Forever (21) Young

Forever (21) Young

Photo credit: Artur Chalyj / Foter / CC BY-NC


by Tessie Riggs


You know when there’s a girls t-shirt at Walmart bearing the words, “Call Me When You Leave Her”, that we’ve got a problem as a society.

Children’s clothing, any old geezer will tell you, is too racy, too revealing and as such, completely inappropriate on the children they’re sold to. This, unlike the girls used in the ads, is sadly nothing new. Retailers for years have sold padded bras, bikinis, heels and miniskirts in the children’s department, shooting controversial advertisements with younger and younger looking models in more and more explicit, more demeaning or otherwise subservient positions.

Young female models are now posed like grown women in schoolgirl fetish photographs, outfitted in short skirts and high socks in a variety of compromising positions. A study in 2011 that looked through popular clothing store websites in the United States determined that “nearly 30% of young girls clothing had “sexualised” characteristics”. Most retailers were found guilty on some level of selling “sexy” clothes to children and pre-teens.

Though this trend is sadly widespread among popular clothing outlets (Abercrombie Kids, being one), American Apparel is one particularly bad brand, using porn actresses with that apparently desirable “youthful look” to market ever shrinking garments to young people. Their models, though above the age of maturity, were more often than not made to look younger or even childlike, while simultaneously posed in sexuality explicitly clothing. And the models’ minimalist outfitting is only one offensive aspect. Female models usually shown in postures of vulnerability, passed out on beds, bent over uncomfortably, or, in one of the more scandalous ads, licking the male photographer’s crotch.

Young girls, as much as we hope they’re unchanged by what they see, are affected by the advertisements they see as well as the clothes they’re faced with in stores. Girls are becoming more and more convinced that their worth as people is dependent upon buying clothing that looks like it belongs behind a curtain rather than front and centre in the children’s department.

Even if the girls in question don’t buy into themselves as sexual beings (the concept too far beyond them at such a young age), we have to face the fact that clothing is the expression of ourselves. Other people see us from the outside and come to conclusions without ever having to meet or know us as people. A young girl wearing sexualised clothing, despite her own views or opinions, will often be labelled and treated, by both men and women, as a sexual object.

Young men, on the other hand, are allowed to be children it seems. The worst you can usually say about boys clothing is that it too objectifies women. Boys shirts showing off pictures of bikini babes -usually in conjunction with cars and/or money. If anything, fashion trends for young males go the opposite way of the revealing strategies of girls’ clothes, throwing more and more fabric on boys until 10 year olds are wearing mens’ large t-shirts and jeans so baggy we’re all amazed they don’t constantly trip over them.

What’s important to know is that we can’t blame the girls in the clothes (or partially out of them) and not consider the bigger picture outside of the frame: the photographer shouting instructions for how the girl should pose, the parents encouraging the child to work, the designer who made the clothes and the company who sees a massive profit in girls with low self esteem. We don’t think about these other elements because they’re not in front of the camera, but the image that is, greatly affects us, subconsciously editing the way we see ourselves and other women and girls..

Many people blame young female celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, but to me this seems like flawed thinking for the most part. For one, many of said celebrities have grown up by the time they start shedding their shirts. Former child stars are eager to present a newer self to their industry showcasing themselves asadults, making their own decisions with their bodies. What a child wears is more and more decided by the companies selling clothes and their marketing teams. Children themselves rarely have a complex, informed opinion about what they wear and simply choose from what is in front of them, what they have been told through constant repetition is “good”, “cute”, or “popular”.

As a newly minted adult, my personal opinion is that children should be fat and fun-loving, not anorexic and anxiety ridden. Kids should enjoy being kids; i.e. the time in a person’s life (if they are lucky as I was) when they are completely unconcerned about what other people think of them and how they look. They don’t have to worry about sex, or money, greed and vanity. They experience the world as it happens to them and don’t spend hours overanalyzing text messages.

Sure, we as adults should probably be jealous of people who get to be carried around in strollers and get toys in their takeout meals, but we should be letting them enjoy their childhoods rather than bringing them up (and I only mean “up” literally) to our level by sexualizing them. Let kids be kids.


Photo credit: Alexandruworld / Foter / CC BY-SA
Photo credit: nadi0 / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND



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Tessie Riggs
I’m a white girl who was born and raised in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world (Toronto) and now am getting an even larger picture of the world. As far back as I can remember my parents would read to me everyday and planted a seed of bibliomania, the growth of which I don’t think even they could have predicted. I love books (the idea of carrying around another dimension in your pocket, to be peeked in and out of at your leisure) and thusly find myself in a major that I’m told laughingly will not in a million years land me gainful employment (English). As for beliefs, I believe that a sense of humour is essential in living one’s life, because if you can’t laugh you just might have to cry.


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