Yes, I know everyone’s talking about that San Francisco mom pumping Botox into her 8-year-old.
That is so obviously sick. But it’s so over-the-top, like the toddler beauty pageants, that I think, in some ways, it distracts us from the real issue.
The item I found more compelling this week was a study that found a third of clothing sold to girls ages 6-12 is sexualizing. Researchers looked at 5,666 clothing items (why not 5,6667? I don’t know) on the web sites of 15 popular stores and coded them for sexualized characteristics: those that emphasized or revealed a sexualized body part, had sexy qualities and/or had suggestive writing. They also coded for childlike characteristics, such as fabric pattern (think polka dots) or a modest, non-revealing cut.
The good news: 69% of the clothing items had ONLY childlike characteristics. A mere 4% had ONLY sexualizing characteristics.
But here’s the tricky part and what we often miss in hand-wringing over the extremes: 25.4% of the clothing had BOTH childlike and sexualizing characteristics. That’s what I believe is confusing and controversial among parents. That’s what’s hard to navigate. I mean, whoever is buying that 4% overtly sexualized stuff, I don’t know what to say. But when over 1 in 4 items in any store–and apparently more in “tween” stores like Abercrombie Kids–is both childlike and sexualizing, the message is far more pernicious. Because a parent can convince herself that maybe it’s not so bad then. Instead of thinking that the mash-up is the problem. That dual message of childlike and sexual teaches girls that it is normal and correct, even as children, to view their bodies as objects to be judged by ridiculously narrow (and often sexualized) standards of attractiveness. And then to hang their self-worth on that.
Obviously, this is not only a problem with clothing–you see it everywhere. Look at the debate that is STILL going on on this very blog regarding the Monster High toy line. If there weren’t something redeeming, fun, and positive about Monster High no one would buy it. But it doesn’t change the part that is not just inappropriate, but given the larger cultural context, potentially damaging to little girls’ ideas about their own bodies, beauty, sexuality and self-worth. And when the two are mixed–healthy and unhealthy values and images combined–how are girls to understand it?
So, yeah, I get that people get upset about the Abercrombie push-up bikini for 7-year-olds (which, incidentally, they didn’t pull off the shelves–they just changed the name!) or the Botox for 8-year-olds. All of it. But this mushy middle, this innocent-sexy axis is where the real conversation has to happen.
And just to bring it back to my favorite topic, princesses, Carolyn Castiglia wrote a great post on Stroller Derby yesterday noting that the Disney Princesses are getting slowly more sexualized themselves in the most stereotypical of ways. Check out these two images, and the rest that she’s posted on that blog.
Sleeping Beauty (Aurora) then and now
Belle in 1991 and 2011: bigger eyes, slimmer face, coy expression….