Abercrombie and Fitch is well-known for promoting highly sexualized clothes to teenagers, and for that reason, they’re no stranger to controversy. But they drew even more fire than usual from parents last week when their “Ashley” bikini top was posted online. In the original product description, which has since been updated, the girls’ swimsuit top was marketed as “padded” and a “push-up.” The notion that young girls would need a padded bikini top before they were even in training bras was understandably offensive to parents and educators alike.
Gail Dines, a sociology professor, said that the top would encourage girls to think of themselves “in a sexual way” before they were ready. A blogger, Rebecca Odes, wrote on Babble, “Playing at sexy is an inevitable and important part of growing up. But there’s a difference between exploring these ideas on your own and having them sold to you in a children’s catalog.”
The problem comes when girls are taught, through products like these, that to be sexy, they have to alter their bodies. The product does also objectify young girls in a more disturbing way than a padded bikini top for adult women, although this still sends problematic messages about the norms to which women’s bodies are expected to conform. What seems distressing, also, is that the company hasn’t learned from past mistakes – Abercrombie was accused of sexualizing young girls back in 2002 when it marketed a line of thong underwear in children’s sizes with “eye candy” and “wink wink” printed on the front.
Abercrombie has since toned down its product description, and its swift response is, in some ways, heartening. It shows that parent protests can have an impact on big corporations, which emphasizes the need for more bursts of outrage over offensive products. The question, of course, is whether they’ll do it again – after all, they don’t have a good track record.
Photo from Flickr.