Mary Bailey, Editor
|Ethel Bolton, right, with daughter Ava Park, demonstrate against Abercrombie & Fitch in Costa Mesa. Credit: Don Leach / Times Community News|
Abercrombie’s Sexual Sell
By Mary Bailey
On March 19, the blog of a professor at California’s Occidental College briefly mentioned that little girls’ padded bras at Abercrombie Kids were "another example of the sexualization of girls." The comment moved through an appalled blogosphere, was picked up by the press, and culminated on March 28 when Abercrombie capitulated (sort of) to the pressure and altered the product.
Abercrombie Kids, an offshoot of Abercrombie & Fitch, had announced its spring line of clothing for children ages 8 to 14, including three styles of bikini top for girls, all with padding. One of the three drew special attention: the Ashley, with its "push-up" bra. Wrote the parenting blog Babble, "The push-up bra is, effectively, a sex tool, designed to push the breasts up and out, putting them front and center where they’re more accessible to the eye — How is that okay for a second grader?" The Mommy Files blogger checked out the retailer to see if people were just overreacting and found the Ashley padding to be "generous." In fact, she compared it to the Victoria’s Secret push-up bra she was wearing and thought they were of equal thickness. The Fashionetc blog also checked it out and discovered "lightly lined" bandeau tops and Lindsey string bikinis included as part of Abercrombie Kids’ swimwear for ages 8 to 14. By contrast, boys that age were offered "fairly conservative board shorts."
Abercrombie and Fitch’s brand is "built on the backs of highly sexualized images of young women," said Parents Talk Back. Several blogs referred to its "racy past," including the sale of girls’ thongs with "Wink Wink" and "Eye Candy" printed on the front. They noted that its ad campaigns have used young shop assistants instead of models, often posing them semi-nude. In fact, several lawsuits are pending against the company, charging it with discriminatory employment practices.
In response to the blog attack, Abercrombie’s Facebook page announced that "We’ve recategorized the Ashley swimsuit as padded. We agree with those who say it is best ‘suited’ for girls 12 and older." [12? And who are "those’?] When The Columbus Dispatch followed up with a phone call, it was told the company had nothing further to say. The LA Times reported the company did not return its calls seeking comment.
On March 30, The Columbus Dispatch did a little sleuthing and discovered that the Ashley bikini bra was still available on the company’s web site "in sizes for girls ranging in height from 4 foot, 8 inches tall to 5 foot, 4 inches tall. The lower end of that range was the average height of a 10-year-old girl in 2002, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." It noted that few commentators on the Abercrombie Kids’ Facebook page seemed satisfied with the company’s "recategorization." For example, Parents Talk Back pointed out that although the company removed the words "push-up" from the web-site description of the Ashley bra and renamed it "striped triangle," nevertheless "the padded tops are still available."
|Ashley push-up triangle bikini top at Abercrombie Kids.Photo: Abercrombiekids.com|
Thinly veiled attempt
So where does that leave us? It would be naïve to think that Abercrombie repents and now understands what the American Psychological Association has been saying all along: that sexualizing girls in their formative years sidetracks their interest in schoolwork, affects their health by discouraging involvement in sports, interferes with their ability to develop their own identities, and is linked to eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression.
Joe Marconi, a communication, marketing and crisis management expert, doesn’t buy Abercrombie’s retrenchment for a minute. "Abercrombie is way too smart not to have known" about sexualization’s psychological affects on girls," he told The Columbus Dispatch. Rather, its bikini bra campaign is "a thinly veiled attempt to get attention, to work a news cycle over something. … Even coming out with padded bikini tops for 12 year olds [i.e., without the push-up component] is gratuitously cheap and publicity seeking."
Behind Abercrombie’s cheap shot is the marketing technique insiders call "KGOY," or Kids Get Older Younger. As one advertising CEO described it, traditionally boys and girls were treated more or less the same. But now, thanks to the "brilliant" KGOY marketing concept, "a 6-year-old girl tunes into the same pop sensations a 10-12 year old might have listened to a generation ago." (Time magazine, 10-29-07)
Furthermore, Abercrombie Kids and its ilk harbor a dirty little secret: Tween buying power now totals $18 billion a year and – even during the recession – tweens have been "the only age group to increase spending." (Wall Street Journal, 2-03-11)
It is contemptible for Abercrombie to take advantage of girls’ natural impulse to imitate those a little older than themselves. Imitation is nature’s way of growing into adulthood, and for Abercrombie and its ilk to take advantage of this and inject sexualization into the process is unjustifiable and wrong. However, we can hope that bloggers will take a page from those who funded Barack Obama or opposed Mideast dictators and use the Internet to force such retailers to cease their shameful strategy.
Hypersexualizing Young Girls
- If a girl is between 8 and 12 years old, it’s time to start using anti-aging products. That, anyway, is what Wal-Mart says. Under the brand name "GeoGirl," it plans a new line of 69 cosmetic products, offering everything from exfoliants to mascara. Wal-Mart argues that it’s not the first to sell makeup for tween-aged girls, which is true. Toys R Us sells Hello Kitty Glitter Makeup and Beauty Case for ages 4 to 11 years. But, notes ABC News, it’s "the first geared towards stopping aging." Initially, GeoGirl was supposed to hit Wal-Mart shelves February 21, 2011, but the date was moved to March, and then to a date called "coming soon." We still haven’t been able to learn GeoGirl’s launch day, perhaps because it stirred an outraged response from the blogosphere.
To view entire video, visit
- Vogue Paris presents a hypersexualized photo shoot featuring young girls, the youngest appearing to be 5 or 6 years old. They lounge on leopard-printed pillows, red-lipped, stiletto-heeled, with come-hither eyes. The French said they don’t sexualize children and that the shoot was the creation of an American male. But, as change.org points out, "a spread like this doesn’t make it through to publication in a ‘high fashion’ magazine like Vogue Paris without a nod of more than a few editors."
- So-called "virgin" waxing for pre-teen girls: Skin-care companies are now providing the service for girls as young as 8 years old. The waxing can stop hair growth at the bikini line in 2 to 6 sessions. Pre-puberty hair, called "velus," is a fine, lightly pigmented hair that grows thicker and darker at puberty. Noted Dr. Diane Levin, author of So Sexy So Soon, "girls are learning the worst possible lessons about body image and body hair: ‘Keep your bodies like little girls because that’s what men like.’"
- "Somewhere along the line, the message became its own opposite. The pursuit of physical perfection was recast as a source — often the source— of young women’s ‘empowerment.’ Rather than freedom from traditional constraints, girls now were free to choose them. Yet the line between ‘get to’ and ‘have to’ blurs awfully fast. Even as new educational and professional opportunities unfurl before my daughter and her peers, so does the path that encourages them to equate identity with image, self-expression with appearance, femininity with performance, pleasure with pleasing, and sexuality with sexualization."
Annapolis Aids Victims of Trafficking
|It is estimated that there are 100,000 children in the sex trade in the United States each year. To learn more, visit
The 2011 Maryland Legislative Session adjourned at midnight April 11 with lots of fireworks and excitement — right down to the wire! Three important measures were passed by the General Assembly – one of them just minutes before the midnight deadline.
Overall, this was an incredibly successful session — with Maryland becoming the second state to provide a process for victims of sex trafficking to have their record cleared of prostitution charges. And it becomes the first state to ensure that school employees receive training materials on how to identify potential victims of human trafficking. The three bills passed by the legislature are:
HB 674 Human Trafficking – Awareness, Training, and Distribution of Materials
Signed into law and effective 10/1/11, this measure directs the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Department of Education to provide training materials to educators in the public school system. The goal is to raise awareness and to provide educators with the tools to identify any students who may be victims of human trafficking. Please send a thank you to Delegates Bonnie Cullison (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Eric Luedtke (email@example.com) for championing this great bill.
HB 345/SB 299 Human Trafficking Investigations (Wiretapping)
Signed into law and effective 10/1/11, this bill provides law enforcement with the additional tools to conduct surveillance and wiretapping in human trafficking investigations. Please thank Senator J.B. Jennings (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Delegate Luiz Simmons (email@example.com) for their leadership.
HB 266/SB 327 Human Trafficking Victim Protection Act
Sent to Governor O’Malley for signature. After tremendous negotiating and hard work by the sponsors and the Vice Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, the Human Trafficking Victim Protection Act was amended and passed unanimously by both chambers. As amended, it creates a system for sex trafficking victims to have convictions for prostitution occurring while they were a victim of sex trafficking removed from their criminal record. This is a critical step in enabling survivors of trafficking to restart their lives. Thanks go to sponsors Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Senator Jennie Forehand (email@example.com), as well as to Vice Chair Kathleen Dumais (firstname.lastname@example.org) whose efforts behind the scenes and in the last moments of session were absolutely critical to the bill’s passage.
Thank you to everyone who made phone calls, wrote emails, drafted letters, engaged greater audiences, endorsed, submitted testimony, told a friend, prioritized it for their own lobby day or traveled to Annapolis to advocate for these bills. All of these actions helped to move these bills forward, to educate and raise the level of importance to legislators.
Julie Janovsky is Senior Policy Specialist and Communications Advisor of the Polaris Project. The project works on all forms of human trafficking of children and adults, and serves victims of slavery and human trafficking. Reprinted with permission.
Girl Scouts Promote Media Literacy
Girl Scouting gives girls a fun and relevant way to develop leadership skills they can use in their daily lives and as they grow. Girls of all ages are bombarded with media, so leaders in today’s world must be media savvy. Media literacy is a key component of Girl Scouting’s newest leadership series, It’s Your Story—Tell It!
Daisies (K-grade 1) take a close look at animals in food advertising and think about whether they are attracted to the food (which they taste, too) only because of the appealing animals.
Brownies (grades 2-3) think about the stories—both real and fictional, and sometimes stereotypical — that ads tell about girls. Then they get to create their own advertisements about the kinds of girls they know.
Juniors (grades 4-5) challenge the assumptions about boys and girls they see in advertising and think about how certain images help advertisers sell. Then they alter those images to better match the real world.
Cadettes (grades 6-8) explore media all around them — in their lives and in their world. They look critically at what they find and develop media skills to remake media to reflect their reality.
Seniors (grades 9-10) take a critical look at how girls’ relationships are portrayed in media. They are invited to write to media makers to share concerns or praise, and advocate for accurate and positive depictions.
Ambassadors (grades 11-12) come to realize the power of media to shape and reinforce their values and standards about beauty and what they can achieve in life!
Reprinted with permission.
2500 advocates for media justice attended the National Conference for Media Reform in Boston this month. “It was electrifying to be among so many passionate, creative, hardworking media reform activists,” writes Shara Drew. “So you can imagine my surprise when I was the single person to cheer after Congressman Ed Markey, in his animated keynote to a full house Saturday night, called for children’s television rules to ‘stay on the books and stay strong.’” The reason his comments met silence, Drew says, is that media reform usually is not considered a children’s issue. Among the many conference sessions, only one addressed marketers’ sexualization of young girls, and one other showed how TV and Hollywood create a hyperviolent culture that breeds fear among children. Drew urged conference organizer Free Press, “a powerful group of change-makers,” to encourage media reformers to join the movement to reclaim childhood from corporate marketers. (commercialfreechildhood.blogspot.com, 4-11-11)
Not everyone can be a child porn investigator. “The screams are complete terror,” said one. “But you have to battle through it and listen to it.” When asked whether his work invaded his home life, one detective said he ponders the violent nature of child pornography while changing his baby’s diapers. “It happens. You can’t help it. There is nothing wrong with you. If it wasn’t for this job, these thoughts would never cross our minds. … When you look at so much child pornography, you can’t help but automatically think, that when you see a kid, you kind of equate that with child porn.” (Washington Post, 12-01-09)
Academy Award-winning Actress Geena Davis said in a Wall Street Journal interview that her role in the strongly feminist film “Thelma and Louise” changed her life. When the movie came out, “I had women holding me by the lapels so I could hear their story.” Then, when her daughter was about 2, Davis started watching G-rated videos and preschool programs with her and “was absolutely floored to see the same kind of gender bias and gender gap.” When she started mentioning it around Hollywood, studio executives and producers would say, “No. No, that’s not true anymore. That’s been fixed.” So Davis decided to gather the facts. She raised money, started the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and produced “the largest study ever done” on G-rated films and TV shows for children under 12. The study revealed that the majority of female characters were stereotyped or highly sexualized, wore the same sexually revealing clothes as those in R-rated movies, aspired mainly to romance while practically no male character did, and in animated films had bodies that don’t exist in real life. Tellingly, she found that “the more hours of television a girl watches, the fewer options she believes she has in life. And the more hours a boy watches, the more sexist his views become.” Davis is sharing her statistics with the studios, producers, the Writers Guild, the Animators Guild and the Casting Directors Guild. (The Wall Street Journal, 4-11-11)
Children’s beauty pageants did not always promote a sexy look, writes Peggy Orenstein in Cinderella Ate My Daughter. When the contests began in the 1960s, all a little girl needed to enter was “a party frock, a pair of Mary Janes, and a satin hair bow.” Today, toleration for sexualization has spread even to the schools. First, we got used to middle school girls with made-up eyes, bare midriffs, and sexy sayings on their clothes. Now we find the same outfits being advertised for eight-year-olds. “It is easy to become impervious to shock, to adjust to each new normal,” Orenstein says. “Even brief exposures – in advertisements, television shows, and the like – unconsciously increase women’s and girls’ acceptance.”
The Candie’s Foundation, launched in 2001 to educate young people about the devastating consequences of teenage pregnancy, uses celebrities in its public service announcements. Bristol Palin, for instance, is its new teen ambassador, perhaps so she could warn young girls of the downside of teenage motherhood. But the message is contradicted by advertisements from Candie’s Shoe Division. The celebrity chosen to represent its shoes is none other than Britney Spears, who, notes The Daily Blonde, “endorses shaking your booty in the highest heels ands the shortest skirts.” “I am just a bit confused,” TDB continues. “On one side of the business, teen girls are led to believe that they can look like a sexy super star with their stilettos, yet they also need to practice abstinence?” With teen pregnancy on the rise, “Bristol Palin is not the answer to the problem.” And scantily dresses Britney Spears “falls short in the mother of the year department.” Well! said Neil Cole, founder of Candie’s Foundation and head of the parent company Iconix, Inc. “Just because you’re wearing high-heeled sexy shoes doesn’t mean you should have a baby,” (thedailyblonde.com. Thanks to Ann Terbush for bringing this to our attention)
This newsletter does not necessarily reflect the views of the National Organization for Women
The Watchful Eye thanks Richard McMurry for his original drawings for our newsletter. In addition to computer graphics, Richard does landscape paintings in oil and acrylic. Also of note to Montgomery County NOW members, Richard is chapter member Fran Porter's son.