Friday, September 13, 2002

Marketing sex to our little girls

As a middle-aged father of adults and teenagers, I do not get to the children's clothing section at the department store; however, I am told that mothers are finding it increasingly difficult to find "normal clothes" for their preteen daughters. It seems that the choices for eight-year old girls does not go much beyond clothes that reveal the most intimate parts of the body, from hip-hugging pants to belly-exposing tops. Mothers say that it is very hard to find modest girls' clothes at the local stores.

Young people have always wanted the latest styles. When I was young, one year we just needed to have pants with bell bottoms; the next year the jeans just had to be stove pipes. It has always been like that and still is. Daughters have long argued with mom about the length of hem lines. Most teenagers have always craved the latest fashions. However, there has been a distressing shift in recent years. The trend is ever more to the hyper-sexualization of clothing: the tighter and the smaller, the better, it seems. The shift is all the more distressing because it is directly aimed at our little girls. And it is all about marketing.

The American clothing retail industry has discovered a huge potential in marketing to the preteen age group. According to estimates, the "tweens" in North America (8- to 12-year-olds) represented about US $170 billion per year. Girls, aged six to 14 are estimated to have an independent spending power of US $100 billion annually.

Stores are aggressively going after this huge market by hyper-sexualizing fashion for youth because it has realized it as an effective way to maintain a lucrative market share. Do not think that the clothing industry is interested about anything but the bottom line and keeping the shareholders happy. Sex sells. The fashion industry is applying that basic principle to children's clothing—in spades.

Marnie Ko writes in Report Magazine:

Even lower-priced department giants have begun targeting tweens with a racy line of clothing by the Olsen twins, the actors Mary-Kate and Ashley, best known for their role on the sitcom Full House. Slinky clothes, including midriff-baring crop tops, short skirts and shirts with spaghetti tops straps, are increasingly found in the children's clothing section. And parents are buying. A Wal-Mart spokesman said orders for clothes by the Olsen twins have doubled for this fall.

The chief apostlette for the sexualization of our little girls is 20-year old pop princess Britney Spears. She is the role model of many young girls today. With her revealing clothing and "come-hither" image, Miss Spears is sending a message to young girls that body image is of primary importance—a difficult problem for many young females.

When Britney Spears (or Christina Aguilera or Foxxy Brown) comes to town thousands of preteen girls go to the sold out concert dressed as Britney lookalikes. Of course they fail because they do not have the resources a pop diva has—makeup artists, silicone enhancements, and millions of dollars.

Fashion and pop culture
Parents, please do not be na├»ve about this. The clothing industry is after your little girls. The music, movie and TV culture is complicit with the fashion enterprise. Sex-driven music videos, innuendo-laden comedies airing at 8 PM, PG-13 movies featuring flashes of female nudity—it is common. Pop culture is blanketing society with sexual images aimed at eight-year olds. The clothing designers work hand in glove with the entertainment industry, to the great detriment of all of society, not least our preteen girls.

Parents, let your little girls be little girls. Children should dress like children, and not like tiny tarts.

The mothers and older sisters of the little girls should set a good example in this regard. The law of chastity (see Lord's Day 41 of the Heidelberg Catechism) demands modesty of old and young when we dress our bodies. In addition to the universal call of God to modesty, older sisters and mothers should show love to the children by setting a good example. If they dress provocatively, the little girls will want to as well. That's the way little girls think and act.