You all know I am pro-sex. Pro-sexuality, pro expressing your sexuality, pro feeling sexy. But I am getting more and more disgusted with the pressure that is now being put on young girls to fit into an adult model of sexy – which is hardly adult, but rather to try to look as much like a 20 year old as possible, but that is another post.
What am I talking about, in case you have missed this trend. Most recently Walmart has begun advertising for their make-up line for tweens (8-12 year olds). Now playing with make-up is one thing. I have memories of glittery blue eyeshadow and borrowing grandma’s lipstick and all that. But this line is clearly more for everyday makeup and – it includes anti-aging ingredients!!! What?! That line is not overtly sexualized, just your average invitation to not feel good enough about yourself. But it comes on the heels of several companies controversial panty lines for tweens. And let’s not forget Abercrombie & Fitch’s 2011 line of push-up, padded bikini tops for girls age 7- 12. Yuck. So now girls can feel bad about their breast size before they are even growing breasts.
Doing just a tiny bit of internet searching I have now discovered the booming business of marketing bikini waxes to teens & pre-teens. I found a few waxing professionals that were quoted as saying that in the past few years 20% of their waxing was for tween or younger. If this is accurate, it boggles my mind. One well known spa catering to teen and younger waxing’s advertising line is “If a teenager has never been waxed before, hair growth can be stopped in just 2 to 6 sessions. Save your teenager a lifetime of waxing... and put the money in the bank for her college education instead!” Ugh, or maybe teach her that waxing isn’t compulsory and she can choose how to spend her money? The owner of this salon also apparently told the New York Post that children should begin waxing at age 6. Am I missing something? Does this make sense? Again, I am not opposed to waxing. If you want the no hair look, wax away. I am opposed to us all pretending that waxing is a necessity in life – and selling this idea to kids.
There is more madness out there of course, such as Tesco’s Peek-a-Boo Pole Dancing kit, advertised as “suitable for participants of 11 years old and upwards”. It included fake money and a garter belt to put it in. Not a Saturday Night Live skit, real life, sorry to say. http://www.cracked.com/article_19288_8-weirdly-sexual-products-you-wont-believe-are-kids.html#ixzz2arCsWjFJ) But this is so over the top ridiculous it actually worries me less than the more subtle everyday pressures that are building for kids and the way it shapes their future sexuality and self esteem.
I think it is natural and healthy for kids to play at being adults. They will dress-up, play house, play with make-up, even stuff their tops or bellies to match grown women’s bodies. This kind of self-motivated exploration is one thing. Moving into marketing that manufactures desire and, even worse, fear that you need these things to be “normal” is something entirely different.
When I get past my initial gut disgust response, I see that this is really about creating dedicated consumers early. The sooner we can market to young children to get them to feel that they have to be thinner, less hairy, more tan, etc, the more money they will spend on products in a lifetime. It is not news that the marketing mechanisms will happily ask us to sacrifice our self confidence, sexual comfort, and dignity so that we buy more. Why would their approach to children be different? I don’t believe that the intent behind these products and marketing schemes is really to sexualize children, although that is a side-effect, the intention is to turn them into insecure, desperate consumers.
My rage comes from the fact that we are supporting campaigns that tell children they are not beautiful unless they conform to a Victoria’s Secret Model look. I am sad that we are becoming jaded to the natural beauty that children are born with. I am angry that we continue to infringe upon children’s natural sexual development, either by stifling and shaming or now by defining it so narrowly as a product to buy to keep up with others. After all, if we feel good about who we are, at any point in our lives, what do we need to buy?