Oversexualization & Our Daughters: Refusing to Feed the Demand

What do you see here? I'd love to know, because I see a problem.

This rather adorable outfit is from Jelly the Pug and, last week, was available on Zulily. I'm fine with the outfit. It's cute and perfectly age-appropriate, so don't think I fell off the deep end. It's the decidedly "adult" pose that prompted me to pull out the soapbox, y'all. This one, and the images like it, caught my attention and suddenly, the word "oversecualization" begin chanting itself in a loop inside my head.

When I images like this one, I see little girls and headlines about the dangers of over-sexualization and body image issues and

eating disorders and, sadly enough, I see complacency. We can't be shocked if we expect it now, can we?

When Suri Cruise stepped out in high heels for the first time in 2009, the world brought out the voice of judgement. And we judged. We are so very good at that, aren't we? (Don't try to argue with me on this one because I'm sure the 7,200,000 results that popped up for Katie judged Suri in heels" will prove otherwise). In fact, I'm judging right now.

Not surprisingly, sales for high heels for little girls jumped and designers scrambled to provide more for the masses. A quick search shows this pair by Michael Kors.

 

The black pumps and that teeny tiny heel make me nervous just thinking about my daughter breaking an ankle while trying to walk in them. But when compared to the snazzy little number available recently on Zulily, the first shoe is downright tame.

I should point out that I'm not out to vilify Zulily -- or any other singular source -- for promoting the sexualization of young children, but I am now wondering if I should allow my 6-year-old to browse the site with me. She's more apt to wear clothing she helps to pick out, but I don't feel like having to explain why there is no way in hell I'm ordering her a pair of hot pink stilettos that look like they belong to a very tiny stripper No offense to the stripper, mind you. Maybe I can't stop the world from playing strip-tease with our kids, but I can limit what my own daughter is exposed to.

I realize there are people who will think I'm overreacting. That my daughter will "see it anyway" on television or in movies or in magazines and I'm wasting my time trying to shield her from all I think she doesn't need to see right now. They will say it's not that big a deal and that little girls just want to dress like their moms and gush about how cute their kids look strutting their stuff in hot pink stilettos and say I'm too strict and need to lighten up. They will tell me that they may have had their own misgivings about buying their 8-year-old that string bikini for the neighbor's pool party because all the other girls have them and not wanting them to feel left out, so they did it anyway.

I also am aware that the constant finger pointing is how we deal as a society instead of taking a moment to consider our own responsibility when controversies become headlines and we see our daughters adopting our body image issues as their own. We would rather blame Hollywood, the magazines with emaciated and photo-shopped models,  the fancy designers who tell us why Unrealistic Ideals are the new black, and the retailers for providing us with yet another choice we are aware we would have been better off without then admit we contributed to the demand for the supply.

All of this is okay with me. You will either agree with me or feel sorry for my kid. This is entirely your prerogative. You can buy the take your preschooler to see The 300 at the movie theater and tell them to just shut up when they ask you why that lady has her boobies out and that man just got his head chopped off loud enough for the rest of us to hear. This is your right and I'm not going to tell you how to parent your children. I am, however, going to do what I feel is right for my own daughter and her well-being.

I'm going to continue to say no. Whether or not retailers like Zulily or designers like Michael Kors bother to take responsibility for their part in the oversexualization of our little girls, I still have that power. The rest of her friends can jump off that bridge my own mother always talked about while mine has the biggest I Hate You Mom! meltdown known to man. She can tell me that I am ruining her life and all her friends get to do wear bikinis and listen to Justin Bieber and don't have to wait for their parents to pre-screen movies before they can watch them, and I will wait for her to stop screaming at me before I tell her the answer is still no because I can't undo today when tomorrow gets here. The damage would already be done.

This is not an exaggeration. In 2007, the American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls released a report suggesting that young girls are are affected in many areas of development as a result.

 

Sexualization has a broad array of devastating effects on youth, both male and female, and ramifications that extend throughout our society. Exposure to sexual images of girls has been linked to multiple mental health problems including girls’ low self-esteem, symptoms of depression, and eating disorders. Sexualization is also linked to girls’ increasing engagement in risky sexual behavior such as having unprotected sex and using drugs and alcohol, which impairs decision-making (APA, 2007).

 

This is what Suri Cruise in her high heels and shows like Toddlers & Tiaras and sexily-posed little girls modeling clothes for little girls have done (and continue to do) to us and our children. What we say to them - and what we let them see onscreen - will stay with them. Do we want that? Are we happy where we are?

I have already spoken with quite a few mothers who had the same knee-jerk reaction to the too-sexy child models as I did. I know you aren't happy with any of this. Maybe we make noise and spark a discussion or three. The important thing is that we show our daughters that we are here when they need us and again when they don't.  And that's a start.