Girls Are Not Candies. Tweens Are Not Teens. Thongs Are Not Undies.

May 4, 2010 A few years back I commented on the post Confessions of a Lingerie Lover by Fae Goodman on Alternet and copped to being “one and the same.”

Fae uncorked a doozy of a conversation that brought out the best/worst in femme debates as she pithily contrasted the difference between adult media messages and ‘costuming’ cues and the marketer’s desire to target adolescents, salivating with ‘aspirational’ wannabe merchandising and “KGOY’ effect (kids getting older younger). As the author summed in her subhead,

“I’m all for sex appeal, but using butts as billboards is disturbing among adult women — and downright scary in prepubescent girls….Are ‘extreme low-rise v-string’ panties the gateway drug to peekaboo thongs and push-up bustiers, or are they something even more disturbing? Regardless of what VS considers its target audience, the Pink line just may be the Joe Camel of early adolescent sexuality — an adult industry using childlike imagery to drum up interest.”

Heartily agreed, way back in 2006 (the very first days of our pre-launch fledgling Shaping Youth org) and responded with this diatribe on toxic ambient marketing and this one on the teen/tween unrealistic body image scene. Now, fast forward to 2010 with amped up social norms of commodification of kids, sexualized media and marketing at every turn, (beyond Victoria’s Secret/LimitedToo Candies and Kohls have now taken it mainstream) and the no-holds barred raunch of American Apparel encouraging kids to plaster their backsides on the web…

Wait, no, American Apparel is not just ‘encouraging’…They’re baiting, rewarding, incentivizing, and running a mass market freakin’ contest with echoing reverb in merchandising in malls that ‘tie-in’ their branding to evoke similar themes. Example?

Locally in our mall, Victoria’s Secret ‘pink’ line of panties is currently propped with predominant mannequins touting, “take a picture it lasts longer” and other bottom-feeder bait for teens to jump on into the online judgment calls for best buttocks & babe-alicious attention-seeking fame monster provocateurs.

Corporate pedophilia, anyone? So sexy so soon cues to kids?

At the very inception of Shaping Youth, I had people ask me, “what got you started down this path?” And this thong/preteen topic sums it nicely, as I wrote to that Alternet author way back then,

“ You’ve hit a nationwide nerve that I’m addressing this very nanosecond.

I’m writing/producing a series of internet film shorts, “Body Blitz: Media, Shaping Youth” because we’re reaching a tipping point of toxicity with body image messaging to kids. (so thanks for unveiling my film premise!)

…”These kids are getting hammered from every media channel imaginable leaving scars that have only BEGUN to seep to the surface. It’s unnerving. And it’s pathetically sad.

…Corporate profits are going ‘ka-ching’ while little kids’ psyches are going ‘ka-boom.’ When I finish my work, you’ll be able to see for yourself what’s literally ‘coming out of the mouths of babes’ as childhood innocence is hijacked for profit.

What’s inspired this mini-revolution of mine?

My 10-year old recoils at the mall mannequins in full crotch-spreading poses, sighing, “ugh. Why do they have to DO that, mom?” Dollars, dearest.

It’s called “age compression” in ad speak, for the ‘pink’ tween eyeing the VS displays in thong-n-garter, buxom/bondage-splendor is the ‘growth opportunity’ in marketing lingo for VS wannabes.

Every week I continue to document my own little shop of horrors: “Juicy” and “Luscious” plastered on girls backsides and chests, lacy, racy g-strings marketed to tweens, even ol’ Snoopy’s hawking teeny weeny panties at LimitedToo.

Provocative sayings like “Sweet Spot” and “Love Me” have always been crass to me, but somehow in size 6X it merits a resounding Whoa, this is NOT okay.

“Who’s buying it?” Sometimes it’s hipster parents who whip out their wallets & roll their eyes with “it’s no big deal, get over yourself” defiance.

Other times it’s aspirational adults themselves longing for the ‘sexy=happy’ formula that eluded THEM. And often it’s that bulging demographic of 25 million tweens with an allowance and an attitude.

But the bottom line (pardon the pun) is that our pop culture is desensitizing, sexualizing, and objectifying these tiny beings, creating insecurities in wee ones that were NOT ever there before. And I’m talking girls AND boys.

There’s $7 billion a year spent in tween grooming products alone. Big bucks to be mined for corporate greed. But at what price? And what’s next, thongs for babies?

We’re all still playing the blame game of whether responsibility rests with corporate profiteering or parental impotence. It’s BOTH. We need responsibility from all parties at all levels.

We can endlessly debate “is it the parent buying it or the marketer producing it?” but I’d rather focus on fixing it…If you’d like to lend a hand, send me a note to Shaping Youth dot org, (or .com or .net too; I bought them all to launch this venture. After all, I DO know how to brand.)”

And there you have it…the seedling of an idea prompted by my own K-5 playground duty and 10 year old tween-at-the-time.

Don’t miss this Slate piece Lolita’s Closet (visual credit at left) to give you an idea of how long this tramp camp has been brewing…AND, one more flashback/flash forward to drive this point home in terms of how it’s all landing in then/now reverb:

My then 10-year old tween who once disdained ‘butt floss’ and rolled her eyes when a gal pal of mine went against my wishes and bought her teeny weeny bikini-wear from LimitedToo to gift her for her birthday (as if she were ‘deprived’ of same by having ‘a mom like me’) now at 15 reports that thongs are apparently “comfortable and don’t show panty lines so you don’t get teased”….(no, I don’t/won’t buy them, and yes, I did find one in her wash, which is a whole different dialog)

Do you see what I’m saying in terms of social norming and impact on even the most media literate, marketing savvy, conscious consumers out there?

It still boils down to what’s being served up with peer to peer dynamics, developmental angst, pop culture media and fashion G-string overload of  ‘cool/sexy cues’ plus good ol’ “testing 1-2-3″ defiance in terms of edgy personas and perceptions of parental puppet pushback. (not to mention going ‘underground’ when a teen feels judged or ashamed of a personal decision) Now, c’mon…

Do you think marketers don’t know this? Puhllleeeeze. It was as predictable as an atomic clock calibrating, calculating, and setting the hands of time to a whole new zone.

As a parent, we needn’t OVER-react, but instead must tease out the whys and hows and nuanced complexities of coming of age in the 21st century with kids’emerging sexuality and emotional triggers at tender mid-teen ages and stages…BUT:

Fergawdsakes, we have the RIGHT to have this conversation with our own girls and make our own familial decisions ALONE without being undermined by marketers hawking thongs to 8-12 year olds dialing down the demographic to make ’10 the new 15?’ And as this BlogHer mama Jennifer asked way back in 2006 too, “If 10 is the new 15, when do our children get to be children?” It’s mind-boggling in its absurdity, so…

For Girls Rights Week I’d like to add:

Girls have the RIGHT to a childhood…

…Without being perceived as ‘little women’ and mini-adults.

Girls have a right …to be comfortable in their bodies without being objectified, sold a bill of goods with hottie hype and Bomchickawawa slithering Axe women depicting a narrowcast view of “what every boy desires”…

Girls have a right to pushback, act up and ‘girlcott’ advertisers like American Apparel who consistently pollute the landscape of the psyche by urging self-exploitation with perceived consensual permission, muddying participatory waters even further.

Girls have a right to make noise, be heard, and advocate for changes in media and marketing that empower girls rather than consume them…

In short, did we see this overt sexualization of ‘tweens’ coming long ago? Yes, indeedy.

Did we growl and snarl? Yes, we did…

But that mother bear voice is finally getting louder with the momentum of like-minded mamas being poked out of sleepy hibernation as their own children come of age into the pop culture zeitgeist of appearance cues, hottie-hype and acceleration of childhood.

Moreover, the cubs themselves are starting to bear their teeth and take a few swipes at the advertising being sold to them…

One such mama bear is championing change with her entire tee-shirt company about ‘Redefining Girly’ called Pigtail Pals.

Melissa Wardy not only let out a roar when she saw the Candies and Kohl’s juxtaposition of tween thongs and training bras a mere 18 inches apart, drawing a correlation to ‘peanut butter and jelly’ pairings that just should NOT go together, she is taking on the whole fuzzy wuzzy messaging of Britney Spears stumping for tween trou and sounding off with a crusade to ask other moms what they think…(read the comments, yowza!)

Here’s Melissa’s first post about G-strings for preteens, her second post with the corporate reply from Candies and her helpful third list of ‘vocabulary’ for dealing with sexualization shenanigans…

Mark my words, Candies and Kohls has a formidable adversary in this Pigtail Pal…In today’s post it’s self-evident that mama bear Melissa is NOT backing down…She’s gnashing, growling and rearing up to take on the corporate giants…advocating to whack ‘em in the pocket book just as we called for with the American Apparel campaign…You go, girl!

Meanwhile, the backlash is brewin’ big time over the commodification of kids as GIRLS RIGHTS turn into street theater, as seen in these photos of About-Face actionistas in San Francisco calling attention to end the American Apparel sexploitation. Yep, they spent Saturday raising awareness (and eyebrows) directly in front of their flagship stores…

Girls have the right to have their voices heard, via media…protestsgirlcotts and more. This party’s just gettin’ started. Woohoo the backlash has indeed begun.

Wanna Sound Off About Candies/Kohls & Thongs for Tweens?

Resources for Taking Action from Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals:

Candie’s: Cory Cole email: [email protected]

Kohl’s: Jessica Swearingen 262-704-9185, Assistant Manager of Correspondence

Kohl’s Customer Service: [email protected]

Melissa’s full feature will run as a guest post on Shaping Youth tomorrow.

One of my favorite parts? (yes, this is a teaser, as they say in the industry!) The wise advice and balanced point of view coming from a stripper. Yep. you heard that right. “A house mom at a local strip club” (in Wisconsin)

Stay tuned…for G-string health news with a pediatrician, Melissa’s mama bear roar, and Amber’s outlook which is decidedly logical (and a tad surreal) As for Kohl’s?

“Kohl’s will continue to be the exclusive retailer for Candie’s. Bottom line, it sells.” -Kohl’s Rep

Shaping Youth’s Highly Recommended Reads

So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids Diane E. Levin and Jean Kilbourne

Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes (Packaging Boyhood, Oct 2009;  S.Y. Board Advisors)
Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown

Sexual Teens, Sexual Media: Investigating Media’s Influence on Adolescent Sexuality Jane Brown et al (Eds)

APA Task Force on the Early Sexualization of Children (full 72pp pdf)

SexTech: ISIS-Inc. Conference/Resources

Girls Shape the Future: Study/Girls Inc: Early Predictors of Girls’ Adolescent Sexual Activity (summary: 8 pp pdf)

Comments

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Melissa Wardy, Melissa Wardy, Melissa Wardy, Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., Logan Levkoff, Ph.D. and others. Logan Levkoff, Ph.D. said: RT @ShapingYouth: Amy posted “Girls R Not Candies. Tweens R Not Teens.Thongs R Not Undies.” http://j.mp/amJhq6 (a tribute 2 @pigtailpals :-) #sexualization […]

  2. I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with young girls wearing thongs seeing as only she will know about. OK I understand not all girls can wear thongs as they always flash there frillies and play at the park in skirts but like teens and preteen into fashion will want a thong as it gets rid of the horrid panty lines in smart pants and skirts.

    I got my first thong when I was round 8 or 9 year old due to me taking dance classes (not for long I might add) and thongs were the only option, or it was go without panties under my leotard. My mom never wanted that just in case I had a rip or something happened so my mom got me thongs for that purpose.

  3. Good point on the VPL (visible panty line) issue which is what is often portrayed as the teasing factor, and yes your dance classes issue is similar to the ballet, ice skating ones I’ve heard too…what I’m concerned about is the sexualization side of the equation when tween 8 or 9 year old girls are using thongs as gym/P.E. locker fodder for ‘coolness cache’ and even bullying about ‘granny panties’ and crud like that…in addition to the hypersexualized acceleration of childhood and age compression as we’ve talked about so much in this piece above.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, and adding your link and POV to the convo! :-)

  4. The layout of these posts are really hard to read. You break it up too much.

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