Some clothing firms in the US are marketing sexy garments for preteen girls, reinforcing a destructive stereotype of female attractiveness, research released on Monday said.
Girls as young as six are being pitched clothing that highlights their breasts, buttocks or slimness, or sends a message of sensuality, the study says.
Researchers led by Sarah Murnen, a professor of psychology at Kenyon College in Ohio, looked at 15 Web sites of popular clothing stores, ranging from bargain to high-end sectors of the junior US market.
Using 38 college students, they devised a system to assess the sexiness of various garments and used this system to grade 5,666 items of clothing.
Clothing was rated according to whether it had only childlike characteristics; revealed or emphasized an intimate body part; or had characteristics that were associated with sexiness.
An example of a “childlike” characteristic would be a top with a butterfly print in pastel colors.
In contrast, a bikini was coded as “revealing” because it exposed the waist and part of the chest. The bikini was considered “emphasizing” if, for instance, it outlined each breast with triangular pieces of fabric.
Similarly, highly decorated back pockets on trousers — adorned, for instance, with a bird or sequins — were deemed “emphasizing” because they drew attention to the buttocks.
Material that was lingerie-like (such as in slinky red or black fabric) or in leopard or zebra prints was categorized as having characteristics associated with sexiness.
Sixty-nine percent of the clothing assessed in the study had only child-like characteristics.
Four percent had only sexualizing characteristics, while 25 percent had both sexualizing and childlike characteristics. One percent had neither sexualizd nor child-like characteristics.
The researchers said the biggest sexualization was in clothing sold by “tween,” or preteen stores, especially Abercrombie Kids, which came under fire in 2002 for selling thong underwear in children’s sizes with “wink wink” and “eye candy” printed across the front.
The paper appears in a specialist journal, Sex Roles, published by Germany’s Springer publishing house.
Its authors said girls face escalating demands placed to meet the Western stereotype of slimness and sexiness.
The pressures of “self-objectification” can lead to body dissatisfaction, depression, low confidence and poor self-esteem.
“The co-occurrence of sexualizing and child-like characteristics makes the sexualization present in girl’s clothing covert,” it said. “Confused parents parents might be persuaded to buy the leopard-pink miniskirt if it’s bright pink. Clearly, sexiness is still visible beneath the bows or tie-dye colors.”