Every now and then, we see some news article or column breathlessly warning us of the over-sexualization of young girls. They talk about media influences, pop stars who ooze tons of sex and very little talent, stores selling clothing more suitable for strippers than for seven-year-olds, toys and dolls that sell looks and image, magazines for women and now teenagers as well that scream sex at the checkout counter for every single grocery store you go to… the list goes on and on. They warn of how these things are having tragic effects on our young girls and teenagers, and how the market needs to change.
Today, I came across yet another one of these articles with this opener:
Thong panties for 7-year olds and padded bras for girls as young as nine are among the items many parents are purchasing at local stores.
The sexualization of girls is blamed mainly on media; music videos, magazine covers and the like.
It was accompanied by this picture and caption:
A padded training bra for girls as young as 9 years old is displayed after being purchased from Target Monday, Feb. 18, 2008.
But after opening with the norm, it quickly strayed:
… [R]esearchers and psychologists say it’s the culture inside the home, a parents influence, that truly makes the difference.
“There is something to letting kids sleep in warm flannel pajamas instead of sexy nighties. It’s about being a little girl and not a little girl being a woman,” Dr. Anthony Brailow, a clinical psychologist with the Desert Behavioral Health in Apple Valley.
He said it’s ultimately up to the parents and their acceptance of such clothing.
There needs to be an open dialogue between parents and children, said Brailow. It’s not enough to just say no to certain clothing or toys, they need to sit down and explain why it is not appropriate, he said.
A study led by Dr. Eileen L. Zurbriggen for the American Psychological Association concluded that media messages are teaching girls to put an unhealthy emphasis on physical appearance. It’s up to a parent to counteracts that message.
“It’s up to you as a parent to guide your children and decide what is appropriate for them to wear and play with,” said Miguel Hosey of Victorville who is the father of two girls ages 17 and 8 and a 2-year-old boy.
Gee, what a thought — parents actually parenting!
Yes, it is well-known that sexualization of young girls is incredibly harmful. An APA task force released a press release last year showing that over-sexualization can lead to more mental health problems — eating disorders, depression, low self-esteem — as well as an unhealthy sexual and emotional self-image. It can also diminish their cognitive functioning.
Our daughters are being attacked from every angle. Consider this picture of supermodel Cindy Crawford’s daughter, Kaia, modeling her mom’s swimwear line topless, looking over her shoulder complete with a come-hither stare and lower back (temporary) tattoo:
Popular tween store Limited Too is a must-stop at the mall for girls between the ages of, say, 7 and 15, features bras and assorted panties — from bikini bottoms to boy-cut shorts to thongs — for little girls. Camisoles feature plunging necklines, skirts are short, and all the clothes in the store follow the fashions of celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton.
The Bratz empire is based around four dolls, but has grown into much more, with a TV series, games, and a movie. The dolls have abnormally large heads with big eyes, a tiny, upturned nose, and full lips (basically, every celebrity’s plastic surgery dream), are usually dressed like hookers, with chokers, “Bad Girl” t-shirts, halter tops, feather boas, thigh-high fishnet stockings, and lace-up, high-heeled boots or stilettos. The Bratz dolls are centered around a love for all things superficial — gossip, shopping, clothes, fashion, make-up… it’s all about making sure your appearance is perfect, because that’s the most important thing. Dressing up like your favorite Bratz doll is now a popular Halloween costume. At least Barbie could be a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher… Bratz dolls seem like the Lindsays, Nicoles, and Paris’ of the world — kept girls who do nothing and aspire to nothing, except to be able to party and shop to their heart’s content.
There’s the Juicy Couture brand, which is not marketed towards young girls but is certainly popular with them. Its trademark is the velour track pants with “JUICY” stamped across the butt. T-shirts also often have “JUICY” stamped across the chest. Because, you know, its great for six-year-olds to prance around proclaiming that they have a juicy ass.
I don’t even understand the new trend of “bratty chic” that seems to have taken over. I used to work as a manager in a tween store at the mall a few years back, and highly prevalent was this snobby attitude. Key chains, pillows, t-shirts… they all proclaimed similar messages — things like, “Saw It. Wanted It. Stomped My Feet. Got It.”, “Spoiled Rotten and Proud of It”, and “It’s MY Attitude, But It’s YOUR Problem”. It would floor me that parents would buy things like this for their twelve-year-olds, but they did — in mass numbers.
Now, I’m not a parent. Maybe my opinion is less valuable because of that. But I cannot help but think that while, yes, it probably is incredibly difficult to be a parent in today’s hyper-sexualized culture, ultimately the blame falls on the parents.
We live in a capitalist, free market society. Parents complain constantly about the over-sexualization everywhere, but who is it that is contributing to it? An eight-year-old girl does not usually have the money to buy herself a Bratz doll, thong underwear, and shirts screaming the words “LUSCIOUS” accompanied by two cherries across the chest. Parents are the ones buying these items for their daughters. Parents are the ones letting their daughters get swallowed whole by this culture. All of this is driven by profit. If no one bought these things, then companies would stop making them because it wasn’t profitable. But millions of parents nationwide are buying these products for their daughters, so companies across the market keep churning them out. It’s a gold mine. If it wasn’t, then they’d invest in something else.
I never could understand why parents seem so blase about letting their daughters wear shirts that say “Flirt”, “Porn Star”, or one I saw that proclaimed, “So Many Boys, So Little Time”, why they let them buy bras when they haven’t even started developing yet, why they let them become sexualized so young. I just don’t get it. Maybe it was the way I was raised. I wasn’t allowed to wear a two-piece bikini as a kid, much less thong underwear and bras. Even as a senior in high school, if I wore an outfit too risque, my mom would make me throw it out, even if I bought it. I couldn’t wear high heels or knee-high boots, let alone hooker heels and fishnets.
Get that? It’s called parenting. Did I like it at the time? Hell no! I whined and complained and probably yelled a little, too. But she didn’t cave, and I look back and thank her very much for not letting me dress and act like a little prostitute, even in high school.
Has it really become that much more difficult to say no? Again, I’m not a parent. And maybe I’m just looking too much at how I was raised. But I can’t help but think that just because your kid throws a temper tantrum because they happen to really, really want that thong underwear doesn’t mean you should give it to them. Parents should stop being their daughters’ friends, and start being their parents.
Maybe, just maybe, if parents tried being parents, we wouldn’t have to worry about the oversexualization of our daughters quite so much.