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"There are many reasons to be concerned by the images in the media and the clothes and products being marketed to our girls. However, your family's values — and how you live them — are more important and going to have a greater impact on your daughter than anything she learns from the media. You may not see the results of this when your daughter is 13, but you will likely observe it when she's 25."
Jane Katch, M.S.T
Author, They Don't Like Me
For girls from the preschool through the preteen years, trendy clothing can dictate the bounds of popularity. With the abundance of clothing advertised on TV, Web sites, billboards, and displayed (of course) in the aisles of stores. Experts advise taking a close look at how these clothes are marketed to girls. They offer strategies for talking with your daughter the next time she says, "But I gotta have that!"
Sexy clothes are now being marketed to preschoolers.
In the book Packaging Girlhood, authors Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D., and Sharon Lamb, Ed.D., note that the industry used to push cereal and toys to this age group but that today, this has changed. "Many brands now market clothing in sizes 4-16, which means your little girl can be very much the big girl when it comes to that halter, camisole or demi-mini-skirt."
Logos on clothes tell girls who they should be.
In Packaging Girlhood, Brown notes that "logos don't just represent products; they signal status and group identification. Because access to logos is often determined by wealth, many kids learn that privilege and power belong to those with money." Diane Levin adds, "A teacher told me how on the first day of school a five-year-old girl pointed to a group of girls wearing designer clothes and said, 'Those are the popular kids.' When asked why, the child replied, 'They have the fancy clothes.' "
Clothes fit little girls but the style reads sassy teen.
In many retail stores you'll find things such as tight hip-huggers for five-year-olds; faux black-leather jackets for second-graders; low-rise flared jeans for middle-schoolers; and thongs, camisoles and lace panties for preteens. And you'll even find little girls' dolls wearing these same fashion items. How does all this affect girls? Levin reports that eight-year-olds are begging for belly-baring shirts and are telling their parents they want to go on diets so they can be "skinny, like the popular girls."
These clothes make girls feel grown-up and powerful.
"Sexy clothes give girls a sense of control, of making some choices, and of a more grown-up identity, but this is a false sense of power," says Brown. "Girl Power was a real movement in the 1990s, a way for young women to change the world as girls. The marketers loved the 'as girls' piece of this, but dropped the 'change the world' part. They gave girls the message that they have power to dress in sexy clothes, the freedom to choose between mango or cherry lip gloss. As a result of all of this, girls are learning that 'girl power' is merely the power to purchase clothes and manipulate their appearances."
Marketers have real power.
According to Brown, "tween" was a marketing term designed to create a cross-over market, by creating cute products for younger girls with a distinctly teenage message and flair. The marketers' goal above and beyond everything else is to get kids to part with their money. So parents of preteens should "be aware of the ways marketers, through the media, are channeling their daughters' desires," says Brown. "Not only are they encouraging girls to be older (sexier, hotter) at younger ages, but they're introducing girls to a very narrow image of what it means to be a girl." Brown recommends parents take the opportunity to talk with their daughters about both financial responsibility and about the reality that girls can have tons of varied interests and activities.