What article of clothing that was once

What do thongs, spray tans, and push up bras all have in common? The obvious answer is that these are all things that women use and wear.  While that is true, these three items are also things that children, some as young as two years old, are beginning to use.  What has changed in the past few decades that has resulted in young children wearing clothes that are meant for women?  The answer can be found in the excessive amount of sexualization of children that is prevalent in the American society.  The APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls explains that sexualization can occur when: one’s value comes only from their sexual appeal and behavior, the standard that physical attractiveness is associated with being sexy is enforced, someone is constructed into an object for sexual use rather than viewed as independent person with thoughts and feelings, or sexuality is inappropriately inflicted onto someone (2007:1).  While some amount of sexuality is healthy for development, it becomes an issue when adult sexuality is imposed on children without their consent.  Evidence for the sexualization of children can be found in nearly every aspect of the American society from items on the shelves of department stores, to the racks of clothes in the girls’ department, to the vast amount of shows on television.  The sexualization of girls is rooted in the American culture which is influenced and heightened through the media and consumer products.  The result of the sexualizaiton of girls has negative implications on their future well-being and development.   Clothing targeted for young girls is becoming more closely related to what is sold in the women’s section.  Tween stores that target children ages seven through ten have started to sell thongs (2007:13).  These thongs also feature words on them that suggest objects that these children should be such as “eye candy” and “flirt” (2007:1).  An article of clothing that was once categorized with strippers is now making its way onto the bodies of young girls.  Stores are being flooded with clothing for children that contains sexualized characteristics and promotes a specific sexualized body part.  In the article “Too Sexualized to be Taken Seriously? Perceptions of a Girl in Childlike vs. Sexualizing Clothing,” it is estimated that around 30% of clothing items for young girls contain sexualized characteristics with some stores having as much as 72% of their clothes fitting this description (2012:765).  These articles of clothing include bikinis, padded push up bras, and lingerie-like dresses.  Garments found in the women’s section have permeated the racks of children’s stores.  A seven year old should not be wearing a push up bra, yet such items are targeting this age of girls.  The sale of these types of clothing suggests the need for children to appear older as well as forming the belief that their worth is created through their appearance.  Not only does the marketing of woman-like clothing towards girls influence their concept of the role of clothes, but it also affects how the rest of society perceives their character.The way a girl dresses formulates her type of character into the minds of society without knowing anything else about her.  A study was published in the journal Sex Roles to determine the effects of sexualized clothing for pre-teen girls.  A group of college students were presented with a picture of a fifth grade girl with varying abilities who was dressed in either normal, childlike clothes consisting of jeans and a t-shirt, slightly sexualized clothes which was a moderately lengthened leopard print dress, or a high sexualized outfit that was a very short dress with a leopard cardigan (Graff 2012:767).  The result of this study is concerning in regards to how society perceives girls based on how they are dressed .  It was concluded that due to an increase in sexualization of women and girls that there are now more sexualized clothes for young girls and someone who wears these clothes may be “perceived as low in competence, particularly if she is average in accomplishment” (Graff 2012:773).   Graff, Murnen, and Smolak state how girls who wear sexualized clothing are more likely to be thought of being less intelligent and moral (2012:772).  Participants of the study frequently commented on how the girl’s appearance seemed a lot older than a fifth grader (Graff 2012:772).  But, through the over prevalence of sexualized clothing, girls may be getting taught that they should be wearing these types of clothes and that there are possible rewards for looking “sexy”.  Graff et al. conclude from the study that sexualized clothes make the wearer appear older than they actually are in addition to the possibility of them receiving more attention and being more socially successful (2012:772).  This study demonstrates the strong influence clothing has on how people perceive each other.  Children who wear sexualized clothing may be labeled as incompetent just on the basis of their outward appearance.  This could lead to feelings of unworthiness due to others thinking they are less intelligent than they actually are and people making false claims about their abilities.  Not only do the clothes available for young girls feature sexualized characteristics but the dolls they play with contain similar sexualized appearances.             Dolls are a major part of most young girls’ lives and it is concerning when more sexualized dolls are being targeted at young girls.  Two of the most popular dolls in America are Bratz and Barbies.  Barbies are beauty icons and in the United States, a stunning 99% of children ages three to ten have at least one Barbie (2006:283).  However, Barbies have long been a subject of controversy due to their impossible body proportions.  Barbies are thought to be beautiful, yet they consist of body measurements that many people try to attain but are impossible and dangerous to their health (2008:201).  Barbies are adults and have adult features, yet they are for children who are under ten years old.  Play and imagination are important aspects of children’s development and it is through the interaction with Barbies during play that children can start to form the damaging body image and self-concept (2006:283).  Children play with the Barbies and then want to start emulating their looks and actions.  These children are young and do not understand the negative effects that may result in trying to attain the perfect Barbie body.  Similar to Barbies are the newer Bratz dolls.  These dolls, marketed to girls as young as four, are teenagers complete with skimpy sexualized clothes such as fishnet stocking and miniskirts as well as heavy makeup (2006:202; 2007:13).  In addition, there is a Bratz magazine with concerning articles such as “Luscious lip tips”, “Design your own sexy skirt”, and “Tips on being an irresistible flirt” (2006:202).  The target age range for Bratz should have no interest in ways to become more physically attractive nor should they be concerned about flirting.  Critics complain how these dolls “glamorize hooker chic” (2006:202).  Bratz are displaying how teenagers should dress and their magazine supports this idea in addition to also promoting ways that girls can more easily become attractive and worthy.  Through Bratz, girls are being fed the belief that sexy equals attractive which will have negative implications as they transition into their teenage years.  Both Barbie and Bratz dolls illustrate a false representation of a teenager and adult’s appearance, which is evident in the sexualization of these dolls and will lead to insurmountable standards for the American girl.  The appearance of these dolls is closely paralleled young girls on stage competing at child beauty pageants in regards to their sexualized clothings.    Through reality TV shows such as Toddlers and Tiaras and Little Miss Perfect which feature children competing in beauty pageants, children are shown competing in sexualizaed clothing while performing sexually suggestive dance moves.  Many parents have come under fire because of their daughter’s routines which display young toddlers performing dances that more closely resemble strippers.  Lucy Wolfe compares two year old Mia in “Darling Divas or Damaged Daughters: The Dark Side of Child Beauty Pageants and an Administrative Law Solution” to an exotic dancer in a nightclub as a result of her gold Madonna cone-bra dress in addition to her dance moves that include shaking and gyrating her hips (2012:482).  This toddler, who very likely might not even be potty trained, has been sexualized by pretending to be Madonna, who is typically thought of as a sex icon.  Mia is not the only child who has performed scandalous routines.  Wolfe also explains three year old Paisley’s performance as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (2012:429).  Her costume consisted of “long, black boots and a midriff-revealing minidress” (Wolfe 2012:429).  These children are dressing up like cultural sex symbols in sexualized clothing that promotes certain body parts at concerning young ages.  In addition, most beauty pageants also feature a swimsuit competition.  The girls suggestively parade on stage in bathing suits to sexual music (2013:132).  Lucia Palmer also highlights the fact that the bathing suit competition involves girls taking off their clothes to reveal bikinis (2013:133).  The clothes that the contestants wear during the swimsuit portion of the competition is minimal and involves sexually suggestive actions towards the judges.  The article “Protecting Pageant Princesses: A Call for Statutory Regulation of Child Beauty Pageants” by Lindsay Liberman describes how pageant girls are taught to entice the judges through their actions in order to be judged more favorably (2010:743).  Liberman writes, “Essentially, young pageant girls are trained to flirt and exploit their nascent sexuality in order to win,” (2010:745).  Child beauty pageants emphasize sexuality and as a result, children as young as toddlers are being exploited into sexual objects vying for the top prize.  The routines that these children are performing along with the associated costumes are sexualizing these children by revealing specific body parts and transforming them from innocent kids to sexual adults.  Child beauty pageants fixate beauty on sexual attraction which results in sexualized clothing and dance moves as well as the physical altering of one’s appearance.Child beauty pageants endorse the notion that in order to be successful and win, one must change their appearance because their natural characteristics are not attractive enough.  In order to be seen as favorable, contestants are forced alter nearly every aspect of their body.  This is achieved through makeup, spray tans, false eyelashes, fake hair, fake nails, and even fake teeth (Tamer 2011:85).  The products that applied to the bodies of children as young as two years old are paralleled to those used by strippers.  The pageant culture has normatized the physical modification of young girls into “sex puppets adorned with lipstick, mascara, false eyelashes, bleached heels, and high heels,” (2011:85).  The pageants are not judging participants based on their natural beauty; they are being judged on the basis on who can attain a perfect image through the use of excessive fake products.  Henry A. Giroux (2000) explains how this sends a negative message to the young girls who compete in the pageants about their sense of self.  This message, conveyed by Giroux is that “in order to enter the contest she must represent someone other than herself,” (2000:55).  Even though they are called beauty pageants, natural beauty seems to be put on the back-burner in favor of a spurious presentation.  Young girls are being exposed to the damaging message that they must display themselves as someone they are not so that they can be seen as more highly in the eyes of the American society.  This principle is detrimental to the development of girls and can lead to serious physical and emotional effects when they get older and enter their teenage years.         The effects of the sexualization of young girls can be pernicious to their well-being in that it can lead to a destructive self-image.  R. Danielle Egan prominently describes the consequences that sexualization has on children.  She writes, “Sexualizatioin is said to defile innocence, leaving in its wake a promiscuous, emotionally deficient, and culturally bankrupt tweenager.  The toxic mix of sexualizing media and commodities transforms girls between the ages of 8 and 12 into self-sexualizing subjects at risk for a host of mental, physical, cognitive, and relational problems,” (2013:2).  The everyday objects that girls are interacting with daily whether it be clothes, toys, or media, are leading to lifelong impacts at the time when their development is the most critical.  There is a strong belief in the American culture that value and attractiveness comes from being thin.  The strive for thinness is a result of dissatisfaction of one’s body and therefore can lead to eating disorders and other harmful actions related to the physical alteration of one’s body.  Some beauty pageants have a fee that is based on body weight.  Participants will pay $1 per pound thus resulting in heavier contestants being at a disadvantage by being forced to pay more (Giroux 2000:53).  The beauty pageant culture is elevating the demand to be skinny more by subjecting those who don’t necessarily conform to the demand to consequences and burdens.  The American culture and media is saturated with cultural beauty icons and ideals that display the what the “perfect” body which is heavily consumed by teenagers (Zurbriggen 2007:24).  As reported by the American Psychological Association, frequent exposure to these harmful beliefs is correlated to higher rates of eating disorders (2007:24).  Eating disorders are not very talked about in the American society yet many aspects of the country’s culture, especially the media, are infiltrating the concept that beauty is connected to a low weight and being skinny.  This notion leads to girls seeking services that will physically change their body in order to attain the appearance that the American culture most values.