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How sexualization hurts children

In 2002, Abercrombie and Fitch was sharply criticized for a line of thong underwear sold in children’s sizes featuring the words “wink wink” and “eye candy” printed on them. The most recent controversy is for a “push up” style bikini top marketed for girls as young as 7. Credit:

Thongs and push-up bikini tops for 8-year-olds?

By: Angela Romano, Co-Editor-in-Chief

On my way back from dropping off my 15-year-old cousin at hockey practice, my 8-year-old cousin Wil sat in the back seat playing games on his iPod Touch. The ride was mostly silent except for the faint sound of the radio playing in the background.

Wil suddenly asked me to turn up the music because he “loved” the song playing. He started singing along. “Bottoms up, bottoms up, ey, what’s in ya cup? Got a couple bottles, but a couple ain’t enough. Girl, you know I love the way you shake it in them jeans…It’s jam packed, a million girls and I ain’t tryin’ to lead em. We drunk so let me be your alcohol hero,” he sang.

Did my little cousin just recite the words to a song called “Bottoms Up” talking about getting drunk and having sex with several women in the club? I suddenly got flashbacks to my childhood. When I was in the third grade, I was watching Rugrats, listening to Hanson and playing with Beanie Babies; I was definitely not listening to songs about getting drunk and grinding on different men. I turned the radio off to his dismay and told him to go back to playing his game, slightly comforted that it was Ice Age-themed.

In the weeks following this incident, my mind was still spinning as to why a third-grader knew these lyrics. I didn’t dare ask him if he knew what the lyrics meant because I was afraid of his answer. He had also asked me if I’d seen a YouTube video titled, “Bed Intruder Song”, which is about a young man theatrically explaining his sister’s ordeal with an intruder trying to rape her. Wil simply said, “That rape video is hilarious.” I had seen the video after several posts on my Facebook wall and was able to find humor, but I understand what rape is and what that means. Does my cousin know what rape means? I doubt it. He was throwing around the word “rapist” like it was something you say in everyday conversation. My anger was towards my aunt and uncle, but they are good parents who try to teach their children right and wrong. Trying to keep children away from the media’s
influence is impossible.

The bottom line is that children are starting to become victims. Children nowadays are exposed to many adult and mature subjects.
Take for instance the recent Abercrombie and Fitch incident. The company is not new to controversy and is known for pushing the envelope to sell clothing using sexually suggestive ads, but their latest marketing campaign is getting a lot of flak. Abercrombie and Fitch recently unveiled a new item in their Abercrombie Kids catalogue: padded bikini tops for girls as young as 7 and 8. The tops were originally labeled “push-up,” but have since been re-branded as “triangle tops” after public outcry over the company’s attempt to cash in on the
sexualization of children.

The only response from the company has been to re-name the tops. Seriously? Abercrombie and Fitch is missing the point.
“Shame on you for sexualizing small children,” a commentator on Abercrombie’s Web site writes. “In a world where parents work hard to keep their children safe, you go and make little girls look like they have breasts? Perverts.”

This is not the first time the company has drawn fire for sexualizing tweens. In 2002, the company released thongs with sayings like “eye candy” and “wink wink.”

“They shouldn’t be worrying about how their body looks,” Wheelock College professor Gail Dines said. “This kind of thing is actually dangerous. It gets girls to think about themselves in sexual ways before they are even developed. It sends out signals to men that young girls are sexy.”

The behavior critics are talking about is reflected in a March 8 New York Times article. According to the story, an 11-year-old girl was gang raped inside an abandoned trailer in Cleveland, Texas, by 18 males, ranging from middle-school age to 27.

Residents said the event all but destroyed their small town community. Residents were quoted saying the girl dressed older than she was and wore makeup as someone in her 20s would. That must mean it’s OK to assault someone if it looks like he or she is of age. The girl apparently hung out with teenage boys at the playground. The temptation clearly was too much for them, and the maturely dressed victim wanted it anyway, right?
Abercrombie and Fitch should learn a lesson. It’s one thing to market sex to teens; sex has been marketed to teenagers in both subtle and overt means for decades. There’s a line, however, where questionable marketing turns dangerous. That line is well above the age of 8. The fact that such a product is so ethically despicable – borderline pedophilia– makes it all the more controversial.

Thinking back to the incident with my cousin Wil, I’ve realized that his innocence is slowly diminishing and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. For instance, Lady Gaga has 9 million followers on Twitter, the most followed person in the world. President Obama pails in comparison with 7 million.

Scary right?

Her new single “Alejandro,” features her dressed in a nun’s habit simulating sex and swallowing a rosary as semi-nude male dances perform homosexual acts. Her song was No.1 on iTunes and continues to play on almost every popular radio station a dozen times each day. Lady Gaga, a sex symbol, may be the most popular pop culture icon in the world right now, and how do you keep someone like that from a child when she is all over the media?


2 responses »

  1. It is so easy to blame media and advertising for sexualising children, however, I truly believe that parents and sensible people are the ones who control what children see or hear through the media. Therefore, if we want to nip child sexualisation in the bud, it takes a lot of sensibility and staying firm when it comes to protecting childhood.

  2. I remember singing John Cougar’s “Hurt so Good when I was in elementary school and giggling at the meaning. This was 30 years ago and before everyone went into panic mode. Remember the “Grumpy Old Man” skit w/ Dana Carvey, that’s how the entire world sounds.


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