Grade School Lingerie

When I was ten years old plenty of my  friends would wear “big girl lingerie” that they got from Abercrombie and the like. I felt pressured to constantly push to be sexier, or more desirable. At ten years old, who exactly am I trying to attract?

This comment (paraphrased) came in reaction to a piece I recently wrote called, “Cartoonish vs Authentic Sexuality.”

I found the remark a bit starling. At age ten  I did not feel any pressure to be sexy. I was a kid! None of my little-girl friends seemed to have such notions, either.

Wondering who she was trying to attract, the young woman added, “I don’t think any of us really knew the answer to that, but it felt necessary all the same.” And then she asked what lay behind the focus on sexualizing young girls.

My first thoughts are that companies like Abercrombie are trying to get young kids to like their brand by appealing to the desire to feel “grown up.” Not to mention all the free
publicity they get from controversies surrounding their products.

But I’ve also noticed a broad trend toward sexualizing both girls and women that goes beyond what I had experienced at the age of ten, or even twenty.

In fact, not long ago I was flipping through TV channels looking for movies when I saw the 1988 film Crossing Delancy with Amy Irving (Steven Speilberg’s ex) and the 1986 film About Last Night with Demi Moore and Rob Lowe. And then I noticed that in these films – and several other romantic comedies of that period – the women were not dressed sexually. No body-hugging clothing. No revealing décolletage.

Why the change?

Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth might help us out. Wolf points out that as women
have gained power they have also become more sexualized. She says it’s no accident.

Think about it. As women take on sex object status, they become objects. Objects aren’t quite human, leaving them at a lower rung on the ladder than men. Meanwhile, the ideal of huge breasts and skinny waists is near impossible to achieve, leading to poor self-esteem and an awful lot of time spent trying to fulfill this “requirement.” And if you’re busy focused on your looks, you’ll take your attention off more substantive things.

In sum: As women become more sexualized, even as they gain power they lose status by becoming objects. Even as women gain power, narrow notions of beauty leave them feeling worse about themselves as body image suffers. As women put tremendous time and energy into their looks, they have little time or energy left to become more empowered.

I personally feel that sexy is fine (and beyond the cartoonish narrow notions, please!), but that “sex object” isn’t. Sexy can be one part of a well-rounded woman’s life, while “sex object” sees women as being only about sex.

Women should not be seen as only sexy. Sexy should not be the primary source of self-worth. Sexy should not be the most important thing in the world.

And children should not be trained to see themselves as objects.

Georgia Platts

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on June 8, 2011, in body image, feminism, gender, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. In my country, when we go to school we have to wear uniform and lingerie. It is because the summer uniform is very thin, it helps cover our body and to absorb sweat. It doesn’t look sexy.
    When I was ten, I only follow my parents and school instruction. I have no idea about fashion. But some high school girls will flow up the dress to make it shorter. I think that they feel attractive. Most girls mature at a younger age than others. Some people think that is naive behavior.

    Abercrombie clothing company educated girls to be attractive in advertisement when they are still a child. This is a very bad idea. Girls sometimes have the wrong concept about their way to build up confidence. They think that being attractive is their duty. But If you think girls can get benefit from their look. You have the wrong idea because it is time and energy consuming. The result is not what you expect and will miss something you discover, then make you very disappointed. If you want somebody to respect you please don’t use sex appeal as a way to gain respect.
    I agree women should not be seen as only an object. Beauty can be part of a well-rounded woman’s life. But girls can also be brave, smart, knowledgeable and capable.

  2. Alejandrina Lara

    I’m very involve in social media, mostly on instragram. It’s a place where you can post pictures or one minute videos. There’s a trend going right now of videos where you tape yourself dancing and singing to a song. So far the ones I’ve seen are girls dancing provocative with small tight clothes. But if you take a closer look, most of these girls are not over 18. It causes alarm to wonder where are the parents and who let them dress like that? I grew up with my two sisters, and my mother was the one to buy us our clothes up until we were 16. At the age of ten I hadn’t even worn denim yet, I was clothed in matching shirts and kids shorts, girly puffy dresses. Clothes that didn’t give shape but gave me access to run freely in the playground. I didn’t have any thoughts to who I had to impress but if i was flexible enough in what i was wearing to climb the monkey bars. Of course as I got older i started noticing what other girls were wearing and noticing brands. But my mom always dressed me modest and that trend always stuck even if I’m shopping at Forever 21. Parents now are dressing up their babies in dresses modeled after dresses you take to the club. And as those kids grow up, they continue to follow that styling trend. As the years have gone by, there’s less fabric in styles. There’s booty shorts, crop tops, skinny jeans.None of it having to do of the shape you are because both skinny and plus size wear them. By all means, if your in your twenties and want to feel sexy, wear them. But at the age of 10, a girl should feel comfortable in her own skin, not having to worry who to impress. That will just bring more psychological issues later like low self-esteem. They should be more focused in their studies and having someone to play with.

  3. I think a lot of different companies like Abercrombie and Fitch and forever 21 H&M
    try to go with the time they attract in women and men by by creating styles that a lot of the stars wear so that we want to get them I know as a teen we always try to perceive images that that we liked from popular celebrities or pop artists. Most of my friends we’re very thin and can fit into anything but me being a little bit more bigger I had a hard time so I tried to watch my weight and create the image that I want people to see I think at the same time as young womens we wanted to just be long so sexy will always be in regardless of what shape the little world the better I know that looking at magazines and music videos have put a huge impact on my self as a young adult so I could just imagine what a 10 year old must feels. I think the only images that we really saw were very slender sexy images look at the Barbies we played with. Most of the media portrays women to be glamorous and have the ideal aka perfect body. Not knowing half of their photo shoots are photo shopped! We’re inspired by these people and fall in love with their image but in reality they should promote all shapes and sizes as beauty

  4. I agree with what you are saying in this article. I had a similar experience in middle school when Abercrombie and Victoria’s secret became very popular. Going to school I saw almost every girl wearing short Abercrombie shorts and talking about the Victorias secret bra her mom had bought her. Looking back on this now it is so crazy to me that at a middle schoolers age girls were wearing major push us bras in their skin tight shorts and shirts.i believe that the reason for this is that the media is so much more accessable to young children and they see adds in bras and certain types of clothing and want to look like this. Unfortunately it isn’t very realistic to say that we should control the media so kids didn’t see these things. One thing that I think would help is parental involvement. If parents tell girls at a young aage that they don’t need those things then maybe they will grow up and see their body not as an object and be less afraid to be themself.

  5. I completely agree. It is really sad that at the age of ten,this little girl is already feeling the need to be sexy. At that age I was thinking of what new Barbie I wanted, or what new pair of light up shoes I wanted, never was I looking into what new lingerie I wanted. I remember seeing the padded bikinis Abercombie and Fitch, and just thinking to myself how funny that looked on little kids. I don’t understand why little kids need padded bikinis, the don’t have breast and they have no one to really try and impress. Yet there are parents out there that find these to be really cute and harmless. What they don’t see is that they are teaching their girls that sexualization is cute and that people will always like it. These kids will grow up and always try dressing sexy and worrying about their image. This may cause these kids to grow up and think of themselves as objects, which may make them think that they won’t be able to be successful without being sexy.

  6. Personally, I find intelligent, empowered women from California to be quite sexy! Seriously…fantastic post.

  7. As Victoria K states, the pressures that young women and girls face today are much worse than at any other time in history! Is this where equality and women’s lib has gotten us? Then we need a new movement for equality in the United States. Whereas, like Georgia says, back in elementary school we used to ‘stuff our bras’ (which I also did a time or two, I have to admit), I was never singing in tune to the repulsive and demoralizing rap music of today- a good majority which degrades women and is a huge slap backwards in our face. How young women can actually listen to this garbage, I will never know. Calling women ‘bitches,’ like rap music does, is NOT funny! Slapping women around is NOT funny! Using women for sex is NOT funny! I personally believe that rap music is extremely harmful for our children, and should be outlawed. A ‘parental warning’ is not enough to combat the problem, as many immoral and foolish parents listen to this garbage themselves. Now, I am not knocking ALL rap music, I think that some of Eminem’s songs are pretty ingenuous and outstanding, but the ones which harm women with a verbal slap in the face should not be promoted and idolized by our country. This type of ‘music’ is abusive and pushes us women another step down.

    Elaine Balliet.

  8. I remember when I was 10 (I’m 22 now) and my best friend and I were wearing our short shorts and training bras (underneath shirts!) and dancing to a Britney Spears song in front of her house. Being much more connected to the mainstream media than I, she was the one who introduced me to the idea of being sexy at such a young age. We would read our J-14 (Just for Teens) magazines with pictures of girls in bellyshirts on the covers and beauty tips inside. I went along with this behavior and enjoyed it to some small degree (started trying out ugly blue eyeshadow), but I must admit that I didn’t get as much of a kick out of it as she did because I never actually felt sexy. I would attempt all of these things that she would pull off, and just end up feeling ridiculous. Although I did participate in some of these “sexy” activities, I remember being completely mortified to hear of how she and another friend had stuffed their training bras with socks to a very unnatural shape and walked around her neighborhood to appreciate the reactions of whichever men happened to be hanging around.

    That being said, I think it really doesn’t compare to what goes on today. I’ve cringed on multiple occasions when hearing little girls sing songs with the lyrics, “I wanna take a ride on your disco stick” and “Babe, when it’s not love, if it’s not rough it isn’t fun.” (HELLO PARENTS??????) I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a little girl these days with the pressures of feeling like you must be thin to be liked, while being at a higher risk for obesity in general.

  9. That is one well-said and interesting blog post. When I was nine or ten eighteen years ago, I didn’t have the pressure to be sexy so I am lucky to be still a kid playing pirates or with the dolls. Sadly, I cannot say the same in this day and age. However, it is up to parents and society to fight against early sexualisation of young children.

  10. Melina Yousef

    Abercrombie does have a lot of sexy clothing and sexy lingerie. And most of their customers are teenager girls. But the problem is not Abercrombie it’s the parents that allows their teenage girls to wear these sexy clothing. Parents allow their daughters to be a sex object. I have a sister that is 12 years younger than me and she will not leave the house if I think her clothing is too sexy or too short. There is not wrong with wanting to feel sexy. You can dress savvy but be classy without getting the wrong message out there. And it starts with the parents.

  11. I agree. Although I wore Abercrombie and Kent clothing until I was about 35 years old, I think it is too sexy for young teenagers. The shorts are too short, the tee’s reveal way too much cleavage and it really does send the wrong message. The sizing runs small, so for young girls who don’t fit the skinny waist and big boob mold, can create poor self-image. I also feel that girls school uniforms with the high knee socks, plaid skirt, white button down shirt and tie is way too sexy for grade school and teen girls The knee high’s resemble garters and nylons and does appear sexy. Even I glance at young girls wearing these uniforms and think to myself how sexy it is and how WRONG It is. No wonder we have so many pedophiles who look at children like they are sex objects.

  12. Vince Simpson

    I agree that our society’s obsession with beauty or sexiness has the possibility to distract us from more meaningful things. Both genders shouldn’t be dependent upon their outward appearance as a measure of their self-worth, that many strive to achieve the media’s standard of beauty tends make people rather shallow and influence negative behaviors. In many ways this type of behavior can be self-destructive as well as conagious, for the simple fact that everyone would love to be seen as beautiful and highly desirable. Therefore, with the media continuously paddling the message that beauty everything by flooding the world with advertisements, it has become fairly difficult for anyone to end the vicious cycle in which everyone tries to achieve this “ideal shape or image” whch can result in cause serious health problems or othe social issues.

  13. Victor Aguirre

    The achievement of sexiness should be restraint to those seeking to be sexually appealing, which no 10 year old should. Despite this it seems as if the adult marketing world revolves around nothing but sex and so they connect every object being marketing to sex creating sexual objects. If people don’t think there’s something remotely disturbing with this system then perhaps it’s because of how brainwashed their poor brains are already. In fact the solution I see here is the need to market objects through advocating their relationship to health. Health is in fact the reason why looks matter in the first place and would lead, hopefully, to the realization that healthy habits lead to true self satisfaction and high self esteem. Of course this would require the assistance of role models for the wise to follow. I suppose that starts with the individual.

    However, I will say it saddens me to see particularly parents directing their children to superficial propaganda. Hopefully this is only a phase created out of consumerism and will diminish as the long term effects of the economy makes people a bit more selective about the items they purchase.

  14. If an 18 year old or someone older wants to wear short shorts or look sexy there is nothing wrong with that. As long as that is not the most important thing to them I see no problem with it. When you have lost sight of what’s really important there is seriously something wrong. If a ten year old is trying to be sexy and wear revealing clothing then that is just sad. It is crazy when I see these little girls try to grow up so fast. They have all the time in the world to grow up. They really should enjoy being kids. When I was in fourth grade, there were a few girls who tried to act all sexy. I was horrified and amused at the same time because they just ended up actin a fool. I didn’t understand why they wanted to grow up so fast. In order to fit in I tried to do what they did but not to the extreme that they did. These days I wonder what I ever saw in them? I didn’t want to be that girl who put others down just to make myself feel better. At the end of the day you feel bad about the person you have become. You’ve got no friends and nothing going for you. Dressing sexy was never important to me back then. To this day I wear what I want. I love to dress up. But if I feel like dressing down that’s exactly what I do because I like to wear things that I am comfortable in. It’s not always about looking good.

  15. Taddshana Kelly

    I agree, ten year old girls should not be thinking about if there sexy or not. I work at a clothing store and prom just recently passed. What I’m noticing is that it’s not just the children who are picking out these revealing clothing but it’s also the parents who are encouraging this type of behavior. I had customer who picked out the shortest dresses for her daughter because of the simple fact that she wanted her to stand out. When students focus more on there appearance they tend to loose focus on there education. This is why choosing a school with uniforms is always best. When I was younger the last thing on my mind was trying to dress sexy or trying to attract attention. As parents we should make sure our children know that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

  16. I work at the local music store in my city, and the trend mentioned at the beginning of the post, the paraphrased comment from a previous post, is something I have found to be true. I’ve noticed children dressing skimpier and skimpier at a younger age. Back when I was in middle school, this was not the case, and that was only 10 to 7 years ago. There’s the saying that kids are growing up faster and faster these days, but I don’t think that should apply to sexuality. As you said on the post, it’s total fine to be sexy, so long as it’s not the only thing that matters. However, I don’t think it’s ever ok for a child at such a young age to start developing their sex appeal. This also tells you a lot about the parenting these children are receiving as well. My instantaneous thought when I see a minor dressed inappropriately is, “where are this child’s parents? Why is she allowed out like this?”

    On a side note, a couple months ago, I re-watched St. Elmo’s Fire for the first time in over a decade. First thing I noticed, aside from the fact that it was terrible and can’t remember why I ever liked it, was that the women weren’t dressed very sexually; even Demi Moore’s character, who is the party girl/wild child out of brat pack in this film. I did notice that Rob Lowe was wearing really tight clothes throughout the entire movie, strongly accentuating his body. Interesting shift throughout the years.

  17. Jessica Ayala

    I couldn’t agree more, when did little girls start to think that short shorts were ok. I have been noticing the same trend over the years that literally scare me to have a daughter. I don’t have a problem with a woman over the age of 20 wearing clothing that might be sexy, but our young daughters and their friends is not cool. I can’t understand what the mothers and fathers of these children are thinking. How can we allow our children to grow up so fast, there is no reason that anyone should allow their daughters to become “sex objects”, and it is so true it is things like that, that give us a bad name and discredit the fact that we are smart, empowered and sexy women without having to be in revealing clothing.

  18. “When I was ten years old plenty of my friends would wear “big girl lingerie” that they got from Abercrombie and the like. I felt pressured to constantly push to be sexier, or more desirable. At ten years old, who exactly am I trying to attract? ”

    When I first read this quote, I was shocked. I am only 20 years and I don’t think I even knew what “being sexy” was at age 10. Children being 10 years old are most likely in grade 5 or 6. I agree that starting in 6th grade was when I noticed that people were buying their clothes and Abercrombie was very popular for girls that age. I do agree that Abercrombie was trying to make the new “look” to be looking “grown up” But I never got the feeling of them creating an image of being an object. However, I do agree that when woman gain power, they seem to spend more time worrying about looks, and that it takes away from what they were focusing on before.

    Many woman now a days, are so wrapped up in their looks that it does create an image of being a sex object. Most woman don’t want to be known as this, but they do it to themselves most of the time. With woman so into their looks, children are observing and learning these bad habits at very young ages. It is the responsibility as adults to teach our children self love and not to fall into the world of thinking “sexy is this best”.

    • Yes, women do fall into the sex object trap, largely because women’s value is so based on looks, and “sexy” is closely aligned to that.

      I’ve had my women students take surveys on why they like to dress sexy (when they do) and the reasons typically fall around self esteem issues. More on that later.

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