Do you think girls are pushed to be too sexy, and too early?
Last week, a firestorm of parental indignation swept across the Internet over the ‘Ashley Push-Up’ padded bikini top offered in Abercrombie and Fitch’s girls swimwear line.
The line, sold by the Abercrombie Kids division, is designed for girls as young as seven or eight years old.
In response to the outcry, Abercrombie and Fitch removed “push-up” from the description, and described it as a “striped triangle,” and included in the product details that it was “padded.”
As of the beginning of this week, the chain that has built its image on provocative style and marketing, removed the Ashley line from its website.
Abercrombie and Fitch is no stranger to controversy—they have gotten into plenty of hot water in the past for provocative marketing targeted at tweens and teens.
They are also hardly alone in offering short shorts, tight shirts and barely-there swimwear to young girls.
Why the fuss over a bikini top? And, haven't girls been trying on the trappings of sexy adulthood for decades?
Experts say the pressure to conform to certain ideals of beauty has a significant impact on girl's development. They have also expressed growing concern over the increasingly younger age that those ideals are marketed to.
The American Psychological Association has stated clearly that increased pressure to appear sexy at a younger age is damaging to young girl’s self-image and healthy development.
In 2007, the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls released a report that said “If girls purchase (or ask their parents to purchase) products and clothes designed to make them look physically appealing and sexy… they are, in effect, sexualizing themselves.”
"We have ample evidence to conclude that sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development,” said Eileen L. Zurbriggen, PhD, chair of the task force, and Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Local mom and marriage and family therapist, Tina DeMattia of Danville, agrees.
“I think it is inappropriate and unethical for Abercrombie and Fitch to promote girls in this promiscuous way,” she says. “Our little ones have such a short time to be kids—let them dress appropriately for their ages.”
DeMattia says she sees the combined negative effects of the media and society’s pervasive sexual images, coupled with an avoidance of healthy discussion and education about sexuality in her practice.
“We are bombarded with sexual images, yet we are not allowed to discuss sex,” she says.
Sex is a taboo topic, says DeMattia, and says that the effects of not engaging sexuality in a healthy way leads to problems in adulthood.
“I see adults struggle all the time with their own sexuality,” DeMattia says. “How can we expect them to teach their own children?”
DeMattia says that parents have a responsibility to set an appropriate example and help guide their children’s clothing choices.
“Parents have to tune in and pay attention to what their kids are doing,” she says.
“Parents should tell their children that clothes are a language, and ask them what they want to communicate.”