Pt. 2 - Early Sexualization of Girls

Tweens. We all know that word, right? How long has it been around? I remember life before the word existed. It wasn't too long ago.

According to Packaging Girlhood by Sharon Lamb, Ed. D. and Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed. D.:

"Tween- a combination of teen and between- is a marketing concept developed in the eighties to get kids, primarily girls, to continue buying toys. When the top age of toy users dropped from 12 to 8, toy stores started offering diva dolls, makeup, jewelry craft kits, and room decor to encourage girls to identify with issues and products older than they are. The common concern we hear from parents and school counselors- that girls are buying into a culture that has them growing up too fast- is the marketers dream come true; a crossover market! Marketing publications are filled with gleeful stories about the spending power of this age group; strategies for capturing the tween doll, shoe, music, accessory, and clothing market; how to get girls' attention in new and more spectacular ways; how to own them and channel their desires while not alienating the parents. We can see the results of all this effort in the ways products are marketed to preteens, ingenious strategies that combine innocence and edge....What's troubling about all of this is giving us all the false notion that the tween years...are something more than pure marketing. Juliet Schor, author of Born to Buy, interviewed top executives at companies that sell products to children, only to find them shrugging their shoulders and saying that although they know what they sell isn't good for kids, it's up to parents to say no. Plain and simple, marketers study children to understand what will grab their attention and make it difficult for parents to point their children in healthier directions...While products aimed at tween girls promise perfect faces and bodies, friends, and boyfriends, the marketers and manufacturers don't have to confront the negative impact on girls: the confusion about sexuality and romantic relationships, the anxiety about weight and appearance, the struggle with popularity and fitting in. No, they leave that to you."

(By the way, the ages marketed to has dropped to at least age 7). It starts here, just subtly:

In The Lolita Effect by M. Gigi Durham, Ph.D., she states:

"The media, which are driven by profit and ratings, aren't in the business of respecting or advocating for girls. As far as the media industries go, cultivating consumers as early as possible is a central goal. That's why we're seeing increasingly adult content being aimed at very young children; that's why the dolls sold to preschoolers look exactly like the half-dressed women in music videos and soft-core men's magazines, and why toddlers' fashions are almost indistinguishable from those of teenagers. Marketers call this "KGOY," or "Kids Getting Older Younger": that's where the developmental differences among children are blurred by the media through strategies geared toward creating consumer bases as early as possible".

Doesn't that just kind of make you mad like it does me? Companies want to make money off of my kid growing up too fast?

Now we'll switch to my own thoughts and I'm sure you'll be able to tell the shift of style (ha). (Already). We as parents have to be able to say no. We've raised 3 girls, well we're not done, but we've gotten through the hardest years in this regard.

We have survived without buying sassy t-shirts, clothes that promote bad attitudes, bikinis, thongs and push up bras, and underwear that say suggestive things. Ok, so we somehow had one pair years ago that slipped through when we shopped in a hurry and it's still a joke among our home. It is hard work to find a one piece swimsuit that is still doable or even a decent tankini. Thank goodness that trend is changing. It's REALLY hard work to find a bra for a young teen. Really, Abercrombie? Push ups that are marketed to ages 7-14? The smallest size would fit most 9 year olds.

Years ago at Kohls, a worker heard me say out loud that I would never buy any of these bras for a 12 year old, so she sent me over to the kids department. Over there I found a miniscule selection of pieces of cotton with straps on them, declaring the love of summer in bold colors. Were there no choices between play/trainer bras and Victoria's Secret style push up padded leopard print? (which I don't have a problem with unless they are for young girls).

In the clothing arena, our kids knew there were shops we just didn't go to, so don't even ask. It really wasn't an issue, no one whined over it because they knew we don't shop there. We are definitely a house full of girls into clothes and fashion so I'm not throwing out the whole industry by any means! And as conservative as I feel, I know there are circles where I seem to be the wild one, so I realize there is a wide spectrum of viewpoints on clothing. I guess I'm in the middle. I shop at most of the normal stores, but believe there's ways to be stylish without turning into an advertising billboard of things we don't believe in. There's a way to dress without falling for all of this early sexualization money making stuff.

Things have declined faster and younger just over the last few years. What really gets me now is the onesies for babies I see in stores. Ok, some are comical like "ipood. Download complete" (instead of ipad...computer terms...for those wondering).

But I have issue with all of the t-shirts sold that display sassy attitudes and sexual inuendo. Believe it or not, those are both available on baby onesies. I've seen them in the store. Such as a boy's onesie that says "Your crib or mine?" or "Mmmmm....boobies" or "Drink all night".

I know people aren't trying to create little partiers.

I guess some think it's funny and cute, like their kid is a funny little billboard for display. I look at those onesies and think if you start feeding that attitude toward life right now, what is the future? It's so subtle.

When you look at the big picture, in my opinion all of these things take away from, instead of developing, the little eternal valuable people that we get to raise.

photo credit: www.blogs.babiesonline.com

A long time ago, shopping in a favorite store, I found myself picking up and laughing over a pair of "the new thing", baby heels. Within seconds, I went through a series of thoughts- "I love shoes, I LOVE baby shoes, these are so bizarre! They are kinda cute! But kinda creepy". (They were soft squishy heels).

My final thought was why would I want my baby in heels?? I had fallen for it for a brief second because of my love of baby shoes and fashion. I guess those were "the thing" among celebrities for awhile. A perhaps for a second cute concept until you see this:

Photo credit: www.heelsandhers.com

I may be losing friends, but the perspective I'm coming from is hearing what girls have said for 8 years about the pressures they feel to grow up, to look good, to be sexy before they are aready.

Looking at the big picture, girls grow up too fast, the culture pushes for it just to make a profit, the girls pay the price, parents have a harder job saying no to more and more things. Girls definitely feel the pressure to look good at very early ages. They feel the pressure that they are supposed to want a boyfriend at very early ages, whether they want one or not.

Girls still want to be girls, but they have a lot to fight against to not be sucked into the marketing mold set for them.

We as parents have endless battles and our own form of adult peer pressure over what to allow and what to say no too. It's difficult! I have wanted to quit and give in numerous times, just out of sheer exhaustion and desire for ease. But we can't give in.

Good news is our girls can survive and be normal people without falling for all of this marketing! It's possible to keep things age appropriate and to help kids have a healthy childhood, then gradually grow into teen years. Everything "teen" doesn't have to be handed over at age 12 or 13.

For the readers out there, check out the list of recommended books on my website regarding this subject. I don't agree with everything they say in these books, but they are full of very good useful information. Take the good, toss what you may disagree with.

Packaging Girlhood by Sharon lamb, Ed.D., and Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed. D. is a great book to open your eyes to the overall marketing scheme going on to young girls. As is true so often, it seems it all comes down to money once again.

"We've been told our world empowers girls by offering them anything they want...in reality, it's a world designed by media and marketing exectutives that targets children as consumers". The authors say after reading this book, their hope is that "just as you now read the nutrition content on the side of the cereal box before buying it for your child, you will be able to read the messages in the shows she watches, the stores she walks into, and the activities she engages in, in order to provide healthy choices for her in the real world."

photo credit: www.youngwomenshealth.org

I love the way that is worded. We are so diet conscious, wanting labels on food, to see how what we take into our body is going to affect our health. It would be great if we did the same and considered how other things we take in in other forms will affect our mental and emotional health. I think it's no coincidence that with the rise of attitude, sexuality and growing up too fast, has come an increase in depression. Girls are not supposed to be grown up at 13. or 15. But they are told to act like they are. It's very confusing.

Read a man's point of view in this article from the Huffington Post by L Z Granderson. He speaks to this subject very directly. Click on this link.

Another news story about padded push up swimsuit bikinis marketed to as young as 7 year old by guess who....Abercrombie and Fitch. Click on this link to read that.

Another interesting debate : click here.

If you completely disagree with me and like the onesie featured in the blog pic, it can be found at www.snugfits.com. (Actually I just have to give photo credit).

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