By Kembet Bolton
My friend Rita had invited me for a children’s party. Her estate organizes these parties bi-yearly to just celebrate the kids and spice up things during the holidays. The party was slated for 3.00pm so I had arrived two hours earlier as she had requested so I could assist in getting her girls get ready while she takes care of the small chops she was preparing for the party.
Rita’s girls Jasmine (8) and Keziah (5) were my favourite ‘’friend -nieces’’ a term we coined for kids of friends who are like sisters to us. Several times my friend will call playfully for me to come carry my kids as they will not stop asking while their favourite aunty Kemi has not visited in a while. Dressing and tugging them to sleep is something I have done countless times but I was to receive a shocker when my friend presented the outfits she had selected for her girls to wear during the party.
The body hug dresses looked like something a cast from a play doll series would have worn with a slit so high it revealed the girls peach underpants.
This is too revealing I cried out not sure if I was talking to myself or the little girls who had no say in the choice of cloths my dear friend had picked for them.
I walked down to the kitchen with both girls in tow.
Behold my ‘’slay queens’’ my friend cried out with an excitement that almost made me go back upstairs. Don’t you just have the cutest nieces Kemi? She asked almost rhetorically as she turned back to her cooking. I sure do I responded but think these dresses are too revealing for kids their ages. My friend shook her head and smiled at me almost pitifully. They are underdressed Kemi she said and trust me, she continued, that is only because their dad doesn’t approve of the wigs and make ups and high heels, I would love them to slay in. Come to the party and see how kids are dressed and you will agree with me that they are really underdressed.
I gave in grudgingly and an hour and a half later we were at the venue of the kids -party. I was in for a big surprise. The party venue almost looked like a strip -club for kids. I saw girls of 5-6, half naked, wearing heavy makeup and wigs meant for adults. You could see the little girls trying to outdo themselves with the cat walks and as I left that party, I kept wondering if they were acceptable limits to how one could dress a child in public.
How much is too much? I did my research and came across a piece by scienceBlog.com.
Are clothing manufacturers helping to turn young girls into sex objects?
According to a new study, up to 30 percent of young girls’ clothing available online in the US is ‘sexy’ or sexualizing. The study was carried out by Samantha Goodin, a former Kenyon College (Ohio, USA) student and a research team led by Dr. Sarah Murnen, Professor of Psychology at Kenyon College. In their view, this has serious implications for how girls evaluate themselves according to a sexualized model of feminine physical attractiveness. It makes them confront the issue of sexual identity at a very young age. Their findings were just published online in Springer’s journal, Sex Roles.
According to ‘objectification theory’, women from Western cultures are widely portrayed and treated as objects of the male gaze. This leads to the development of self-objectification, in which girls and women internalize these messages and view their own bodies as objects to be evaluated according to narrow standards – often sexualized – of attractiveness. Bearing in mind the negative effects of self-objectification such as body dissatisfaction, depression, low confidence and low self-esteem, Goodin and team looked at the role of girls’ clothing as a possible social influence that may contribute to self-objectification in preteen girls.
They examined the frequency and nature of sexualizing clothing available for young girls (children not adolescents) on the websites of 15 popular stores in the US. Sexualizing clothing reveals or emphasizes a sexualized body part, has characteristics associated with sexiness, and/or carries sexually suggestive writing. They also looked at whether clothing items had childlike characteristics e.g., polka dot patterns and ribbons.
Across all the stores, of the 5,666 clothing items studied, 69 percent had only childlike characteristics. Of the remaining 31 percent, 4 percent had only sexualized characteristics, 25 percent had both sexualizing and childlike features, and 4 percent had neither sexualized nor childlike elements. Sexualization occurred most frequently on items that emphasized a sexualized body part, such as shirts and dresses that were cut in such a way as to create the look of breasts, or highly decorated pants’ pockets that called attention to the buttocks. The type of store was linked to the degree of sexualization, with ‘tween’ (or pre-teen) stores more likely to have sexualized clothing compared to children’s stores.
The authors conclude: “Our study presents the ‘ambiguously sexualizing’ category of girls’ clothing. The co-occurrence of sexualizing and childlike characteristics makes the sexualization present in girl’s clothing covert. Confused parents might be persuaded to buy the leopard-print miniskirt if it’s bright pink. Clearly, sexiness is still visible beneath the bows or tie-dye colors. We propose that dressing girls in this way could contribute to socializing them into the narrow role of the sexually objectified woman.”