A few colleagues of mine and I were discussing the story of the mom who was giddy about taking her nine year old shopping at Victoria’s Secret to buy pretty panties so that her girl could avoid the “ugly underwear trap”. Because if there is one thing third and fourth grade girls are worried about, it is the possibility of their underwear (that is probably seen by no one but mom and the kid sister) being ugly and swallowed up in that……
No. I just can’t with this. Nine year olds want to be fourteen year olds who want to be twenty year olds. I get it, I remember. GUESS WHAT?! Marketers know that, and play right along. The tween market is a billion dollar business, with intimates making up 10% of that. That’s a lot of dollars and even more dollars are put into marketing it, and marketing it in a way that makes us think it is normal and okay for a nine year old to be doing what I was doing my sophomore year of college.
Friends, if ever there is something you don’t want your nine year old doing, it is reenacting my sophomore year of college.
So a nine year old girl wanting more grown up underwear is fine, but I question why Victoria’s Secret is that next step. Many other children’s retailers have cute stuff that is age appropriate but not babyish. Victoria’s Secret used to be a rite of passage into adulthood. Now the focus is on creating brand awareness and lifetime consumers among tweens, and parents are buying into it right along with their daughters. There needs to be a step or five between girlhood and adulthood. Why are we rushing our little girls so?
Here is the conversation that took place between my colleagues and me, but I recommend watching the GMA segment first to understand the context.
Lori Day: I do not remember feeling sexy before puberty. I felt like a little girl. I WAS a little girl. I did not consume sexualizing media that showed me what sexy was at 9–that media did not exist in the lives of little girls when I was one. It’s as much a social construct as anything. And in terms of developmental psych, so what? We can choose to respect childhood and not let adulthood keep trickling down. That’s called age compression.
Michele Sinisgalli-Yulo: Of course, sexuality is always being developed…naturally. Not forced by what we deem as “sexy.” There is a difference–at least to me. Nine? That is fourth grade. I’m sure my “sexuality” was being developed–it is a natural thing and I am not disputing that. Awareness is one thing, but sexy styled lingerie does not equate to what I interpret as sexuality. Sexuality is instinct. Sexuality is maturation. Sexuality is developed. No argument there. I just don’t think it’s necessary to introduce a nine year old to adult “sexy” wear.
Melissa Atkins Wardy: Corporations seek to take away childhood in order to meet their bottom line through sexualizing and age compressing children. They then convince a culture through marketing that this is normal and fine. A nine year old may have started to become sexually aware, though doubtful she would naturally equate this with the need for sexy underwear. Starting to understand sexuality at 9yo doesn’t mean she needs to be gift wrapped for sex, which is what VS is in the business of. Even their PINK side, meant to be for juniors, has some suggestive items. Fine if you are a college student or adult. Not fine when you are a little girl and have no comprehension of what it is you are advertising.
Shopping at VS used to be an adult rite of passage. When that happens in 3rd grade, where do you go from there?
When girls start to focus on sexy and the value of sex and an adult woman’s sex appeal, childhood ends. There used to be a clearer distinction between the two that was more age appropriate. Now it starts about second or third grade.
I was developing my sexuality in fourth grade. I had a MAJOR crush on a boy in my class and Johnny Depp. It never occurred to me to shop at VS or that I needed hot panties. At that age, I was lucky if I brushed my hair.
But that was in the days when girls were allowed to be girls, and take their time becoming women.
Denise Equality Schultz: I didn’t feel sexual or have any clue about sexuality really even when I got my period at age 13. I agree with Michelle’s first statement,these two items do not belong in the same sentence. And there shouldn’t be clothing that comes in sizes like this for 9 year olds. Just like all the padded bras for kiddos with no reason to wear them.
Michele: I think it’s so sad what is happening to children at such early ages. Gabi has already asked me about the word “sexy” (last year when she was six) because it was in an M&M’s commercial for god’s sake. This morning she asked me if her father and I have ever “tongue locked”–she heard that from a boy in class. She tells me whenever a kid in her class uses the word “sex.” I can honestly say that these things did not come up until I was around 12 or 13–adolescence. I did not fully understand what being sexy was until I was in my twenties. Again, I’m not denying “sexuality” and I certainly don’t believe that learning about sexuality should be a single experience at a specific age. We are all born with sexuality. I just think we need to monitor how much of kids’ understanding of it is organic versus forced.
Don’t I keep company with some rather smart ladies? But here’s the rub, when smart ladies like us talk about the meat of the issue and the words of this mother, we get called prudes and pearl clutchers and the worst of the worst – slut shamers. You can read some of that kind of stuff in this post and this post, which see the trees but fail to take in the whole forest. Our girls are getting lost in the forest of sexualization. That isn’t moral panic, it is a comment derived from reading epic amounts of peer reviewed research on girls who aren’t being allowed to grow authentically into their sexuality. I always find it ironic that those of us concerned with the sexualization of our daughters are called prudes. I think it is the opposite, actually, and it is because we are pro-sex and understand the importance of enjoying sex and having a healthy sense of sexuality that we fight the pestilence of sexualization.
My friends and I went on to discuss these articles….
Melissa: It is a really worn out retort to name call people concerned with sexualization prudes, pearl clutchers, drivers of moral panic, nanny nation, etc. It is also really lazy.
Yes, the “relationship expert” didn’t quite nail her sound bite. Anytime you have an “expert” talking about women’s/girl’s issues and uses the phrase “she’s asking for it” preceding a slut shaming comment, we can generally assume she might not be giving the best advice. The point she was making, agreeably not well, was that when we sexualize little girls they learn very quickly that sexuality is a performance, not a feeling and a beautiful part of being human. We know the consequences of girls self objectifying and not being connected to their sexual being. A pair of purple panties or a Snapchat image of little boobie buds in a pushup bra will not end a girl. But a girl whose value comes from external forces based largely on her beauty and sex appeal just might.
The articles oversimplify the issues. What the articles conveniently leave out are the messages the mother is giving the daughter. In the GMA spot the mother talks about emerging sexuality but gives no examples, so we are left to assume it is because of the girl’s age and that fact alone. Impending puberty is not the same as emerging sexuality and the mother seems to confuse the two. But even if the child was expressing age appropriate sexuality, like having a crush on a classmate or movie star, that doesn’t mean she is also focused on pretty panties.
It is the mother tying the two together that is the problem. The mother is ushering the girl into the world of adult sexuality well before the child is ready. The mother is self conscious for the girl, but the girl doesn’t have this awareness on her own. This is evident from the dress and necklace and hand gestures the child wore/used in the interview. She is very much trying on the role of “grown up”, like a child would during dress up. But when you look around her room, her little space in the world is very clearly that of a person with a child’s mindset.
So when we get into an argument over the geography of where the underwear was purchased and debate whether or not someone who still puts teeth under the pillow for the Tooth Fairy should be shopping in sexually suggestive grown up space of VS, what we aren’t doing is talking about why there is such a rush to have our little girls grow up at a speed that research study after study has shown is not good for their emotional or physical self. We no longer value girlhood, and what it is our girls are supposed to be learning and absorbing during that time. THAT is the issue, not the sales receipt from Victoria’s Secret. In a way, this rushing through girlhood shows a lack of respect for girls and sends the message they need to hurry up and get hot because being sexually available is why they were put on this planet to begin with. A girl has a right to a girlhood, and to take her time becoming a woman.
- the rationalization if sexualized women are everywhere and a child already sees that, what is the big deal taking them into VS to shop for the child
- would a 9yo with a developing sense of sexuality equate that with needing pretty underwear, or is that an adult concept being pushed onto the child
- the idea of making sure your 9yo child isn’t the girl who falls into the “ugly underwear trap” and the issues that might go with the mother projecting ideas about beauty and the need to fit in
- is this little girl being used as a pawn for blog hits and media attention
- the reaction of the GMA crew, but specifically the words of Mel Robbins
The purple underwear shown in the segment aren’t too sexy or racy for a 9yo, but think of them as a tree in this conversation. I was us to see and talk about the forest. Let’s stay focused on the big picture, and not pile on the mom and the girl.
“The whole idea of VS selling (and, presumably, advertising) underwear for pre-teen girls reminds me of RJ Reynolds’ Joe Camel cigarette advertisements. No, underwear won’t give girls lung cancer, but the product line and its advertisement is aimed at creating lifelong VS customers.
It’s fine for grown women to dress sexy, if that is what they want. At the same time, stores like VS, sprinkled through shopping malls along with (so many) other stores with display windows full of provocatively-dressed female mannequins, create and perpetuate the idea in our culture that women are sexual objects on display (and that our other qualities, such as creativity, intellect, strength, and kindness, are not what “really matters”).
Bringing little girls into that milieu under the guise of “pretty underwear” that is (perhaps) age-appropriate, but at the same time surrounded by the lingerie aimed at sexually mature women (in a sexist society), is, in my opinion, disgusting and even a bit sinister. It seems like a form of conditioning, and mothers are being (socially, through advertising and TV programs) pressured to “surrender” their daughters. That’s even more disgusting.” -PPBB Community Member Amy Vinroot Wilson
“My initial thought is that I think the distinction between “budding sexuality” and sexual is an important one. Kids need the freedom to explore those concepts on their own time and in their own way. That has always included a certain amount of “performing” what they see on tv or catch glimpses of. When we were kids, that meant thinking that french kissing meant opening your mouth like a grooper or other things that surely made adults giggle behind their sleeves. It didn’t mean sexy underwear at 9 or any other trappings of truely adult sexuality.” -PPBB Community Member Emily Marymount Sexton
“I think it has a lot to do with adult women trying to repair scars from their own past…feeling like they were the ugly duckling, late bloomer, etc. They don’t want their daughters to feel left out/behind. But what they are completely missing is that those past scars were a result of a marketing scam to make them feel less than in order to sell more crap…they’re just perpetuating the cycle. People vastly underestimate the power of marketing over their lives, beliefs, values, ideas….” -PPBB Community Member Pamela Bennett
There is a difference between a child trying on grown up clothes or make up or shoes, and role playing as a momentary visitor into adulthood. It is another thing when adulthood is shrunk down to fit kids. It is developmentally harmful for them. And the only reason to rush it is to make money for the corporations profiting from the erasure of girlhood. My daughter has a natural born right to her childhood. You can call me whatever name you want, but my daughter is not for sale.