Wednesday, May 11th, 2011 | Uncategorized | No Comments
When I was a kid I hated wearing dresses. I wanted nothing more than to live in jeans and a t-shirt, so I could run around, climb trees, and slide into home base. Sure, I played dress-up with my mom’s old clothes, and I could spend hours picking out Barbie’s wardrobe, but I didn’t care what anyone thought of my appearance at nine years old. I didn’t try to look like Barbie in my everyday life because I understood that I was a kid and Barbie was a plastic grown-up who didn’t resemble any actual grown-ups. And I liked being a kid.
Now there are people who look like Barbie (even though they might be more plastic than human), and kids are encouraged to follow suit. Yesterday I heard a small child complaining that a particular dress would make her look fat. I’ve seen string bikinis for toddlers, push-up bras and high heels for seven-year-old girls, insultingly sexual t-shirt slogans, and lots of shorts that stop just above the behind. (Girls, if you’re wondering if you’re hanging out of these shorts, you are!)
A friend of mine was fed up with her tween stepdaughter’s push-up bras, so she took her shopping for more age-appropriate undergarments, only to find that they don’t exist. A quick look at Target’s website shows a wide variety of girls’ demi-bras. This is a type of bra that emphasizes cleavage and allows women to wear low-cut tops. So why do ten-year olds need them? Or sixteen-year olds for that matter?
I don’t know when it became the norm for girls and women of all ages and sizes to wear push-up bras, but we’ve gone far beyond that by sexualizing little girls. Aren’t we a society that abhors pedophilia? Don’t we believe that girls can do anything? That they don’t have to rely on men to provide for them? So why are we pushing them to be sexy at such an early age?
On CNN.com, LZ Granderson blames parents for buying these clothes, and Jennifer Moses has mixed feelings on the subject in the Wall Street Journal. Is it a mother-daughter bonding thing? Are parents acting like best friends instead of parents? Are they living vicariously?
Studies by the American Psychological Association reveal that early sexualization negatively affects cognitive function, eating disorders, low-self esteem, depression, and sexual health in girls. It can ultimately lead to serious social problems, including “an increase in sexism; fewer girls pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); increased rates of sexual harassment and sexual violence; and an increased demand for child pornography.”
So what can we do? Stop buying these products, for one thing. Check out businesses such as Pigtail Pals, which aims to “redefine girly,” and campaigns like Let Girls Be Girls. More importantly, instead of taking your daughter shopping this weekend, read together. Go to a museum. Balance your checkbook while she does her math homework and say, “Work that quadratic equation, girl!”
Written by: Sara Baker
Sara Baker is the director of outcomes/grant management and the Big Read coordinator for the YWCA Knoxville. She holds an MA in English and Creative Writing from the University of Tennessee and a BA in English and Religion from Maryville College. She has worked as a writer, English instructor, and AmeriCorps VISTA. Sara grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Swansea, Wales; and Wroclaw, Poland. Her lifelong commitment to women’s issues includes volunteer work with the Alliance for International Women’s Rights, American Association of University Women, YWCA Knoxville Y-Teens, National Conference on Community and Justice, National Network of Presbyterian College Women, University of Tennessee Women’s Coordinating Council, University of Swansea Club W, and Maryville College Sisters in Spirit. Sara has studied African American women’s literature, women’s roles in world religions, and the status of women in Northern Indian culture. Through her work at the YWCA, she researches issues affecting women, such as homelessness, domestic violence, leadership, and empowerment.