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?