Outfit Post: Abercrombie's tween bikini top controversy and me

When I was pregnant with my first child, my husband and I made a pact that we wouldn't learn the sex of our baby until he or she was born. Like many first time parents, we swore that we didn't care whether we were having a boy or a girl. "As long as it's a healthy baby, we'll be blessed!" we crowed.

Well, I was lying. Kinda. I really, really wanted a girl. I wanted a girl to dress in pink frilly clothes and coddle in a pink frilly nursery. I wanted to grow her hair out into teeny pigtails that would curl adorably at the ends. I wanted a girl to buy dolls for, to read Babysitter Club books with, to spoil with Barbies and stickers and a pink bicycle and Bonnie Bell lip gloss. I imagined afternoons shopping together, accompanying her during mommy-daughter manicures, and giggling with her over pre-teen crushes. My daughter and I would bond over such activities, and be best friends for life.

Imagine my delight when I did have a daughter. And imagine my shock when she turned out to be the consummate tomboy. Becky is ten years old and couldn't care less about Barbies and shopping and make-up. Her favorite books are those in the Captain Underpants series. And forget about make-up and manicures - she has to be nagged to brush her teeth.

However, the closer she gets to becoming a teenager, the more concerned I become about the pressure girls feel to mature before they're developmentally and emotionally ready. We live in a world where the rush to grow begins shortly after birth. You only have to glance at clothing and beauty products marketed to children to see proof. Pole-dancing kits have been available in the toy section of stores, Hooters Girl in Training t-shirts can be purchased for toddlers, and sequined bras and spa treatments are advertised at shops like Libby Lu.

However, products marketed to pre-adolescents can still shock. Abercrombie and Fitch Kids recently introduced padded bikini tops for children as young as eight, igniting controversy among parents and the media. Originally called the 'Ashley Push-Up Triangle Top' (the term push-up has since been dropped) the nylon and spandex garment features padded cups and a string-tied top. Part of the Abercrombie Kids summer collection, it retails for $19.50 and is sold separately from the matching bottoms.

When reading about this late last week, I immediately wondered how these tops made it into stores in the first place. The very idea of a padded swimsuit for tweens is disturbing in and of itself. Sadly, this is not the first time Abercrombie has marketed a controversial article of clothing targeted at pre-adolescents. A range of thongs bearing the words 'wink wink' and 'eye candy' sold by the retailer for the same age group in 2002 sparked a debate, but Abercrombie Kids refused to recall the line. The company said at the time: "The underwear for young girls was created with the intent to be lighthearted and cute. Any misrepresentation of that is purely in the eye of the beholder."

Not surprisingly, consumers and bloggers have had mixed reactions to what some consider a blatant attempt to sexualize young customers. Parents have flooded the ABC Facebook page with comments after a segment regarding the bikini aired on Good Morning America. Babble.com bloggers posted that the push up bra is, effectively, a sex tool, designed to push the breasts up and out, putting them front and center where they’re more accessible to the eye. In an interview with the UK publication The Daily Mail, parenting expert Dr. Janet Rose said "
If we continue to try to make our children value 'sexy', I shudder to think what damage we are doing to their future self-concepts and adult values."

However, a minority of parents are arguing that padded bikini tops are functional and far from titillating. One commenter on Jezebel mentioned that lightly padded swimsuit tops encouraged her to be more comfortable with her own developing body when she was a pre-teen. Others added that extra padding provides more coverage and helps prevent the see-though effect some swimsuits have. Argued a commenter, "Padding does not necessarily mean push up, and it also does not mean sexualization. Padding means that your nipples will not show through."

Having not seen the actual swimsuit in question, I am hesitant to offer an opinion regarding it. I have no idea whether the top is lightly padded for coverage, or heavily padded to enhance developing breasts. However, as a parent, I am aware of the need to distinguish the difference between healthy sexuality and sexualization. I talk to my daughter about what's appropriate to wear and what's not. And I try to set a healthy example of what appropriate dressing means. I believe it is my responsibility to monitor and discuss age-appropriate milestones, such as padded bikinis (and bras, for that matter) with Becky. I never want her to feel inadequate or ashamed of her body, and I hope frequent discussion between us will help her foster a healthy body image.

Now I put this to you: What do you think of retailers marketing padded bikinis and bras to tweens? Do you think tween padded tops are scintillating or vulgar, or do you see them as a innocent and functional tool for body acceptance? Do you believe it is solely the parents’ responsibility to monitor age-appropriate milestones, or does the retailer have a moral obligation to do so as well? 

Thrifted J Crew velvet blazer; thrifted gray Gap sweater; thrifted Loft shorts; Hue tights; thrifted Cole Hann booties; Forever 21 necklace; Anthropologie bag

And here's one of my beautiful girl before the daddy-daughter. That bow in her hair is an anomaly.


  1. You know, I dont know what to think. I mean I know that for me as a tween, I didn't have breasts to even enhance. In fact, I didn't even own a bra until eighth grade and didn't really have breasts till college. But I knew girls who had breasts in 5th grade who felt really uncomfortable bevause they did and a lot of this was because they suddenly felt at such a early age as if they were being sexualized by boys. Its frustrating to me that our society doesn't take a better stance on this as a whole. I used to work for limited too and was horrified sometimes at the clothing they wanted us to sell to little girls. I'm sorry but a six year old should not be wearing a mini skirt, shorts underneath it or not. I think a lot of parents get caught up in thinking oh I would love this so it will be cute on my daughter and forget to think about the age of their child.

    Sadly I feel like it does fall to parents to monitor this and to talk to their children about what is appropriate attire and why... Because our society does not seem to value modesty anymore.

  2. After reading your post, I had to take some time to calm down and think about how I'm going to respond. First of all, I don't have any children yet and as for my age: turning 30 this year. So I'm not exactly au courrant with childrens' and tweens' fashion.
    But still, I am shocked beyond words to hear that padded bras and thongs are making their way into their wardrobes. These items are of a highly sexual nature. I think we as women fought long and hard to not be viewed solely as sexual objects only to find the same dogma to be imposed on our children.
    And all that BS about padding providing modesty or a means of becoming comfortable in one's body raised my blood pressure into dangerous heights. I vividly remember my childhood. I was an early bloomer: I got my period when I was 9, a good three years before any of my peers and by the time I was 13, I was already wearing bras in a B cup. These were simple seamed unlined bras with a bit of lace. Yes there were times when I felt awkward in my body and yes I was teased because of my breasts. My mum taught me to be proud to be a woman, to be proud of my body and myself. And she did an excellent job, without the help of push up bras!
    Your daughter is just lovely. And since this is a post on age appropriate dressing: that's exactly how I imagine a girl from the age of 7-12 should be dressed.

  3. I think if it's just lining to help with coverage, that's fine. But it sounds like it isn't. Everything is so sexualized now and these companies know that sex sells, even though they should know what's appropriate for certain age groups.

    I appreciate how you talk with your daughter about what's appropriate and not and it seems like you lead by example which is very refreshing!

    Excellently written post. Kudos to you!

  4. It's interesting because "tween" culture didn't really exist until recently. I'm in my late twenties, and when I was 10, I considered myself more of a "kid" than a budding adolescent. The other day, I looked at some of the books that I read as a "tween," like Beverly Cleary's Ramona books or the Baby Sitter's club series, and it's amazing to see how innocent those books are compared to some of the things today's tweens enjoy. (Miley, Twilight, etc.) Today's culture is a lot "sexier" than anything Ramona or Beezus encountered.

  5. I take issue with Abercrombie and their marketing...have for years. Which is why I don't shop there. I took a group of young teens from my youth group to the mall one Sunday afternoon. We stopped at Abercrombie, to be expected. After a brief browse, I found a couple of the girls paging through an Abercrombie catalog, so I joined them. Seeing their method of advertising in that catalog sent me over the edge! They were not selling clothes, but pornography! Marketed to young teenagers! Oh...I could go on. But it's no surprise to me that Abercrombie Kids is similar in their approach to 'style'. It's gross to me.

  6. I'll take the opposing argument here for argument's sake.

    Our entire existence is based around sex. Literally and emotionally. EVERYTHING sells better when sexualized, because that is what we are drawn to as animal humans.

    In blind psychology tests, the most staunchly-against-such-advertising-types will physically respond (heart rate/pupil dilation) to hints of sexuality.
    So perhaps making a big deal out of stuff like this is the problem and exacerbates the situation?

    Maybe we should just accept that sexy is what we are all attracted to and there is no reason to shelter children from this? And instead teach children/people to be strong enough to know what is right for them and what type of behavior crosses the line (i.e how to ID predators/creeps from the rest of the sexy-turns-me-on-and-that-is-normal/okay masses)?

    Tweens just want to be grown up. A big part of "grown up" means embracing your identity as a sexual adult. Parents want kids to stay kids as long as they can, but kids just want to grow up, ya know?


  7. Clearly, since the words were included in the original name, the bikini top was intended to be a push-up. Calling it by another name doesn't change the fact. Ultimately, I think it is the responsibility of mothers to make wise choices for their children and lead them in the right direction, and I commend you for doing so. These mothers out there who claim that the padding is to prevent the top from being see threw are disillusioned. Anything with the words "push-up" is intended to do just that.

  8. It's hard to say whether the bikini top is a problem without seeing it. I feel that padding can be helpful to hiding "nipping" etc. I am actually more shocked and appalled that 8 year olds are being encouraged to wear thongs! Why do they need to worry about their underwear lines showing !?!?

  9. Excellent post! I'm a mom of 4 kids, oldest will be 10 this year (semi-tomboy too!). Padded bikinis and thongs for the tween ages is just wrong. Yes it is totally sexualizing our children. Obviously these companies are just in it for the buck. And yes, it is completely and 100% up to parents to navigate our kids through today's valueless and moral-free society.

    You struck a chord with me, can ya tell? :)
    Thanks for a great blog!

  10. I always like your writing...
    That aside, I find this hyper sexualization of young kids scary. I haven't seen the bikini so it's hard to pass judgement but I do find that Abercrombie and Fitch as a whole is marketed as a sexy company... so I doubt that the bikini was made padded to keep nipples covered.
    I know there is room for a lot of discussion and the definition of what is a young girl as opposed to a young woman can be tricky because of maturity levels and so on but I just wish we would keep our kids as kids. Let them enjoy being young and having fun before every everything is sexualized. I learned about sex at a young age but being sexy or acting sexy was not something I was exposed to until later. And I appreciate that now. Seeing my nieces play computer games with these tiny, curvy figures wearing tube tops barely hanging on their chests makes me sad...

  11. I think just the fact that they marketed it as a "push up" in the first place says it all. If it was meant for more coverage, ha, then it would have been called something different.
    This totally disturbs me, but makes me sad as well.

  12. I think that it is appalling. Children are not even allowed to be kids before they have to be sexy. It disturbs me and breaks my heart...

    On the up side I like your cloudy outfit with the pop of peach purse!

  13. First of all...your daughter is adorable!

    Secondly, this is the first I've heard of the "padded bra for teens" and the controvery. But I am clutching my pearls as I type. WHATTTTT!!!

    My question is how did it get past the PR people at Abercombie? Past the marketing team? Past the damn mailman!?!?

    I think it sends yet another message to teens like you said that growing up fast is the only way to go!

    I'm a teacher and I see it everyday. My students tell ME about Jersey Shore because I refuse to watch it because it is so VULGAR! #grandmotherspeaking

  14. So I guess I'll be the shallow one and comment on your outfit rather than the pre-teen push-up controversy.

    I grabbed a pair of shorts of about the same length as yours recently at The Limited on an amazing sale; they're camel and cuffed and I thought they'd look wonderful with some of my fall staples I'd been recycling as the late winter weather edged toward spring. I discovered, much to my chagrin, that they didn't really work with much of anything I owned.

    Seeing how you rocked these shorts made me realize what I was missing. I think it's your blazer that really brings this together, and specifically the length. Most of my blazers (and other outerwear options like cardigans, for that matter) are cropped, a style I like because it accentuates my otherwise invisible waist. It really didn't work with the shorts though. I need to see if I can dig up a good boyfriend blazer on my next thrifting trip!

  15. I don't have children, and maybe for that reason, I haven't been exposed to these creepy items like *padded bikinis* for tweens, but my overwhelming thought is that its inappropriate for certain. I vote no to sexually aggressive clothing for toddlers and 12 year olds...good Lord!

    As for your daughter...she's adorable, and I myself was a serious tomboy as a young girl too. I rode dirt bikes and horses, hated dolls and ONLY wore plaid/checked shirts and jeans for an alarming period of about two years, much to my mother's dismay! Nobody could have EVER guessed that one day I would go glam and become a fashion fanatic. But, I think the very best thing is a little bit girly and a little bit tomboy all rolled into one, and I can see that in your daughter...good for her! As for me...I'm still a cowgirl to the very core. :-)


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