I recently read an article that highlights a study from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio which found that fully one-third of clothing items marketed to teens and preteens has a sexual connotation; that is, it emphasizes sexual body parts, or sends a sexual message.
While I honestly didn't find this all surprising as I live in a large metropolitan area and have seen my fair share of "Juicy" and "Pink" behinds at the local mall, it did set me to thinking.
My first reaction was to get angry at the retailers. But successful retailers don't heavily market items that don't sell. If they know their business, then they know what sells. And the 15 websites that the Kenyon study reviewed included well-known, profitable companies like Neiman Marcus and Justice for Girls (which has lead me to seriously question whether or not my niece's Christmas presents will be coming from that store again. Doubtful.).
While it's not uncommon to hear the adage "sex sells" as a explanation for questionable marketing campaigns, what really bothers me is why sex sells especially when it comes to preteen clothing. Do preteen girls really want sexualized clothing, and if so why? What is the motivation to own and wear clothing that sends a sexual message or shows off their sexual body parts? And even more troubling, do they even realize that the clothing is sexualized? Or are they so used to seeing older girls and women in the same clothes, showing off the same parts, that they've simply become used to the idea? Or are trying to become used to it by doing it themselves?
I really don't know if it's even possible for young girls to grasp the implications of the ideas they're being sold, but I can only guess that because they see their role-models (and I'm not talking Lady Gaga, I'm talking Mom and Aunt Molly and even Grandma Sue) hanging out in skin tight skinny jeans, cleavage-baring deep-V tunics and shorts cut up to here, that that must be what they're supposed to wear too.
I remember being a preteen myself, just entering puberty, and going to the mall one day in a tight- fitting outfit that I thought would show off my new, more grown-up body. I'd seen other older girls dressing in a similar fashion, and I wanted to be grown up, like them.
To this day the thing that sticks out most prominently in my mind is how embarrassed I felt when I finally got to the mall and tried to show off. I don't know if I got much attention, but it felt like every eye was on me. And rather than feeling great about myself, I felt so conspicuous I just wanted to hide, or better yet, LEAVE.
Attempting to take the fast track to what I perceived as womanhood didn't make me feel more confident about myself. It terrified me. If anything, it pushed me in the opposite direction. I wanted to get home and go back to being a little girl for as long as possible.
Adolescence is a time of learning and experiencing new and often confusing feelings about sex and one's sexuality. While preteens and teens are sexual beings, that's not all they are. Their sexuality is only one component of their person-hood, and one that they certainly have not yet mastered. And yet, by way of retailers in the business of knowing how to make money and an older generation that's taught them to value attention over admiration, the opportunity and motivation exists for them to dress in a way that says they have.
But it's not the job of retailers to think for us. They are not in the business of sorting out our personal values. Their job is to make money and when they spot a trend, they follow it. That's good business. But just to cave in, is bad parenting and bad leadership when it comes to bringing up our young women.
The ultimate proof of confidence for a woman today is to expose her body, thus proving that she has the guts to do it and doesn't care what anyone else thinks. Our younger counterparts are not blind. They see what we do and hear what we say we believe, and they follow in our footsteps. If we aren't careful where we step, what we show, what we proclaim to the world by either our words or our appearance then not only do we victimize ourselves, we victimize them as well, and we do it as unwitting dupes all in the name of showing off our confidence.