We had a great conversation on The Today Show today with Meredith Vieira, talking about the very controversial Abercrombie and Fitch padded, push-up bikini tops for the 7-14 year old age bracket. I’ve been receiving some questions about this, so here, I answer a view of the big ones.
Early sexualization of girls is wrong and sick and has enormous repercussions.
Are there really any repercussions or are we blowing this all out of control?
Girls feel hurried by society to “grow up” and act like an adult. The early sexualization of girls has been linked to several negative effects; body image issues, mental health problems like eating disorders & depression, poor self image, low self esteem, and sexual health problems. As you can imagine, when girls are receiving unwarranted sexual attention that is not developmentally appropriate and that they are not developmentally ready for, it can taint the way they see the opposite sex and how they regard sex and sexuality now and in the future.
So this garment can do all that?
No. It’s not just the push up bra. It’s the push up bra, plus dolls that are supposed to be “sexy,” plus fashion that has adult sexual messaging on them like “flirt,” or “So many boys so little time.” Girls are learning that society wants them to be sexy and appealing to boys even if developmentally – emotionally, physically, she is not ready. It tells them that they get their value by how hot they look. It also tells men and older boys that she is ready to be seen as a sexual object before she is developmentally ready. The girl learns that to be valued means she must compromise herself.
Aren’t parents just being a little prudish about the whole thing?
This isn’t about being “prudish.” Every girl is entitled to a childhood free from the adult pressures to be “sexy.” They have the right to display confidence in who they are rather than what they look like—and feel valued for their assets—not the wink, wink nudge nudge assets we associate with young adults but the assets that make them the amazing people they are who can affect their world in very positive ways. When we make their childhood about being sexy, we take their attention away from developing their true sense of self and how they can affect the world and we put it on who others want them to be and what the world demands of them.
They changed the language on the website to “Triangle” from “push-up”. Is that enough?
No. Simply changing the language is the equivalent of getting a pat on the head. The bathing suit, if it still remains (I believe it’s been taken down now), remains a garment that sexualizes the young girls who wear it. If it walks like a duck…
Can’t parents just not buy it?
I think we’re in agreement that parents just shouldn’t buy it. But the fact that it’s offered tells me that some are. We must continue to educate and discuss the repercussions of sexualizing girls early. We can use this situation as a springboard to open up conversations about the messaging girls are getting from every angle to grow up and act like an adult when they are not developmentally ready.
What should we do?
Find positive alternatives to these garments. Ask your child, what do you like about it? Is it the color? Cut? Design? And together, find something that is in line with your values, her age, and her tastes. There are plenty of grass roots companies out there providing alternative clothes and products with positive messaging and a hip, colorful, cool look. Ch 9 of my book and there are a slew of recommendations.
Teach media literacy for every child exposed to media: Every parent needs to talk to their child about media literacy and help their child understand the tricks advertisers will use to get them to feel inadequate and want a certain product. Children don’t like to be outsmarted or duped. Start early with this and then it won’t be so awkward to talk about these kinds of garments when the need comes up.
Stress inner assets rather than outer “assets.” Children need to glean from you and the other positive role models around them that they are worthy, beautiful, and amazing for the gifts they can offer the world. We need to help them see that their contributions to their community hold more weight than the size of their breasts. Surround them with mentors, teachers, friends, and loved ones who reinforce the message that who they are is more important than what they look like. Girls need to know who they are– and be proud of it.
Have your girls spend time with Dad: Dad is the first man in your daughter’s life. Have him squelch the myth that appearance is more important that inner light. Allow him to show his daughter than she matters. Research continues to show that daughters who spend time with their Dads engage in fewer risky behaviors and are overall, happier and more confident.
Get your girls involved in sports and extracurricular activities: Allow your girl to see the amazing things she can do with her body that are safe and age appropriate. Martial arts, sports, drama, and some dance that don’t stress appearance can do wonders for self esteem and self worth.
Be vocal but listen: When you see something that you don’t agree with, speak up. How else are the manufacturers going to know that you are fed up? But also, listen– listen to your daughter and allow her to use you as a sounding board as she learns how to stand out for the right reasons, stand up for what she believe in, and stand proud on her own two feet.
Looking forward to hearing your views. Thank you for all those who have expressed your support!
Author of Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession is Messing Up Our Girls & How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It