Sexualizing Teen Underwear

Recently, there’s been a dust-up online of parents protesting companies who are marketing overtly sexualized clothing towards their young daughters. There have been petitions signed, videos passed around, and many an impassioned blog post written with outrage about a retailer or clothing line’s missteps in marketing items for young girls.

Really, this just seems like a symptom of a greater problem: the sexualization of girls. It seems like it’s happening at a more rapid pace than ever before, and that the target just grows younger and younger. There is a clear difference between teaching girls to understand their sexuality and own their sexual development, and branding them as sexual objects for male enjoyment. What does the phrase “call me” on a pair of underwear really stand for? It’s not about empowering a young girl to appreciate her body. No, it’s not about that at all. It’s clearly directed for the male gaze. At best, it’s a winking nod to the problematic sexual culture we live in that fetishizes young girls, and at worst, it’s actively contributing to taking away a girl’s ability to believe that she exists as more than a sexual object for the opposite gender’s pleasure.

Can we expect more from our marketing and clothing brands? Should we? Or are we just as complicit in this culture that they’re creating? Dressing little girls in adult-like clothing is a relatively recent development, brought in by the advent of teen celebrities lending their name to clothing lines. Since the Olsen twins began the practice, practically every teen star has done the same–Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift. And the clothing marketed towards young girls gradually shifted into mini-me copies of adult outfits. A friend of mine pointed at a dress in Target recently and said how she’d really like to wear it–except that it was marketed and sized for a five-year-old.

When customers buy things, brands will keep on selling them. Most likely, the companies and designers who have been receiving backlash won’t suffer sales in the long run. We live in a world where toddlers parade on stages and television wearing false eyelashes and heels, more makeup and couture than some adult women will ever come in contact with. This is what we celebrate, or at the very least, tolerate–little girls, hardly out of diapers, in clothing and makeup that used to be considered the domain of the adult woman.

So should these companies have to retract their designs and ads that tell teen girls that being objectified is cool? Maybe. But they won’t. They’ll still sell. Every other brand is doing it and profiting off it. Should we still speak out against this culture that tells our young girls they exist for the sexual pleasure of others? Yes. Girls should be able to be just that–girls, without the pressure to look like or dress like fully grown women. But if this is all they’re selling, and this is all we’re buying, and therefore this is all that is being marketed, made, and produced, what are our other options? Sometimes the culture slide seems inevitable. The alternative is to give up and accept that women will be conditioned to be sexy from birth. And I don’t think we’re ready to concede that fight just yet.

Featured image via ShutterStock

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