A year or so ago, we took my younger daughter to St. Louis to see her first NHL hockey game. We took one of her friends from her hockey team with us. Because she’s one of the few girls in the league, that friend was a boy. Before we left, another parent jokingly made a comment about her friend having a “date” for the weekend. I cringed inside because it took an innocent activity of 8-year-olds and turned it into something sexual.
As I’ve pondered the controversy about Victoria’s Secret planning to market a line of products to tween girls, this conversation kept popping up in my brain. Don’t get me wrong. Victoria’s Secret is wrong to market a line of products to tween girls. But conversations like the one I had are part of the reason that they’re doing it. The truth is that we bear as much responsibility in the creation of a line of sexy clothes for tween girls as Victoria’s Secret does.
Companies don’t make decisions that they think are going to flop. They are in business to make money, so decisions that cause people to boycott them are not in the company’s best interest. A lot of research goes into the creation of a marketing campaign. A company is not going to market a product to an audience that doesn’t exist. So the truth about the Victoria’s Secret line is this: There would have been no interest from the company in marketing to tween girls unless a market exists for it.
It’s great that so many people stood up to protest what Victoria’s Secret was planning, but many other companies have more subtly marketed “sexy” clothing to younger and younger girls. And we all bear some responsibility for this. Our society has for decades been encouraging our children to grow up too fast. We, all of us, unintentionally begin putting the roots of sexual thoughts in our kids’ brains at a young age.
We tease our children about having “boyfriends” or “girlfriends” in kindergarten. We allow our young girls to wear really short shorts and skirts because it’s ridiculously difficult to find anything else. We choose to let our kids watch things on TV that glorify boyfriend-girlfriend relationships at ages at which we would never let our kids date. We allow our 7-year-olds to wear cropped shirts and bikinis because we think they’re too young for it to matter.
We have created the atmosphere that allows Victoria’s Secret to think there’s a market for sexy tween clothes because we have failed to wield our power where it matters the most — in our homes. The problem lies not with Victoria’s Secret but with us as a society. We have chosen to be silent when it comes to fashion and sexuality. We have allowed a media-saturated culture to mold our children more than we do. We have allowed our kids to see their parents as friends first and authority figures second (or not at all).
If we want Victoria’s Secret to change their marketing practices, then we have to change our thinking. We have to change our parenting. We have to take away the market.
We should stand up when a company does something as blatant as what Victoria’s Secret wanted to do. But we should also stand up when the only things we can find for our 11-year-olds to wear on Easter are mini skirts or halter dresses. We should stand up when another parent makes boyfriend-girlfriend comments about our first-graders. We should stand up when a G-rated movie contains veiled sexual references. It’s not the blatant marketing that is creating a market for sexy clothes for tweens; it’s the constant barrage of more subtle messages that they are getting from the rest of society.
Let’s take a long, hard look at our own practices before we start putting all the blame on a company. Businesses endeavor to meet needs or wants to make money. If we don’t glorify sexuality for our young girls, then there won’t be a market for Victoria’s Secret to tap.