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.