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From Toddlers and Tiaras to Sext Up Kids: A Dangerous Path

What is the media teaching girls about their role in society? Several things perhaps, but one of the more disturbing elements is the messages being sent on body image and sexualization.

It All Starts with Toddlers and Tiaras

Whether it is a two year old being pressured to do a strip tease and sexy dance with tassels hanging from her cone-shaped breasts or a three year old being dressed up as Julia Roberts' prostitute character from Pretty Woman, these beauty pageants and dance competitions are out of control. From a young age, girls are not only being exposed to highly sexualized media, but they are also being forced or encouraged to participate in it. I find it hard to believe that TLC continues to support this, that parents continue to force their children into it, and that people actually watch it on TV. Some of it is so bad that it should probably be classified as child pornography. Unfortunately, however, the definition of child pornography seems to revolve around how much skin is showing rather than what the children are doing (as long as it doesn't involve actual sexual acts).

credit: The Society PagesThen there is the issue of French Vogue with a six year old made-up to look like an adult, with make-up, expensive jewelry, poses and pouts that are certainly not those of a child. On The Society Pages, Lisa Wade wrote:

The thing is: the adultification/sexualization of young girls is paralleled by a infantilization of adult women.  This adds up to a conflation of women and children which serves to uphold prejudice against adult women and the exploitation of girls.

From clothing to advertising, from music videos to television shows, this trend is everywhere. It isn't just in the pages of adult fashion magazines. Walk into any Wal Mart or Target and you'll see clothing being marketed for young girls that is highly inappropriate for them. Of course, I'm sure you remember the Abercrombie "Push-up" bikini for girls or the kiddie crotchless underwear. Those are surprising and extreme examples, but they are much too common.

Then there are other slightly more subtle, but still pushing the limits, clothing items on sale. In the girls section (starting at Size 5, which my daughter was wearing at age 3) at Old Navy, they had tight fitting one-shoulder t-shirts and super short shorts, as well as the white romper pictured here. What happens if a girl bends over or gets wet playing in the water?

I don't have a any issues with young children being naked, as they often were at the water parks in Berlin when we lived there. But I do have a problem with them being dressed in clothing that positions them as sexual objects.

Can You Bend Over In That, Barbie?

Have you seen the new Barbie I Can Be line? I've written about it before. In addition to the usually princessy/fashion-focused dolls, Barbie is now promoting a variety of careers. Career options are great, but do we really want to teach our girls that teachers wear skirts so short that they can't bend over or that medical professionals wear skin-tight scrubs and six inch heels?

As assistant-manager at a pool when I was a teenager, I had to deliver the bad news to the lifeguarding team that they could not wear bikinis on the job unless they were the sport-style bikinis. Anything that would fall off if you had to jump in to save someone was out of bounds. It really should have gone without saying for those girls...as it should for the toy designers at Mattel. If they really want Barbie to be a role model for girls, couldn't they put her in realistic career clothing?

In a post about a poll dancing doll that had parents everywhere appalled, AJ from Thingamababy wrote:

Parents scream and shout about overt overnight excesses [the poll dancing doll] while ignoring the slow indoctrination of their children into a shallow pop culture fantasy world that values personal beauty over academics and character. Sex over substance.

Even Dora, who once was a rough and tumble adventure-loving girl is being transitioned into a more fashion-conscious tween with a girl gang instead of a fun-loving monkey as a side-kick. Although she hasn't been overly sexualized even in the tween version, it is still problematic as younger and younger girls will want to move toward the "older" Dora. On Viva La Feminista, Veronica wrote:

The outrage is not just about Dora, it is because we know that Dora is the safe one. The good girl. The toy and cartoon that we haven't had to monitor. Any tampering with our Dora rocks our world. If Dora isnt' safe, what the hell will we do?

The outrage is powered by pent up outrage over the sexualization of our daughters, of their dolls and their clothing.

The outrage is far more than just tween-ifying Dora. It is about all the other small things that inch our daughters closer to 90210 and further away from cuddling with us on the couch with the Backyardigans. It'll happen in its own time...if society let it happen in its own time.

Like I said in my post on the pinkification of girlhood, it isn't one image, one toy, or one experience that is the problem. As AJ and Veronica explain, is the continual, pervasive sexualization of girls and women in the media that is the problem. It is that societal push to turn little girls into adult women far too soon.

Transitioning Into Healthy Sexuality

Have you seen the CBC Documentary Sext Up Kids? It was shown a couple of weeks ago on DocZone and is now available in full online on the CBC website for Canadian viewers. The documentary shows how growing up in a hyper-sexualized culture hurts our children and presents some pretty shocking stories and statistics about what tweens and teens are doing.

In an interview, documentary filmmaker Maureen Palmer explained where the trend to sexualize girls at younger and younger ages has come from:

I think it has come from a few places.   First: the marketing industry.   If you’re in grade 5, you idolize the kids in grade 8.  The marketing industry has shrewdly capitalized on this innate childhood yearning to “be like the big kids,” and there’s even an acronym for it: “KAGOY,” kids are getting older younger.   So marketers design clothing and toys that appeal to 11 year-olds whose big sisters are 16, who emulate Rihanna, Britney, Beyonce, Paris and the Kardashian sisters.   11 year-olds wear them, and soon savvy marketers see 9 year olds who want to emulate 11 year-olds, not only in how they dress, but also with their choice of dolls.  Case in point,  “the Monster High Dolls,” which Peggy Orenstein, the author of the bestseller, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, refers to as “Sesame Street-walkers.” These dolls even wear thong underwear and are outrageously sexualized.  They look like hookers. But they are huge sellers.    Think the other critical player here is the porn industry, where the demand for ever younger porn stars has escalated enormously.   Sites like jailbait.com get millions of hits.   And women in the porn industry who are actually over the age of 18 are now often portrayed in pigtails, baby dolls and completely shaved pubic areas. The younger looking, the better.

Sexualization is a problem, but I don't think that pressuring girls to wait until marriage is the solution. I think it is important to help our daughters transition from girlhood into confident, self-assured women in their own time, not at a pace dictated by the media. As I read in the description of a YouTube video on the Sexualization of Girls in the Media, "there's a difference between owning your sexuality and being sexualized." Peggy Orenstein adds to this:

Girls need to understand that sexuality is something that comes from within and connects a girl to herself and to her desire and to her needs and her wants and is ultimately empowering as she gets older whereas sexualisation is the performance of all that and it’s a performance of sexuality and a performance of sexual entitlement that actually disconnects them from that stronger external sense of self.

As parents, where do we start? I think we need to talk to our daughters and sons about the messages that the media is sending them about women, body image, and sex, much in the same way that we deconstruct the messages about fast food and other issues. I think encouraging and even forcing them to think about it through conversations at home, media literacy courses in schools or empowerment workshops or projects that require them to look critically at what is happening around them is essential. The YWCA in Montreal has a guide to early sexualization for parents of preteen girls covering everything from body image to fuck friends to pornography. These are starting points, but they are not a solution.

Both our boys and our girls need to be taught about the messages that the media is sending to girls and need to understand the damage that it does. They need to know the consequences, when they choose to take take and send that nude picture to the guy they like. They need to know the consequences, when they think about forwarding that nude picture to their ten best friends. They need to understand the consequences when they offer blow jobs for money. They need to understand the consequences when they pay for blow jobs. They need to understand this and so much more and teaching them that will only be that much harder if we encourage or allow unchecked influence of damaging toys, clothes and media when they are little.

How do you handle issues of sexualization of girls with your daughters? With your sons?

This is the second in a series of four posts looking critically at the way society, corporations and media influence the role girls and women are expected to play in society. The posts are written by me (Annie @ PhD in Parenting) and are generously sponsored by Pigtail Pals.

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Reader Comments (34)

This post is really great. You present a very measured response to societal problems that are becoming more serious as time wears on and our girls grow up. My oldest daughter was 35 pounds at two years old and wore toddler sized clothes from when she was about 18 months old. Skirts for toddlers at Children's Place and other similar stores are short (though they are at least "skorts") and rather revealing.

From a practical standpoint (an unsteady 18 month old blazing along and wiping out on her knees), that sort of fashion is straight up painful. But the message behind it is far more insidious. I always "layer" (add tights or leggings) things that strike me as far too grown up for such a young age, because despite the innocence and lack of sexuality to a child that age, it is impossible to know how other people (at the mall, at the playground, wherever) are looking at them. I was really excited the last time we hit Costco to find they have Levi's bermuda shorts in again--jean shorts long enough to cover the knees.

Anyway, as if it's not bad enough trying to avoid all the labelling (princess, diva, brat, etc.) you have to try and avoid clothes that are overly sexualized and/or revealing. It makes the "boy" section of stores far more appealing (and thankfully my daughter loves dinosaurs and dragons so it's easy for me to shop there). So much of marketing is geared toward young girls when it comes to clothes and accessories!

I would like to draw attention, however, as an anthropologist and a parent, to the way that our society seems to be utterly hypocritical. We can't see a bare breast used to feed a child, but we can see 95% of someone's body at the beach, swimming pool, or even in a tube top and mini-skirt at the mall. Violence and gore are acceptable even for young children, but heaven forbid they see any sort of sexual content on TV. It is really and truly bizarre and in many ways outright archaic. I do not think that the way we view young girls and young boys can be disconnected from broader societal "values" (or lack thereof). They are highly related and it is difficult to really unpack on a deeper level what these mixed messages say and do to our children.

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobbin Abernathy

You are SO right on with this!! My husband and I have worried about the influence the media has on our kids since we started having them 5+ years ago. Our solutions?

1. Almost NO tv. Not Disney with their peer-obsessed twinkly culture that looks so innocent, but isn't. No Nickelodeon which has the same problems. DH and I were really into TV when we were kids and we KNOW how much 'culture' comes in through that little box. So most of what our kids see are animal-based shows from PBS or CUBO. And even then, I cringe sometimes.

2. Neither of our kids are allowed to wear revealing clothing. This means that both our son & daughter wear full clothes in public. They both wear rash guards & board shorts or body suits when we swim. Their shorts always reach the knees & when our daughter wears dresses, she also wears little biker shorts under them. We're teaching them that their bodies are private and are to be respected.

3. We don't do sexualized dolls. Not that we ban them, we just don't 'do' them. We actually gravitate toward toys that either look like little girls (flat chested, approrpiate shoes & clothes, no make-up) when the toys are human at all (we have a TON of animals in our house!)

4. We make sure to show our kids people of all shapes, sizes & colors. When we work out, I choose videos that feature plus-sized participants. We focus on overall health, not how one looks or what size one is. Just today, I was talking to my DH (in front of the kids) about how strong this plus-sized yogi must be to do all the things she does. We celebrated her strength and her ability- not her looks.

5. As a doula, CLC & midwifery student, my kids know what their body is for (age appropriate as they ask questions). We talk about family, loving one another and commitment and always link that to sex & babies. As they grow, we will be more explicit in talking about how our society uses sex to sell things and how these messages distort our self-image.

Anyway, these are the things we are doing to try to sheild our kiddos from the messages that scream at them from all directions. It's not easy and we've had to make sacrifices (no cable, satellite, network TV), but it's been SO worth it. When my son has a crush on a plus-sized woman from 'Sweatin' to the Oldies' because she has neat hair, a nice smile and she's a good dancer I have hope that maybe we're doing something good...


March 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAngie

I appreciate the quote, "the girls is paralleled by a infantilization of adult women." The trend for completely hairless women bothers me for this reason. I have no clue what goes on the porn industry, but what you said is disturbing. :(

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Yeah, that is a totally bizarre trend!

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobbin Abernathy

I really agree that this is a societal issue. It is so offputting to see little toddlers and girls wearing "daddy's little porn star" tops and playing with popular 'Bratz' dolls that look like hookers. I feel it makes kids miss out on their childhood, I'm glad I had happy long childhood. It's something I appreciate as a grown up.

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterUrsula Ciller

Ever since I saw _This Movie Is Not Yet Rated_, I've been thinking a lot about how women's sexuality is portrayed in pop culture, and how it's mostly women as the objects of men's desire. I've also been thinking about how developing a better body image probably needs women and girls to consciously re-inhabit their bodies... through dance or other physical movement and celebrating all the things the body can do and the joy we can take in it. It strikes me that good sex and orgasms might also help women re-inhabit their bodies. But of course that kind of sexuality just isn't seen in most pop culture. My kids are still too young for this to make sense, but I hope I remember this line of thinking when they're in their teens, or approaching them...

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate Wilhelm

Fantastic post. This is something I know we have to think about but I have been reluctant to, it depresses me so. So far, we've tried to stay away from many clothing issues by the fact that I buy all the kids clothes, alone - without them, and I vet all the hand me downs or gifts they get. So, if they get branded clothing it mysteriously disappears, but we have not really received clothing that I considered too revealing... yet (our oldest is a 6yo girl). We also don't have TV so that removes a lot of the brainswashing, I mean marketing (I just watched a few clips of toddlers and tiaras to figure out what this was about and I felt sick to my stomach ick). But, I did notice my 6yo sometimes pulls one side of her shirt down so that it is below her shoulder, and I have yet to figure out where this comes from - but then again, it comes from everywhere. I figure it will only increase with time. We do talk about the importance of respecting one's body and one's dignity and maintaining a certain level of dressing out of the house (like top covered, shorts that are not too short, things like that), but I feel that I need to learn much more to navigate all this. I am hoping that the fact that we have quite open communication about what things are will help us along with this.

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarla

Yes, brilliantly expressed. Thank you.

My fascination is how to give our girls the ability to navigate the pressures that come at them from the moment someone coos over them, "What a pretty little girl" to the day they give up dying the grey hair and worrying about wrinkles. It is a fantastic thing to be a woman but it really helps to be strong - and have friends who support that inner strength.

Bin the Barbie, balance the pink sparkles with bold blue, and love our own bodies. It can seem insurmountable but every little thing we say and do can have a cumulative effect. This piece is another drop in a big pond, but let the ripples spread. Forward it, talk about it, act on it.

Let's all of us stop aspiring to the impossible.

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKim

What a timely post! I've been thinking about this for a while as my daughter is now 6 and I want her to stay a girl for as long as possible. I saw the CBC documentary and read "Cinderella Ate My Daughter". I don't have any particular insight as to what I do as I'm still figuring it out. I think staying away from cable TV and commercials is a big one. Gradual media education might be another where there is discussion about strong, powerful, intelligent women (role models) who are celebrated for just that (and not their looks)

What I do think is the possible key is that this media education/general discussion should not be just for the girls...but also for the BOYS! I may be particularly sensitive to this as I also have a son. Parents of boys should also be showing them strong, intelligent, powerful women role models/family members/friends/etc... and making a point of noticing/commenting on women's actions and not what they look like or what they're wearing.

Marketing still creeps in there, but hopefully if our children are shown another perspective at home, then their impressions won't be as clouded.

I can't remember where I read the following, but I like it and remind myself to use it:
"Instead of commenting on what a girl is wearing (which is sooooooo common)- ask her what she's reading or what her favourite story is."

I look forward to reading what others are doing in this area of parenting.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDara

This is the stuff of nightmares for me. I have two daughters, one 2 and the other 4. I'm very much the parent that has her kids in play clothes (leggings, tee shirts, sweatshirts, jeans) rather then 'outfits' of skirts etc, even at birthday parties. They are often the only girls not dressed up in those outfits at birthday parties which causes other parents to give me side eye like I should have dressed them up differently. The only dolls they have are baby dolls and jessie (cowgirl from toy story) and the rest are cars, puzzles, building things, art etc. My girls are still very interested in 'dress up' and they like to wear dresses and pretty shoes etc but we keep that stuff at home. They wear their pretty dresses at home with their shoes that grandma buys them but when it's time to go we change into real clothes that let them run around carefree without worrying how to sit or walk. Bathing suites are modest too for swimming lessons and I prefer the rash guard for beach and pools in the summer. The entire thing just makes me so uncomfortable and afraid for my girls, especially that vogue picture. I see how they respond when they catch a glimps of 'princess' or tweens on these disney shows and it's of awe and admiration. That worries me. They are perfect how they are right now, I don't want them to be older then they should be.

My mom recently called me a hypocrite when I told her 'NO BARBIES' and she got them those dolls anyways (which I let them play with for a bit and when they got distracted by something else I got rid of them). She reminded me that I loved those dolls growing up and played for hours and hours. And I do remember that, I loved those dolls but I also remember they were very sexualized even to my young mind.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercristina

How frightening this article was, and all of the accompanying videos. The crotchless panties?

Speaking of crotchless panties... you barely touched on the porn aspect, but the availability of porn is SO much greater now - it's free and accessable at any time, anywhere, anything you want to see; and I can't remember the last time I saw mainstream porno where the woman had pubic hair or where *her* pleasure was emphasized. It's all very male-dominated, female submissive (and infantalized); as a standard for young males to see, it's frightening. It's far different and FAR more accessible than static pictures in Playboy or Hustler that our generation & previous may have been exposed to. I think it's a big issue affecting teens.

But what's the answer?

Censorship? Homeschooling? Certainly we can't sheild our kids from everything. But we can craft our childrens' early environment. We can talk to them about what they DO see, and what it means, and how it feels. We can give them the tools to be strong in themselves, confident, know what's right and what's not, and to listen to that gut instinct when something doesn't feel right to speak up. We can keep our kids safe and protected WHILE giving them tools so that once they are out on their own, they have a wealth of information and knowledge and confidence to make the best decisions when we can't "protect" them anymore.

For us, this means right now, keeping television to a bare minimum; and what we watch is viewed through Netflix, so, no commercials. I don't subscribe to fashion magazines. I don't buy my children commercialized/licensed clothing. We talk about inappropriate clothing for children & adults when we see it (obviously, what's inappropriate varies from person to person, so I just say what I feel). I don't wear makeup (only on special occasions, and then only sparingly), and I don't buy make-up for my children. We talk about the importance of body autonomy - and we practice it through allowing our children to say no to US - even when it's something WE would like them to do (like brushing their hair, for example), or honoring their outlay of emotions via temper tantrum even when it isn't convenient for us. We encourage them to speak up when they don't like something. We give them words like, "you may NOT touch me" or "I do NOT like the way you talked to me". We give them correct words for their own anatomy, and talk about sex and bodily functions with openness and naturalness. Sex is PART of our humanity. It's only become crazy like it is because people are afraid of it, and shamed by it, and often when they DO encounter sex, it's via the type of male-dominated porn I mentioned above or through over-sexed idealized images in advertising or sex-ed classes that teach "abstinence-only" or parents who are scared and embarrassed to talk to them about sex or say "sex is only for marriage" and leave it at that, crossing their fingers & hoping for the best.

Sorry I've written a blog post here in response. ;)
I'm really enjoying this series of posts by you Annie; frightening but eye-opening. Giving lots of parents lots to think about in terms of our own comfort levels with sex and how we talk about it, and what we do in our own lives to teach - even when we don't think we're teaching.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

Right now my daughter is 2.5, and so I obviously have a lot of control over what she sees. We don't have cable in our house, and she occasionally watches Caillou and Sesame Street on DVD. I'm even careful about the whole "princess/pink" thing - we have some dress-up clothes, but I have supplied her with other toys that are also educational and fun. The scary time will be when she gets into school, and I no longer have control over what she sees/hears from friends.

I think dialogue is key - it's the only thing we DO have control over. If I continue to help my daughter recognize and think critically about some of the underlying messages she receives from the media, then my hope is that she will grow up to be confident in her sexuality. I'm not expecting that things will be perfect (or that she won't make mistakes), but I'm hoping that an "open and honest" policy in our household will help.

My mother never talked to us about these things - we got the typical sex ed talk once or twice, but there was never an ongoing dialogue about what it means to: dress provocatively, show a lot of skin, feel sexualized as a girl/teenager etc. And I know I hid some major things from her just because there wasn't an open door policy on these issues. And I certainly regret a lot of my behaviour and actions as a teenager. I'm hoping that by keeping myself educated on the latest "trends" (e.g. fuck friends), I might be able to bring up these topics with my daughter without judgement or embarrassment.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMisty Pratt

Great post Annie! I have 2 daughters who are 3 and almost 2. This issue is soooo important to me.

I remember the year, actually the day, when looking "sexy" became important to me at 11 years old. Before that, I ran in the fields of wildflowers in cut-off jeans and t-shirts. Then I went clothes shopping before I began 6th grade with a neighbor friend. We both tried on and bought bodysuits (skin tight leotard-like shirts.) She said "wow, you look sexy!" And then I thought that was my style goal for a few years. It was sad. However, looking back, I am so glad I was 11 and not 5 when I first thought about that.

I allow my girls to wear what they like at home- which includes way too many layers at times and nothing at all at times. However, when we go out, I prefer them to wear playclothes that they can climb in, run in, and enjoy life in.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMinneapolis Mom

Neufeld and Mate's book "Hold onto your kids" is great for addressing this stuff. They talk about the problems with peer-orientation and how to combat it. They see the healthy societies of intact village cultures where all generations socialize together as what is normal for humans, and suggest lots of ways in which we can carry on connecting to our kids and helping them stay oriented to our values until they find their own maturity. It's an important point that they make I think: becoming peer oriented leads to flight from vulnerability, precocious sexual acting-out, aggression, but most important makes it harder for kids to genuinely learn and gorw. I think following their guidance gives kids the chance to grow up with healthy attachments so they actually get to develop at their own pace.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlice Y.

I think the romper is cute. I don't know that I'd buy it in white because my daughter tends to get filthy when playing outside. And I like rompers for her because she can hang upside down on the monkey bars without exposing her belly. Not appropriate for, say, church, but fine for summer playtime.

As for the rest of it-ugh. Crotchless panties? Seriously?

We don't have cable and that is one of the biggest things I think people can do, is keeping their children away from the crappy misogynistic TV out there. I'm currently reading "Reality Bites Back" which is about how reality TV enforces and perpetuates harmful stereotypes. A fascinating read.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

I agree with the open and honest policy. I got mixed messages growing up ("Dress pretty but that's too slutty!"; You should care what people think of you vs. who cares what that girl says about you!) and I really could have used an open discussion that just laid it out for me to let me navigate it myself and make my own decisions.

The suggestions from everyone about keeping an ongoing dialogue, deconstructing media messages, and encouraging self-awareness seem reasonable because they appear to be empowering while still scaffolding decision-making.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commentershasta

Great post. Something that can be missing in this discussion though is how to give girls a positive image of their own sexuality, rather than just trying to resist the negative ones. Sometimes I worry that girls might get the (inaccurate) impression that the only choice is between the dominant message about sexuality, and a kind of old-fogey prudishness. I want both my daughter and son to learn that their sexuality is actually a great and empowering thing, when exercised freely and in the right context. I guess I am just expanding on the distinction between sexuality and sexualization. My children are very young but I am thinking I may need to start building a library of feminist erotica.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPatricia

Fab post Annie...I have 2 girls..15 and 3...& from day 1 I have always talked to my daughters about how to dress like POWER and CONFIDENCE ...
Not an easy task when all the other young women my daughter is around wear clothes that are barely there...
So far so good...she is all about her mid section being covered...her shorts being NOY too short...no push up bras and she hates the thought of high heels...I must admit I hope she changes her feelings on the high heels..all in good time...

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDee Brun

This a fantastic post. It's so pervasive that as parents we almost have to have our heads on swivels to catch all the negativity. Far simpler to teach them self-respect, respect for others, pride, and confidence. I have a 7 year old girl and a 12 year old boy and I want them both to grow up understanding these things.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKat

Thanks for the book recommendation, Kayris. I'll check it out.

I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about TV. While I don't like them getting bad messages there, I do think that watching some of it together gives us an opportunity to discuss it in the family environment. I feel like they are going to get those same messages from other places when we may not be around to engage with our kids.

But I'll put that book on my list. I'd love to read more about it.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Annie - awesome post! I saw the CBC Documentary and have been telling everyone about it. As a mom of 3 kids, 6 and under, and 2 are girls, I was shocked by a lot of what was presented in the doc and then felt crazy naive for being shocked. Kids ARE getting older at a younger age and it's time we took a look at WHY and took a stand in our own households to help stem it at the source.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter@momstownca Ann-Marie

This issue is very disturbing to me. Many of the negative breastfeeding comments I come across every day are a symptom of this issue. As these kids become teens, they have great difficulty transitioning into sexually healthy adults. They have not been able to explore their own sexuality and bodies outside of a commercial context which is all about performance and objectification...generally for commodification, which makes it 1000x times worse. I'm very frightened for a generation where their minds have developed in a hypersexualized world, with little to counterbalance that onslaught.

I really believe this is the primary reason I see so much disgust and negativity towards breastfeeding from women aged 15-23. They cannot see their breasts as anything other than sexual objects, and worse than that, sexual objects that don't quite belong to them. In their minds, they confuse breastfeeding with incest and cannot move past it to the idea that breasts have a natural function--to feed babies.

Of course, this is actually the least of the problems created by they hypersexualization of our kids...but as its the work that I do, to me it seems a very clear example. I'm honestly frightened.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter@Wolf_Mommy

A thought-provoking article Annie. I used to use the Killing Us Softly series (documentary) in my Grade 11 media units all the time. The kids thought I was making the ad analysis all up until they watched it and started deconstructing ads on their own.

Having just had a baby girl after two boys, I'm also amazed at how each toy plastic, multicoloured toy seems to come in an all-pink version. Either I was blind to this before, or the proliferation has stepped up in the last 7 years.

I grew up in a Barbie-eschewing household, but also in one in which sex and sexuality was never discussed. I hope to do better by my children.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMandy G

Love the post! This is a definete problem in society. As a mom of three girls I can safely say that we (parents) influence our children the most. We do limit what they watch and read and monitor internet etc. But in the end I take responsibility for shaping my childrens views of what is appropriate dress and actions for their age. Recently my eldest daughter who is 13 years old wasn't wearing her new sunglasses, when I asked her why she said "daddy said they look like to much" He didn't really mean much by the comment but I was impressed with how much she cared about our opinion. I am glad that we have the ability to teach our young girls how to stay young. I never force my children to dress a certain way but when I lay out the reason why micro mini shorts might not be ok, my girls have always agreed with the reasoning. i think if you have an up front relationship with your children and teach them what sex and love is suppose to be like (instead of what the media portrays) they will respect your opinion and follow your lead. It's up to us to take an active roll in redifining sexuality. We can protect our youth!

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

Why? High heels are bad for your health. (posture, back pain, etc)

March 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMeags

It had never even occurred to me that Monster High dolls were sexual. I saw them on shelves and was stoked to see a more alternative model, scantily clad or not. I would have appreciated some darkness in my Barbie dolls, ya know? But then I like dolls as an adult and didn't really think about the fact that they're probably most popular with 8-year-olds.

I also feel like the Vogue thing is a little blown out of proportion. In the image that you showed, remove the styling and the pose doesn't seem risque at all. That is magazine for adults and it doesn't seem any different than a child appearing in a rated-R movie.

Toddlers in Tiaras and the like totally skeeve me out, as do the sexy clothes marketed to kids. There is a group of preteens who are family friends and who hang around and look up to me, and I am blown away by some of the stuff they wear! The things they are allowed to wear in public is miles worse than the clothes my mom forbid I even wear at home! The sad truth is that none of this shit would fly if parents would stand their ground and not cave to the marketing and their kids' whines... I know it isn't that easy. I don't really know who else to hold accountable though. I think it crosses a line to make clothing itself illegal. Bottom line, shoppers have power and nothing will stay on shelves unless it sells.

I don't think TV is neccesary as a parenting tool. If they happen to see something then we'll discuss it, but you can do that with books too, and I won't goout of my way to show them Jersey Shore so we can talk about it.

Here's another book I'm reading that discusses the increasing emphasis on appearance--The Beauty Bias by Deborah Rhode. She talks about how preference for attractive individuals is nothing new--it's seen in the natural world in birds and other animals--and while women suffer the most from marketing and such, it does affect men too. Gay men are statistically more likely than straight men to be unhappy with their appearance and gay men get cosmetic surgery more as well. And even GI Joe has become more and more muscular, if his measurements were applied to a normal height man, his chest would be 55 inches and his biceps would be 27. And interesting read so far.

March 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

I have a 13 year old daughter who in the last year or so has become obsessed with her image. I really didn't think it possible to look in a mirror that much. In that way she is nothing like me. She does wear short shorts. She has to wear a t-shirt with those. If she wears a tank top she wears shorts to her knees. She almost always wears a tank top because she doesn't want anyone to see the out line of her bra. She won't wear a white top for that very reason. She wants to wear what her friends wear, but so far she is pretty modest.

I too like the white romper. If my daugher was younger I would be on my way to Old Navy now. In fact I had a royal blue on just like it when I was a kid. And I couldn't be any more modest if I tried.

I watched Sext Up Kids and it made me very sad. When I went to high school I did learn things from other kids that at the time I would never had told my parents. It all seems so tame in comparison to what todays kids are learning. It both scares and angers me, for both of my kids.

March 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkaren

Great post! Will definitely be sharing....we need more parents to feel this way, and then take action with their own children and with the media/marketers that have let it get to this point.

March 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly Muench

Great article! I like your approach, using critical thinking with both girls and boys.

My son is 7, and I have been disturbed with how tween pop culture has infiltrated his desires at a much earlier age than it did mine. He was 3 or 4 when he started talking about Hannah Montana and High School Musical because one of his classmates (the most trashily dressed preschool girl I've seen in real life) was always talking about them. We do not get Disney Channel at home, but in a hotel he saw some of those programs, and now he wants to watch them every time we stay in a hotel! His father and I both find them unbearable, so our approach thus far has been scathing criticism and avoidance ("Ugh, I can't watch this tripe; I'm going to go over by the window and read!") but we're thinking this has been playing up the rebellion aspect and also leaving him without any parental guidance for what he's seen, so we'd do better to forbid his watching those shows at all.

By the end of kindergarten, he was learning lyrics to pop songs and wanting to listen to the pop station on the radio. Here again, there's an aesthetic issue: I think 90% of those songs are talentless and dreadful! But I am trying to listen with him, for limited amounts of time, and talk about what we hear and WHY I don't like some of the lyrics. For example, "I got passion in my pants and I ain't afraid to show it," was a line he was reciting mindlessly; I translated it, "I'm showing off my penis," and my son was appalled--"That's not polite!!" I pointed out that the whole song is about a guy who thinks he's better than others because he looks good. My son, who gets frequent compliments on his curly hair but usually is embarrassed about them, quickly agreed that this is not a nice attitude. The line, "No shoes, no shirt, and I still get serviced," has a meaning I don't want to explain to him at this age, but it also has another interpretation: "I don't have to follow the rules because I look so good."--also not kind, polite, prosocial behavior. I think that kind of conversation is helpful. I know my parents taught me a lot of critical thinking skills and good attitudes by discussing lyrics and things on TV.

I feel that our neighborhood kid culture--from what I've seen both through my son and visiting his school, and when I was a Girl Scout leader of girls through 6th grade--is very flexible and accepting of a lot of different ways to be. Even when I'm standing outside the school in the morning watching and overhearing the 8th graders interacting, it's clear that sexiness isn't a top priority. I'm relieved by that and hope it will support my son's development of healthy attitudes as he grows.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter'Becca

Great post! But I agree with Kayris; I don't find the romper objectionable. Historically, rompers have been considered ideal playtime clothes for kids regardless of gender, allowing for freedom of movement and comfort. Their skimpiness was, of course, not intended to be sexual, the same way that naked kids in a kiddie pool isn't sexual. I found an example from an old German magazine of some sort (although it only pictures girls): http://www.flickr.com/photos/32082400@N00/3026905269/.

I think the problem of rompers is that they've come back as a fad for grown women, on whom they are undeniably sexy: http://blog.gettyimages.com/2009/05/26/romper-room/#.T4RaaKsQsac. Now we can't put our kids in them without a comparison being made.

April 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCelia

So I came back to this post because today I took my kids to the toy store to use gift cards they got for Christmas. Not surprisingly, my 7 year old son went directly to the Star Wars Legos. And my daughter ended up with kid binoculars, a new box of markers, and.....a Lego Friends set. However, she ended up choosing the set that was a girl on a ATV collecting animals, after debating between that one and the set with the "invention room" that included beakers and other chemistry equipment.

Yes, some of the sets were fashion related or other "girl" activities, but I was pleasantly surprised to see science careers included in the options.

April 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

You had me nodding my head in agreement all the way til here;

"Sexualization is a problem, but I don’t think that pressuring girls to wait until marriage is the solution."

Why not?

"As I read in the description of a YouTube video on the Sexualization of Girls in the Media, “there’s a difference between owning your sexuality and being sexualized.” "

I'd say that while there's somewhat of a difference, it more of a thin, grey and blurry line.

Peggy Orenstein adds to this:

"Girls need to understand that sexuality is something that comes from within and connects a girl to herself and to her desire and to her needs and her wants and is ultimately empowering as she gets older..."

How exactly is sexuality "empowering"? Its natural, its good (when in proper context), but "empowering"? How?

I agree with most of what you wrote, probably 99.9%, but I think you overlook the fact that divorcing (pun intended) sexuality from its original natural function as genetic replication is in fact what has caused all of this current confusion and the blurring between sexuality and sexualization to beginwith.

And parents shouldn't feel any kind of odd way about emphasizing marriage to their kids. Shit. With all the "baby mama drama" this country got goin' on, some actual WIVES AND HUSBANDS (as opposed to just "baby mamas and baby daddies") is just what our culture needs.

As far as the worry about what kids watch on TV - take a hammer to the boob tube (there's that pun again), toss it in the trash, or donate it to the Salvation Army.

Seriously folks, there is just no excuse for anyone to have a TV in their home anymore.

PS: I know it was well intended but I think the following attitudes are also part of the problem;

Dee Brun March 21, 2012 at 7:06 pm

"Fab post Annie…I have 2 girls..15 and 3…& from day 1 I have always talked to my daughters about how to dress like POWER and CONFIDENCE "

... Dee, you talk to your kids about "how to dress like power and confidence"? How about humbleness, humility and modesty?

See, I know you're a well-intentioned good parent but I think our culture has made "pride and confidence" such huge memes and buzzwords without even thinking about their meaning, or why.
How is "pride" a good thing? Where is the line drawn between pride and arrogance? Confidence in what exactly? Why should someone "dress confidently"? Isn't confidence something that is gained after having ACHIEVED something of value? Such as setting a meaningful goal and reaching it? Why are we teaching our kids to be prideful and have (or dress!) confidently when they may not have done anything to be confident about?

It seems the Self Esteem Movement is on emphetamines or something.

Again, another commenter saying the same thing;

22 Kat March 21, 2012 at 7:24 pm

"This a fantastic post. It’s so pervasive that as parents we almost have to have our heads on swivels to catch all the negativity. Far simpler to teach them self-respect, respect for others, pride, and confidence. I have a 7 year old girl and a 12 year old boy and I want them both to grow up understanding these things."

.... So my question is: why is "pride" and "confidence" held in such high value to you two moms (and indeed MANY American parents)? Whatever happened to humbleness and modesty? While all parents love their kids and think they are special, at the end of the day none of us is a special snowflake, so why all the "pride"?

Can you not see that Toddlers and Tiaras is in itself a result of "pride" and "confidence"?

Maybe its time we teach our kids to take it down a notch or two and become HUMBLE.

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