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Over-Sexualized Girls: Who’s to Blame?

lolita posterCNN Commentator LZ Granderson published a piece yesterday responding to the recent controversy about Abercrombie’s Push Up bikini for girls. Here’s how it started:

“I saw someone at the airport the other day who really caught my eye. Her beautiful, long blond hair was braided back a la Bo Derek in the movie “10″ (or for the younger set, Christina Aguilera during her “Xtina” phase). Her lips were pink and shiny from the gloss, and her earrings dangled playfully from her lobes. You can tell she had been vacationing somewhere warm, because you could see her deep tan around her midriff thanks to the halter top and the tight sweatpants that rested just a little low on her waist. The icing on the cake? The word “Juicy” was written on her backside.

Yeah, that 8-year-old girl was something to see alright. … I hope her parents are proud. Their daughter was the sexiest girl in the terminal, and she’s not even in middle school yet.”

I know where he was trying to go with this. But I’m not so keen on the way he’s trying to get us there.

It is important, I think, for parents to understand that if girls are dressed like tiny women, they may be perceived that way. The problem is that the girl LZ Granderson is describing doesn’t sound like she was inappropriately dressed. Well, with the exception of the JUICY on her butt. I don’t think anybody should be wearing the word JUICY on their butt, least of all a young girl. And maybe the lip gloss, depending.  But beyond that, what’s he talking about here? An 8 year-old coming back from a holiday in a halter top.

When Granderson says things like: “Her beautiful, long blond hair was braided back”…”Her earrings dangled playfully from her ears”…”the tight sweatpants that rested just a little low on her waist”…

…he just sounds lecherous.

But maybe that’s the point. Or at least the takeaway: It doesn’t take much for young girls to be seen as sexy. Childlike features like huge eyes and lips are powerful attractors. Just look at the faces of supermodels. So as parents, we should be very conscious of the messages our daughters are sending with what they wear and what they do.

I think Granderson’s intent was to call out the marketing of overt sexuality to children. But he inadvertently brought up something far more complicated.  If our ideas about what’s “too sexy” for little girls are defined by the way people feel when looking at them, who’s being inappropriate?

Though I applaud Granderson’s efforts to raise awareness about the problem of over-sexualization, I found his tactics disturbing. Not just because of his Perv’s Eye View of our girls — which may have been nauseating, but was, I think, valuable to read — also because of his use of pejorative language like “tramp” and “prostitute” to describe young girls who dress in what he perceives as a sexualized manner. At Pigtail Pals, Melissa explores the dangers of this way of thinking.

“Clothing, or lack of clothing, does not make someone a prostitute. When we are cavalier about the degrading terms we use for our girls, we belittle their inherent worth, and desensitize ourselves to what it really means to be a prostitute.”

Reading Granderson’s piece, I couldn’t help thinking of the story of the gang raped 11 year-old. If we are not blaming the victim, we are blaming her parents for not pushing back against the onslaught of media and marketing telling us to sex our girls up. Clearly, girls can’t be expected to understand how their clothing choices will be perceived by the world at large. It’s our job as parents to set boundaries about what’s too grown up. It’s obvious when those boundaries are hugely overstepped: in a padded bikini, for example, or a ridiculous slogan on a girl’s private parts. But when earrings and hairstyles are being sexualized, and the carefree exposure of pre-pubescent skin is described as “dressing little girls like prostitutes” the line gets a lot blurrier.

Read “Parents, don’t dress your girls like tramps” at CNN

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