Charlotte Church has hit out at the oversexualisation of young female pop stars, criticising the "online pissing contest" between Miley Cyrus and Sinead O'Connor and Rihanna's penchant for appearing scantily clad in raunchy music videos.
The 27-year-old singer said that she had firsthand experience of the manipulation that comes from being thrust into the limelight as a child star by a "male-dominated music industry with a juvenile perspective on gender and sexuality".
"There was a big clamour to cover my breasts as they wanted to keep me as young as possible," she said of the early years of her career. "Then it became, 'You should definitely get them out, they look great.'"
Addressing a full auditorium at the Radio Academy radio festival, Church said: "To my mind, what this industry seems to want of its women increasingly is sex objects that appear childlike. Take your clothes off, show you're an adult."
She said that the highly publicised online spat between Connor and Cyrus – the Hannah Montana star who has gone for an image overhaul with raunchy videos such as Wrecking Ball and a very sexual "twerking" incident at MTV's Video Music Awards – has not helped break the gender stereotype in the industry.
"If women are to become free agents of their gender's destiny in a music world that is reliant upon shouting loudest over the clamour, it stands to reason that online pissing contests only serve to detract from strong messages put forward by such artists as Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu."
Cyrus, and a former generation of Disney child stars turned singers such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, are "encouraged to present themselves as hypersexualised, unrealistic, cartoonish, as objects, reducing female sexuality to a prize you can win", said Church.
She said that Rihanna's latest video, Pour It On, may have attracted 40 million online views, but its prime purpose is to make money for the music machine behind her.
"You only have to look at the online response to see that it is only a matter of time until the public turns on an artist for pushing it too far," she said. "But the single, like all Rihanna's other provocative hits, will make her male writers, producers and record label guys a ton of money."
Church said that video sites such as YouTube have a "responsibility in dealing with these issues", and pointed to Christina Aguilera's song Dirrty, which has scenes of simulated masturbation being readily available to viewers of any age.
However, she added that the radio industry, and particularly the BBC, which attracts almost half of all UK radio listeners to its stations, could consider whether some artists should be given airtime.
"Radio stations shouldn't think they are beyond criticism," she added. "As Tony Hall, the BBC's director general, announces the new iPlayer channel for Radio 1, the question must be asked: should programme makers take into consideration the image of an artist when deciding whether to play and promote their music?
"BBC Radio is notorious for misreading sexual metaphor and innuendo as innocent … but more recently, there doesn't seem to be a decency barrier at all."
Church said that she was pressured into dressing sexually for music videos, a move that she regrets and which continues to plague her career.
"Whilst I can't defer all the blame away from myself, I was barely out of my teenage years, and the consequence of this portrayal of me is that now I am frequently abused on social media," she said. "Now I find it difficult to promote my music where it would be best suited because of my history.
"The culture of demeaning women in pop music is so ingrained as to become routine, from the way we are dealt with by management and labels, to the way we are presented to the public."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © kennejima