Sex, children and Mail Online

The Daily Mail campaigns against the sexualisation of children. Meanwhile, its website runs pictures of 14-year-old Kylie Jenner in a "tiny wetsuit" and "skimpy bikinis". What's wrong here?

Kylie Jenner is “seen posing up against a rusty old truck” with her sister, Kendall, in their “flirty white dresses.” With “much longer limbs” than their more famous siblings they “made the most of their trim pins”. Later, Kylie changes into an olive-green gown “which is skimpy around the bust area”, and “works her magic in front of the camera”. She has less modelling experience than Kendall, a swimsuit model who “is envied by millions of girls … for her lithe figure,” but is catching up, and loves “posing for the cameras”.

Kylie Jenner is 14 years old.

She is the daughter of Olympian Bruce and Kris Kardashian, and stepsister to Khloe, Kim, Kourtney and Rob. Her sister, Kendall, recently turned 16. The quotes above are all taken from a single Mail Online article, which is just of one of dozens written about the young girls. A more recent headline reports that they “don tiny wetsuits for a day at the beach”. The article is based on a picture that Kendall posted on Twitter; it was spotted by the all-seeing Daily Mail Reporter, who apparently felt that 14- and 16-year-old girls wearing “very short wetsuits” would attract clicks.

 

Elsewhere on the site, six photos appear of the “teen bikini queens” soaking up the sun. Daily Mail Reporter describes them as “exhibitionists” who “display maturity and a lifestyle far beyond their years”. Fourteen-year-old Kylie is “not exactly shy!” as she “gets dressed in full view of passers-by”, an image Mail Online editors feel must be shared with the world. Days later, Daily Mail Reporter is shocked - shocked! - to find that the Kardashian family have included the two girls in a “raunchy home music video”. The “sexually-charged” performance features “teenagers Kendall and Kylie dancing suggestively in skimpy bikinis” and “shaking their bottoms for the camera”. The Mail show a picture of the girls, captioned Too young?” In case readers still aren’t sure, they helpfully provide the full video too. 

Enough.

Of course the Kardashians court publicity. The Kardashian name is a brand, and the family are a business built around the meticulously stage-managed performances of people who have chosen to live life as low-brow art. One can criticise adults for making that choice, and say that they deserve to reap the consequences of their actions; it is not so easy to dismiss the plight of a 14-year-old girl who - like any princess destined for a throne - has her choices made for her. Her family created the photo opportunities, photographers decided to take pictures of her posing in a bikini, picture agencies bought and sold the snaps, and newspaper editors chose to run them. At no stage in this celebrity industry assembly line does anybody seem to have considered whether it was appropriate to exploit a child in this revolting fashion.

At 14, Kylie has come late to celebrity. Six-year-old Suri Cruise, daughter of Tom and Katie, has been featured in more than six hundred Daily Mail articles - almost one for every three days of her life. In 2010 the Mail reported that the four-year-old was spotted snuggling up in her pink 'blankie',” observing that: “the comforter has been a constant feature in little Suri's A-list jetset life, and it seems that she isn't quite ready to give it up”. If this seems ‘cute’ to you, imagine this sort of obsessive media scrutiny applied to you or your child at the same age. No wonder that in 2008 the Mail could report that: Suri Cruise may be only two years old but it seems the toddler has already developed a dislike for photographers.”

The next stage, surely, is for the intrepid Daily Mail Reporter to venture through the vaginas of pregnant celebrities with a microphone and a handycam, in order to rank the relative cuteness of famous foetuses. Of course MailOnline's editor, Martin Clarke, told the Leveson Inquiry that “we don’t report pregnancies unless confirmed by the subject”, but as TabloidWatch reported recently they’re happy to cover rumoured pregancies; whether revealing that Megan Fox is “still staying mum” about her “growing ‘bump’,” or asking whether Gisele has “something to hide?” Clarke and his competitors are leading us into a brave new world where people can be celebrities from conception to grave.

As worrying as this is, it is the treatment of teenage girls that is most worrying. The Jenners are far from the only targets - Jimmy Saville-Row at Vice Magazine recently highlighted, the Mail’s alarmingly frequent use of the phrase “all grown up” to describe adolescents, to which I would add the equally creepy “older than her years”. The coverage of Kick Ass star Chloe Moretz at the age of 14 contains some classic examples: looking “all grown up” she was “every inch the classy young lady” at a film premiere, for example. All this comes from a newspaper campaigning vigorously against ‘sexualisation’ and its impact on children.

Remarkably, there is nothing in the PCC code to stop Mail Online publishing images of young children accompanied by such commentary. Section 6 of the code, focusing on children, says that “young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion” and that editors “must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s life”. In the case of Kylie Jenner, a celebrity under construction placed firmly in the public domain by her parents, neither rule really applies. That is a state of affairs the Leveson Inquiry would do well to consider. If Paul Dacre’s concerns about sexualisation are genuine, then perhaps he might like to consider it too.

Martin Robbins is a writer and researcher. Find him at The Lay Scientist or on Twitter: @mjrobbins

Kendall and Kylie Jenner are regular fixtures on Mail Online. Photo: Getty Images

Martin Robbins is a Berkshire-based researcher and science writer. He writes about science, pseudoscience and evidence-based politics. Follow him on Twitter as @mjrobbins.

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era