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‘Adult’ Styles for Your Little Girl—Too Much, Too Soon?

Popular clothing company Abercrombie & Fitch is involved in controversy again for a "push up" style bikini top marketed for girls as young as 7.

“American lifestyle” clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch angered parents again last week with a two-piece swimsuit for girls that the popular chain was pushing as “push up.” Sold through its Abercrombie Kids brand, the company was marketing the bikini top as the “Ashley Push Up Triangle” for girls as young as 7.

Facing an onslaught of complaints from outraged moms and dads, according to media reports, including a Chicago Sun-Times story, Abercrombie & Fitch announced Monday on its Facebook page that it had re-categorized the swimsuit as padded, saying: “We agree with those who say it is best ‘suited’ for girls age 12 and older.”

This isn’t a first offence for the retailer. In 2002, the company was sharply criticized for a line of thong underwear sold in children’s sizes featuring the words “wink wink” and “eye candy” printed on them.

In response to the controversy, the company said the underwear was intended to be cute and, basically, if you misinterpreted the messages, that was your problem. CNNMoney reported: “The underwear for young girls was created with the intent to be lighthearted and cute,” the company said. “Any misrepresentation of that is purely in the eye of the beholder.”

Push-up tops? An inappropriate style of panty combined with inappropriate messages? Google “eye candy” to clear up any doubt. These clothes were intended for grade-school age girls—your first-grader, for example.

Reading about this controversy, I was ticked off—and tempted to make this week’s Moms Talk question, “What part of any of this is OK?” because, in my opinion, none of it is OK. Push-up tops and thong underwear should not exist for little girls. They should not be an option.

But I was also reminded of an exchange I witnessed between a mother and daughter in the “intimates” section of Target, and the graceful way this uncomfortable situation was handled in real life.

The daughter, who looked to be a tween, approached her mom with a racy, lacy thong in hand. They’d come to buy new underwear and this was her choice.

“No, those are for ladies,” the mom said. The girl protested. But so-and-so has a pair, and you said I could pick, and so on.

“Those are for when you’re older,” the mom said. “I know you want something pretty. Let’s go see what else there is.”

The battle over the clothing kids want versus the clothing parents want for them may be ageless. With fashions for adults being miniaturized and marketed to children, it’s a battle that seems to be getting harder to fight. And these examples of sexualized apparel are troubling.

Every week on Moms Talk we pose a new parenting question and invite your comments. Moms Talk isn't just for moms, though, it's also a place for dads, grandparents and the diverse families who make up our community.

Let's get this week's conversation started with two local moms and a dad.

Mark: Age 7?  Really?  My first response is absolutely not!  As a father, I try very hard to instill a strong sense of self respect in both my children.  Part and parcel to self respect lies the question of who is validating our kids and their choices?  Is it their peers?  Their parents?  God?  No doubt, all will have some kind of influence but when it comes to children, as parents we need to be the front.  We have an opportunity to guide and teach, to shape and mold our kids into respectful, strong minded individuals with the ability to make choices that reflect their own self worth and awareness.  Often we can achieve that by simply saying “I love you enough to say, 'No'.”  But again, age 7? Really!?  At that age, my daughter wears what I or her mother buys for her.  Which means if she’s walking around in a padded bikini and a thong, it’s because we bought it for her.  Not happening.   I love my daughter to much for that.

Deb: I see absolutely no reason for young girls as young as seven to shop for, or wear, push-up tops or thong underwear. To me, this is a marketing strategy that aims to appeal to a woman's insecurities -- either to the mom's belief that her daughter has to "look a certain way," or to the little girl's need to fit in with her friends and images of how a woman "should look" as perpetuated by images she sees on television, movies, and in magazines.

I consider this marketing ploy to be completely reckless and irresponsible. Stores like Abercrombie, which young girls and teens perceive as representing the gold standard of what is acceptable to wear, are propagating the perception among impressionable customers that breasts must be bigger and bodies must be sexier in order to be accepted and cool.

Stores that sell and advertise this kind of apparel are purposely creating a need for it by playing to their customers' senses of inadequacy. That the message is being aimed at the under-18 demographic is careless at best, and dangerous at worst. We have enough issues with poor self esteem and body image in this country than to play to those insecurities just to sell bathing suits and underwear.

And finally, who are the girls trying to look sexier to by buying this apparel? Certainly not to each other. Selling these items to such a young customer makes it seem "normal" that a seven-year-old would think about looking sexy.

Suzanne: At Christmas one year, another grandmother and I stood, looking at a packaged doll, generally with push-up top, tacky clothing and probably thong underwear.  Would we buy that for our precious grandchildren?  To quote the other grannie: “I will not have my granddaughter looking like some ‘hoochie mama!’ ”  ‘Nuff said.  Needless to say, it is NOT the children who have the money and decision-making power that buy such garb. C’mon parents, grow-up.  Your kids idolize you and your choices – they are little versions of you – is that version going to be sluts and pimps or will it be preppy shoes, skirts, slacks or shorts and sweat shirt with a college logo?

If you are interested in becoming part of the Moms Council and helping to moderate this forum, please contact your local Patch editor. Email Eric Yates, Mount Helix Patch editor, at eric.yates@patch.com, or Christine Huard, Lemon Grove Patch editor, at christine.huard@patch.com, or Hoa Quach, Poway Patch editor, at hoa.quach@patch.com

Kristine Valenzuela April 06, 2011 at 08:37 PM
Sounds like the parents who commented are cut from the same cloth I am. This type of clothing is too much for a 7 year old. I think it's over the top for a 13 year old too! If the retailers aren't making good decisions about what to market to young kids, then it's definitely up to the parents to act as the 'filter' between these messages and their kids.
Claire April 07, 2011 at 03:35 PM
I certainly hope that parents will boycott this ridiculous "costume" for little girls. Can't the little girls grow up naturally and slowly. What next??

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