When my daughter was in first grade, I was at a department store buying some pants for my then 6-year-old daughter. As I was looking around, I was astounded at the amount of inappropriate clothing that exists for young girls. There was clothing that was outrageously shiny, clubbing wear, t-shirts with inappropriate words on them, the list continues. Why, I would like to know, does a 6 year old girl, or any girl for that matter, need to wear clothes that draw undue sexual attention to themselves?
This issue has always been so bothersome to me and so I decided to do some research to find out more about this phenomenon of sexualized clothing for little girls. I know that I am definitely not alone in my complete dismay at the abundance of sexualized clothing for young girls, and I am happy and relieved to note that a group of fellow parents whom I associate with, feel the same. Still, I wanted to see what else was out there.
According to a fairly recent study conducted by Dr. Sarah Murmen, a Kenyon College psychologist who worked with Samantha Goodin, a former Kenyon student, 31% of clothing that are sold online of 15 popular stores in U.S. have some sort of suggestive sexual connotations. Remembering the negative effects of self-objectification such as body dissatisfaction, depression, low confidence and low self-esteem, Goodin and team looked at the role of girls’ clothing as a possible social influence that may contribute to self-objectification in preteen girls.
The Kenyon College research team examined the frequency and nature of sexualizing clothing available for young girls (children not adolescents) on the websites of 15 popular stores in the US. Sexualizing clothing reveals or emphasizes a sexualized body part, has characteristics associated with sexiness, and/or carries sexually suggestive writing. They also looked at whether clothing items had childlike characteristics e.g. polka dot patterns and ribbons.
Across all the stores, of the 5,666 clothing items studied, 69 percent had only childlike characteristics. Of the remaining 31 percent, 4 percent had only sexualized characteristics, 25 percent had both sexualizing and childlike features, and 4 percent had neither sexualized nor childlike elements.
So what does this say about how this type of marketing affects the self-esteem of the girls in our society. Do girls need to feel that objectifying themselves makes them more desirable, more popular? As I look for appropriate clothing for my 6-year-old, words such as “Devil or Angel” are plastered on chests and bottoms. One of my friends told me that while visiting a tourist destination with her family, she was interested in buying a pair of pants for her young daughter only to find that the pants had the words “ASSPEN” boldly displayed on the bottoms. Seriously! What girl of any age, needs to draw attention to her behind? Aren’t women in our society sexualized and objectified enough that we have to start doing this as soon as our little ones are born?
Some of the clothing is so outrageous that I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing them on a night out, what would possess me to send my child to school wearing such things? For years now, in both of my children’s schools (especially my older child’s), I have been hearing horror stories of how girls are teased/excluded in school because they are not fashionable enough, sexy enough, or that they decided that day (oh GOD FORBID) to come to school in a regular t-shirt and jeans. These type of comments have profound effects on the self-esteem of girls because again, they are getting the message not just from their fellow classmates, but let’s face it people, from the parents of their classmates that dressing in a manner that is sexual, is more appealing, is more desirable, and ultimately makes you more popular! Wait, remind me again, isn’t school a place for negotiating friendships and for learning?
Just a couple of years ago, there was a t-shirt being sold by a major department store that stated, “I am too busy to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me.” Customers complained and it was taken off the sales racks but other similar titles included “Future Trophy Wife” and “I’m too pretty to do Math.” As a society, we are promoting gender stereotypes that are so outrageous. Research has already indicated that girls are just as good as Math as boys are, if not better and woman are performing at exceedingly high levels, and don’t need to create their identity based on what their partners do for a living.
As Halloween approaches in the Fall, this phenomenon of objectifying girls’ clothing increases tenfold. Walking into a Halloween store and seeing the level of sexualized clothing that exists for young girls is not only alarming, it is downright disgusting. Why would I want my 6-year-old or any child for that matter to be scantily clad in an outfit that is brimming with sexuality? Apparently, other parents think its okay and this is the primary reason that these clothes are on sale anyway.
So, how do we change this phenomenon and stop manufacturers from producing such sexualized clothes for girls? One of the things we can do is stop buying these clothes people! The more we buy into this notion that girls have to be show pieces for society to enjoy, the more damage we are creating. Girls should be allowed to express their individuality, not by donning a t-shirt that claims that they are “sexier” or “dumber” than their male counterparts, but that they have self-worth and self-esteem not by what they wear, but by the type of people they are: their intelligence, their kindness, their relationships, their beauty, not just on the outside but most importantly, and quite emphatically, on the inside!
I was reading an article written by Lylah M. Alphonse that reminded me that in 1994, there used to exist a Barbie doll that would exclaim (upon pressing a button on her back), “Math Class is Tough!” As Ms. Alphonse states, this was a bad idea in 1994, but it is certainly not a good idea almost 20 years later.
Let’s not buy into this notion that girls should derive self-worth from the clothing they wear and boycott such clothing manufacturers. Our girls are already up against enough. As parents, let’s make their journey just a little bit easier.