American clothing company Abercrombie & Fitch has been on the receiving end of some deserved flak in the last few days as the result of their provocative take on Tween fashion. In particular, their latest offering to the under-12 set is a push-up bikini top, an offering that has resulted in parents and other concerned consumers pushing back against the retailer, finally culminating in the company bowing to the pressure and altering at least the description of the garment in their advertising.
But is this concession enough?
Certainly, wanting to look and feel more grown up is nothing new; I recall wanting to wear makeup when I was very young, and young adult literature is littered with stories about teen and pre-teen girls mimicking their older role models from older sisters and cousins to mothers, aunts, and other adults in their style of dress. With the popularity of such reality television programs as TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras, there is no lack of evidence pointing to the desire of little girls to look more grown up. Is this necessarily a bad thing? I’m not sure. I grew up with Barbie and her impossible measurements, I watched Madonna videos when I was only 7 years old, and yes, I even stuffed my first bra. Most girls do.
But the world in which little girls are growing up is more hypersexualized than ever before. The pressure to be everything and achieve everything has resulted in a kind of speeding up of the natural growing up process. A few years ago, I was in a teacher education program and on my first round of student teaching in a fifth and sixth grade split class in a Catholic school. During the course of teaching the health class (and the topic was not sex ed), one of the younger girls alluded to activities involving handcuffs. At ten or eleven years old. It boggled my mind then, but it occurs to me that it was absolutely possible for this girl to have much broader knowledge in the area of sexuality than I did at a similar age, without having directly experienced said activity. Sex is all around us, in Lady Gaga’s suggestive lyrics, on television, and yes, in Abercrombie & Fitch’s catalogue.
Is it irresponsible to market such sexually suggestive material at little girls? Perhaps. Maybe changing a few words in the item description won’t help matters much. What might is people — parents, teachers, and those older sisters, cousins, aunts and other role models helping little girls navigate the world they live in.
After all, someday, they’ll be women, and another little girl will look up to them, too.