Youth Culture Window
Summer is finally here. You know what that means: young girls in skimpy outfits called bikinis. Wait a second. If a new trend continues, young girls can be in skimpy clothes all year long.
Recently, researchers from Kenyon College (Ohio) decided to study clothing retailers that cater to female children. They had a hunch that many outfits sold to young girls carried with them a certain level of sex appeal. (I guess they finally saw one too many girls walking around in pajama bottoms that read “juicy” and “sexy” and “fabulous.”)
Regardless, their findings (from a study of 15 popular online stores that sell girls’ clothes) painted a sad picture: one third of young girls’ clothing has a “sexy” element to it.
According to their article published in the research journal Sex Roles, of the 5,666 pieces of clothing studied, 31% of them had “sexualized characteristics.” The sexualization of the clothing was usually in the form of “frequently emphasizing the look of breasts” or bringing “attention to the buttocks.”
We know that watching sexy TV shows has a direct correlation to early sexual activity, as does listening to sex-laden songs. But is there also an effect on girls who wear clothing that’s sexual? The researchers claimed that “Dressing girls in this way could contribute to socializing them into the narrow role of the sexually objectified woman.” (ABC News did a great report on this trend that some call, "Corporate Pedophilia," with a compelling video that you might want to see.)
Only time will tell, but I think these researchers are on to something. After all, it’s not exactly a stretch to think that sexy clothing can lead to sexy behavior.
So, where is this coming from?
Interestingly, this new trend is, in part, driven by other young girls.
For example, “material girl” Madonna’s teenage daughter, Lourdes, launched her own line of clothing last year. It’s called Material Girl, and uses lots of elements from the 80’s. In Lourdes’ own words, “I am totally obsessive about '80s shorts. You know, the kind that makes your butt look kinda big, with a grunge-looking shirt tucked in. It’s kinda nerdy but I love it.”
When asked for comment on her daughter’s style and sensibility, Madonna sounded as conflicted as ever. “I always have two reactions when Lola comes into my room with an outfit on. One is, ‘Oh, my God, she looks amazing - what incredible style.’ And then my second reaction is, ‘She’s dressed completely inappropriately for school.’”
So, which is it, Madonna? Amazing or inappropriate? (Personally, I’ve never confused those two.)
But Material Girl, Jr. isn’t the only one pushy sexy.
I don’t want to sound like a broken record…but it’s undeniable: too many female icons (that capture the focus of today’s young girls) have also opted for sexy over sensible. For example, when Miley Cyrus hit the road for her summer world tour earlier this month, she apparently forgot to pack any clothes. All she wore on stage was a bra and a pair of leather-like panties.
But she’s not alone. Just a few weeks before Cyrus kicked off her tour, Ashley Tisdale kicked off all her clothes for a nude photo shoot in Allure. Tisdale, aka Sharpay of High School Musical fame, had a message for anyone pausing long enough to take a look: “Being in this shoot was me saying, ‘I’m not just the young girl everybody thinks I am. I’m actually a woman.’”
That’s incredibly sad. I ache for all the Ashleys out there who believe that “being a woman” means “flaunting sexuality.”
I can’t say that I’m too surprised by Cyrus and Tisdale’s choices; after all, they are products of Disney, the company that just trademarked the name “SEAL Team 6” for a new line of “clothing, headwear, and footwear” a mere two days after the military force by the same designation killed Osama bin Laden. I have NO IDEA what kind of hat or blouse Mickey Mouse is looking to sell under that name, but if Disney’s good at anything, it’s selling. Last year, they accrued almost $29 billion in sales linked to their commercial brands (like Cars, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.)
Granted, that’s a lot of sales…but does that mean you have to buy?
Shop Till You Drop
I’ll never forget an eye-opening conversation I had with several of my adult female leaders a few years back. They were reporting to me some minor grumblings associated with my summer camp promo packet that banned bikinis on girls.
(For the record, I do prefer modest bathing suits for girls [and guys], but I’m not a legalist. In this instance, however, my preferences had nothing to do with my stipulations. Our summer camp involved multiple whitewater rafting trips and the camp leadership mandated that particular set of stipulations. Case closed.)
Some moms were crying foul over my “double standard,” while others (with more sense) lamented having to find a one-piece bathing suit for their daughters. I told my leaders I was grateful for their feedback, but said there was little I could do. I tried to end the conversation by saying, “Just tell these moms to go out and find their kid a decent swimsuit. It’s February; they’ve got until June.”
And Laura, one of my closest adult leaders, and also a mother of two fantastic, godly girls, gently responded, “It might just take that long, David. Do you know how difficult it is for us to find modest clothing for our girls these days?”
The truth was, I didn’t. I’m a father, but 100% of my offspring is male. Thus, I never considered the inherent difficulty in trying to dress a godly young girl in a fairly ungodly world.
OK, lesson learned: maybe that’s what they mean by shop till you drop.
Unfortunately, a Google search of “modest clothing for girls” generates an almost laughable list of outdated and irrelevant websites that sell clothes hardly any girl would want to wear. Granted, you have the right to dress your daughter like an Amish girl from rural Pennsylvania, but I’m not sure that’s the best solution.
So…what can you do?
First, recognize that alternatives to “sexy” do exist. Yes, you might have to search a little more, but they’re out there. For instance, Old Navy carries modest apparel for girls – including one-piece bathing suits – and the mighty Amazon offers girls some really tasteful skirts, shorts, and shirts on their website. Bottom line, just because the hoochie mama stuff is up front on display at department stores doesn’t mean there’s nothing else available.
Second, you’ll want to stress the idea of self-respect when helping your teenage girl pick out clothes. What goal does she have in mind for each outfit? Is it to be respected…or to be gawked at? She’ll get attention either way, but only one decision leads to self-respect (and a healthy self-esteem). If she’s bent on picking out something that doesn’t align with your values, simply ask her questions. Why do you like this one? Do you think this outfit is sending any messages? What do you think others will focus on if you wear this? These kinds of questions will help her arrive at the answers you want her to have.
Finally, don’t forget to infuse relevant aspects of the Christian faith into the conversation. The Bible has several things to say about modesty of dress (1 Timothy 2), chiefly because God has standards for his daughters’ lives. We need to help them achieve those standards that they can’t on their own. The Source for Youth Ministry even has a few resources to help you minister to girls, specifically.
We want our girls making statements with their lives, and how they dress is a big part of that statement. Taking these steps (and others) will go a long way toward ensuring our daughters avoid the unnecessary contention that comes along with sexy clothing.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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