A few weeks ago, I wrote about parents’ outrage over a “padded,” “push-up” swimsuit marketed to young girls by Abercrombie and Fitch. Now, a disturbing study published in the journal Sex Roles reveals that this controversy may be downright unusual, given the immense proliferation of “sexy” clothing designed for young girls.
In the study, researchers examined 5,666 clothing items on the websites for 15 popular U.S.-based stores. Of these, 69% were found to have “childlike” characteristics. 4% had only sexualized elements, 25% had both sexualizing and childlike characteristics and 4% were neither sexualized nor childlike.
I was a little confused about what “sexualized” and “childlike” meant for these researchers, so I checked out the study, which defines “sexualized” as anything clothing that:
(a) revealed a sexualized body part,
(b) emphasized a sexualized body part,
(c) had characteristics associated with sexiness
(d) had writing on it with sexualizing content
Sexualized body parts included the chest, waist, buttocks, and legs.
Clothing could be coded as having both “sexualized” and “childlike” components, such as a “miniskirt that had zebra print in tie-dye colors.”
The researchers proposed that “clothing can function as an additional way to socialize girls into a sexually objectified role.” They added that young girls cannot consider the full implications of their buying choices, and that by wearing these “sexualized” or partially “sexualized clothes, they are acting out self-objectification before they are aware of the extent to which they learn to evaluate and criticize their bodies. Although it’s hard to know at this point whether the girls who wear these clothes have lower self-esteem, spend more time worrying about their bodies, or have different career aspirations, these questions are crucial and should be examined.
While the researchers acknowledged that future research is needed, especially in examining young girls and parents as consumers (for example, is sexualized clothing seen as “cool” or “pretty,” or is it simply the norm? Do parents limit what their children wear, and do they encounter conflicts with their children over clothing choices?), their findings are disturbing, considering how ubiquitous these “sexy” clothes seem to be.
Photo from Flickr.