itself.

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Children are humans, not toys

Parents, content creators, and parents who are content creators should understand that children are not playthings meant for your entertainment. It would be easy for everyone to shrug off responsibility, saying that the child’s consent was taken. But to what extent is a child aware of the repercussions of public presence?

An old ad by Flipkart showed two girls in bathrobes, hair rollers, and face masks. Another showed them in lipsticks, filing their nails. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this was a highly sexualised projection of girl children.

But it’s not just Flipkart. Globally revered luxury brands are equally culpable. Recall the Vogue Enfants controversy from 2011. The brand was criticised world over for projecting Thylane Blondeau, a 10-year old French model, in a “provocative” pose and look.

In an age where underage children, even toddlers, are at the risk of being raped or assaulted, it is irresponsible of companies to display children on public platforms so recklessly. Dressed up as adults, they are exposed to so much internet illegality – face morphing, body shaming, trolling.

Companies and brands must realise that child models, especially those dressed as older adults, are not cute. It is a false, and rather perverted, advertising strategy. We’re in 2020. Nobody is going “aww” at them anymore.

Tanvi Akhauri is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. Views expressed are the author’s own. 

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