Sugar ‘n’ Spice, and Push-up Bikinis

It’s been a long week of tantrums, sleep disruptions, misdirected pee pee (my son’s, not mine), ending with a flood of sick kids and grumpy parents at clinic.  All excellent reasons in my book to ignore the leftovers in the fridge and head out for dinner.

Since the restaurant was adjacent to a local shopping mall, we decided to go for a stroll through the mall after dinner. My baby girl waddled around the fountains.  She waddled past sale signs and a group of teenagers busy texting.  She waddled over to the black shutters of Abercrombie.  There she turned and stood smiling at me, clapping her hands with elation over this new freedom of walking.

I was reminded again of the controversy triggered by Abercrombie Kid’s recent line of swimwear that included padded bikini tops targeted at girls as young as 8 years old.  Girls who aren’t even wearing training bras yet.  One day my baby girl will stand in front of similar stores and beg me for the latest trend.  What will it be then?  What’s the next limit to be pushed?

Controversy is not a new thing for Abercrombie.  Back in 2002, they had also introduced a thong for young girls.  People have lashed out at the store for their role in sexualizing young children.  People are shocked that the store is not looking out for a young girl’s best interest.

Although I don’t excuse or support businesses marketing irresponsibly to our children, let’s step back from all the hoopla and reframe the concerns.  Clothing companies are a business.  Let’s get real, business is business.  A business wants to make money, and money is made by meeting and feeding the wants and desires of people.  Don’t expect business to be looking out for your best interest or that of your children.

The more important question:  Who is actually buying this for a young girl, and why?  Behind every thriving business that markets to children are parents who willingly fork over their money to pay for it.

This padded “push-up” bikini for young girls should not come as a surprise.  Listen to children talk.  Take a close look at what they see.  Even as young as a toddler, little girls get a pretty clear message about what is considered beautiful and desirable.  Sex and beauty are strong driving forces everywhere.  Businesses know to survey the interests of children and respond to it.  Yet, how much do topics like these come up in conversations at home.

Complain all you want about what a store markets, but ultimately people are buying.  By buying, we are sending back the message that we approve.

All this makes me wonder what we as parents are proactively teaching our children about beauty and body image.  The topic of beauty doesn’t only apply to girls.  Boys need to be challenged as well.  Boys also struggle with body image.  Boys will one day grow up to be men that need to respect and affirm a woman’s worth.

Media and society at large are unavoidable.  Product marketing will continue to target children and teens.  Peer pressure will only grow stronger with each year.  Kids are now plugged in and technology spreads the trends like wildfire.  What role then will we as parents play in offering a different message of what is beautiful and what is appropriate?  In fact, I wonder how much we inadvertently echo the same messages that we proclaim to dislike.  After all, parents are human too.  We are just as susceptible to our own ideas of beauty and our own dissatisfaction with our appearance.  They see what we spend our money on.  They observe what we value and care about.  They hear what we say, even if it’s not meant for their ears.  Unfortunately, our children are learning from us and we are far from perfect.

Fortunately, as parents, we can still be the strongest and most consistent voice for our children amidst the raucous din.  We can refuse to buy from stores we don’t support.  We can make it a priority to emphasize other aspects of beauty.  We can praise character above image.  We can stand our ground as loving but firm parents.  We can be involved, ready and willing to have those hard discussions.  We can also start early, years before the peer pressure becomes suffocating.  Most of all, we can learn to take a long hard look at ourselves and challenge what we personally define as beautiful and attractive.

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Where do you draw the line with what your children wear?
How do you think we can send more positive messages about beauty and body image to our children?

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