So Sexy, So Soon: The Sexualization of Childhood in Commercial Culture

Abercrombie and Fitch Thongs For GirlsAn entire generation of young girls is being psychologically damaged by the onslaught of marketing tactics surrounding inappropriate “sexy” children’s fashions, toys, music, books and sexualized images in the media, and parents should be very concerned.

According to the American Psychological Association, in their Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, girls as young as 4 and 5 years old are no longer wearing “old-fashioned” clothing styles but are now wearing push-up bras, thongs, mini or micro-mini skirts, sequined crop tops and other hooker-style “fashionable” outfits. Well, how about that? Walk into any number of department or boutique stores aimed at young girls, and you will find clothes that were once reserved for fully grown, adult women akin to Fredericks of Hollywood.

Young girls are being bombarded by images they see on television, in magazines, children’s books and toys, and are facing greater pressures to “fit in”. Supermarket giant Tesco came under fire again for selling a padded push-up bra for girls as young as seven, and it’s not the first time Tesco has come under fire for selling similar products to young girls and teens. The in-depth APA Report says the prevalence of eating disorders, depression and low self-esteem, has greatly increased in very young girls, also saying that girls are more likely to have underage sex as a direct result of the media’s sexualization of children.

“So Sexy So Soon” Video- Jean Kilbourne & Diane Levin on “Today”

Ten year-old girls are sliding on their low-rise jeans over “eye-candy” panties, wearing slutty Halloween costumes, and high heeled shoes, with young girls worrying about their weight and physical appearance at much younger ages. Young girls, and young boys, are wearing racy, obscene and violence-related clothing, including T-shirts with alcohol and sexual innuendo messages displayed.

Sexy Halloween Costumes
(Photo by: Newsweek)

Little girls are learning how to be “sexy” and how being pretty is important, as well as learning how they can look like Bratz dolls, according to Diane Levin, PhD. Professor of education at Wheelock College in Boston. Levin is soon to release her new book, So Sexy, So Soon: The Sexualization of Childhood in Commercial Culture, stressing that the problem is not that children are learning about sex; the problem is what they are learning about relationships. Girls are being taught to be sexy and that being sexy is extremely important, even at a very young age. They’re not learning how to treat others as people, they’re learning to treat others as objects, says Levin.

Sexy Underwear for girlsMake no mistake about the sexual influence on young girls, from the likes of celebrity stars Miley Cyrus a.k.a. Hanna Montana, Britney and Jamie Lynn Spears, Lindsay Lohan and numerous other high-profile actors, actresses and musicians. The consequences of the sexualization of girls in media today are very real and are likely to be a negative influence on girls’ healthy development, says Eileen Zurbriggen, the APA’s task force chairwoman. “As a society, we need to replace all these sexualized images with ones showing girls in positive settings. The goal should be to deliver messages to all adolescents – boys and girls – that lead to healthy sexual development.”

Parents think it’s clever or “cute” to allow their young girls to wear tight T-shirts that say, “So many boys, so little time”, or smiling as their young daughter sings “Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?”, but likely won’t be so amused when they’re child becomes sexually active or pregnant by the time they turn 12.

Parents need to protect their children as much as possible. As much attention as there has been about protecting kids from pedophiles, parents can either play a major role in contributing to the sexualization of children, or they can play a protective and educational role.

The APA recommends that parents support campaigns, companies and products that promote a healthy and positive image of girls and boys. Complain to manufacturers, advertisers, television and movie producers and retail stores that “sell sex” with their products targeting children. Parents should be very careful that they’re not raising Lolita in the Classroom, but encourage girls to become involved in sports and other extracurricular activities that promote talents, skills and abilities over their physical appearance.

Talk to your young children about sex, even as young as 3 or 4 years old, because they’re already learning about sex and “sexy” and how girls “should” be sexy to get attention from boys. If you haven’t paid close attention to what kids are seeing on mainstream television and in movies, you might be stunned to see the flirtacious female characters, sexual innuendos, racy body language and the importance placed on being “hot”.

Sexualization of ChildrenEven if you’re not a parent of girls, but only have boys, you’re still not out of the woods. Consider the effects sexualized girls has on boys, and your feeling of relief of not having girls to be worried about will likely be gone for good. Fashion trends in clothing for boys depict disrespectful, violent themes with sayings on T-shirts such as, “Mr. Pimp”, “Mr. Well-Hung” and similar disgusting messages.

As a parent, have you noticed how children are being sexualized by marketers, celebrities, and other media? Are you concerned about the effects this is or may have on your own children? What are you doing to protect your own children from these pressures?

Further Reading:

You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Say About You

Miley Cyrus AKA Hanna Montana Goes Topless For Vanity Fair

Let’s Talk About Teens and Sex

Disney Checks, Labels, Covers

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70 Responses to “So Sexy, So Soon: The Sexualization of Childhood in Commercial Culture”

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  1. MoneyBlogga says:

    One of my clients has a 3 year old boy and a 6 year old girl. I thought it was “just me” but I can see that my internal reaction to seeing a 3 year old in a T shirt that reads “Hunk in Training” is correct. It just ain’t right! The client’s wife seems to think it’s OK to buy the sluttiest clothes for the 6 year old girl and already the girl is drooling over the latest “teen stud” flavor of the month. Some of the child’s clothing looks like it belongs in a brothel.

  2. Lin says:

    The fact that so many children are actually wearing this “sexy” stuff is appalling. It amazes me personally the number of times I see little girls playing in mini skirts and crop tops. I mean really….who do people think the sexy clothes on little girls is meant to attract? Your little boys of course.

  3. wilson says:

    Lin, do you know that what’s my female students told me about the definition of “sexy”? They said that “Sexy” must wearing something that can successfully attracting the male attention and even have the wills to do “the love thing” in each other!

    When I first heard these words, I was totally flabbergasted!

  4. Lin says:

    Wilson, that is actually the intent of provocative clothing styles for young girls and boys. It’s being marketed to children ON PURPOSE. For the so-called “designers” and the marketers it’s about the money being made for this stuff.

    I’m glad Rob commented above the question about how “sexy” clothing for young children may very well have something to do with pedophilia. I mean come on…, some child predator seeing little girls prancing around in short mini’s and “sexy” attire, or little boys wearing t-shirts with some sexual innuendo message on the front etc…..Of Course the pervert is going to be affected by such things.

  5. Kelly says:

    I work for an organization that is speaking out against the production of thongs for little girls and we are getting a petition signed and sent to fashion industry leaders to make them aware that sexaulization of these girls are unacceptable! Our goal is 50,000 signatures!Take a minute a sign the petition…you can find it at

  6. Lin says:

    Hi Kelly, I appreciate your bringing this petition to our attention. The sexualization of children by marketers and fashion industry leaders and the general media needs people to stand up and say No More!


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