What do you think about the marketing of padded push-up bikini tops for girls as young as 7 years old? Is it sexualizing little girls or just another fad that will come and go without any harm being done?
From parents to child psychologists, just about everyone is weighing in with strong opinions.
The target of all this anger and opinion is the retail store Abercrombie and Fitch, no stranger to controversy. Their latest offense is the marketing of a padded push-up bikini top to their youngest clientele: 7-14 year old girls. After tremendous push back from parent groups and negative media attention, the company has changed the description of the top from “the push-up triangle” to a “lightly lined triangle” to go along with the tiny bikini bottoms.
This is not the first time the store has gotten into trouble with parents. In 2002, they removed a line of thong underwear sold to girls in pre-teen children’s sizes after parents mounted nationwide storefront protests. The underwear included phrases like “Eye Candy” and “Wink Wink” printed on the front. In 2005, the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania launched a “Girlcot” of the store to protest the sale of T-shirts displaying messages such as “Who needs brains when you have these?”, “Available for parties,” and “I had a nightmare I was a brunette.”
Handling touchy topics is nothing new for the store, and the resulting publicity could be just what they were hoping for. To be fair, A&F is not the only store that promotes “sexy” clothing for children, but they are the ones currently in the spotlight.
Dr. Robyn Silverman, a child development specialist, and Dr. Janet Taylor, a psychiatrist, spoke with the “Today” show’s Meredith Vieira on the topic of sexualizing young girls. Both felt that this kind of marketing is injurious to girls, and that communication between children and parents is imperative for children to grow up with a good sense of self and body image.
Dr. Silverman commented that the padded bikini top is another layer of sexualizing young girls which may contribute to negative emotional and identity problems such as eating disorders, depression, poor self image, low self esteem and sexual health problems.
When Vieira asked “all of that because of a padded top?” Dr. Silverman explained: “It’s not just this. It’s this plus the sexualized dolls, plus other sexualized clothing, plus the messages out there. All these things together create a picture that says you must look sexy in order to be acceptable.”
So, you might wonder, where does that leave parents? Experts agree that parents are the ones in charge of what their children wear and what is brought into the home. They don’t have to support stores that don’t support their values. As the old saying goes… money talks, and when you spend your money elsewhere, that speaks volumes.
Parents must also be open to talking with their young boys and girls about body image, sexual media messages, and to asking their children’s opinions about what they see and hear. Sometimes the most shocking incidents are perfect teaching moments.
To see the entire “Today” show interview with Dr. Silverman you can log onto http://www.drrobynsilverman.com
It wasn’t so long ago that parents didn’t have to worry so much about sexual images coming at their children every time they turned around. With today’s constant media attention it’s understandable that parents are sometimes overwhelmed and frustrated by the sheer amount of sex, violence and bad examples their children are seeing and hearing.
Sometimes you have to take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are doing the best you can, and that by good example and steadfastness in trying to reach out to your child -that in the end, he or she will adapt and learn the lessons you teach.
Body image seems to play an important role in how children see themselves and their peers. KidsHealth.org offers these boosting body image tips. As you will see, body image is only one component of a good overall sense of self-value.
As preteens try on different looks, parents can help by being accepting and supportive, providing positive messages, and encouraging other qualities that keep looks in perspective. Be sure to:
• Accept and understand. Recognize that being concerned about looks is as much a part of the teen years as a changing voice and learning to shave. You know that in the grand scheme of things your daughter’s freckles don’t matter, but to her they might seem paramount. As frustrating as it can be when they monopolize the bathroom, avoid criticizing kids for being concerned about appearances. As they grow, concern about their looks will stop dominating their lives.
• Give lots of compliments. Provide lots of reassurance about kids’ looks and about all their other important qualities. As much as they may seem not to notice or care, simple statements like “you’ve got the most beautiful smile” or “that shirt looks great on you” really do matter. Compliment them on other physical attributes, such as strength, speed, balance, energy, or grace. Appreciating physical qualities and capabilities helps build a healthy body image.
• Compliment what’s inside too. Notice out loud all the personal qualities that you love about your kids — how generous your son is to share with his little sister, the determined way that your daughter studies for her tests, or how your son stood by his best friend. Reassure them when they express insecurity. When you hear “I hate my hair” or “I’m so little,” provide valuable counterpoint.
• Talk about what appearances mean. Guide your kids to think a little more deeply about appearances and how people express themselves. Talk about the messages that certain styles might convey. One outfit may send the message “I’m ready to party!” while others might say “I’m heading to school” or “I’m too lazy to do laundry.”
• Set reasonable boundaries. Be patient, but also set boundaries on how much time your kids can spend on grooming and dressing. Tell them it’s not OK to inconvenience others or let chores go. Limits help kids understand how to manage time, be considerate of others’ needs, share resources, exercise a little self-discipline, and keep appearances in perspective.
• Be a good role model. How you talk about your own looks sets a powerful example. Constantly complaining about or fretting over your appearance teaches kids to cast the same critical eye on themselves. Almost everyone is dissatisfied with certain elements of their appearance, but talk instead about what your body can do, not just how it looks. Instead of griping about how big your legs are, talk about how they’re strong enough to help you hike up a mountain.
Having a healthy and positive body image means liking your body, appreciating it, and being grateful for its qualities and capabilities. When parents care for and appreciate their own bodies, they teach their kids to do the same.