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Apr 10, 2013

Things I Don't Get, Vol. 11 -- Sexy Teen Fashion Hysteria



I am not a parent of teenage girls.  In fact, I am not a parent at all -- unless you count two chihuahuas.

But I find myself wondering if all the brouhaha over teens dressing too sexy -- and it's always the girls we're talking about, never the boys -- isn't misplaced.  Perhaps it's an expression of our larger anxiety about how female sexuality is used in the media to sell us stuff, though anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of advertising history knows this is nothing new.

We're all sexual beings from a pretty early age, and it wasn't that long ago that a girl getting married soon after puberty wasn't considered unusual.   The term "teenager" came into being only in the 1940's, when a youth market was recognized for the first time.  Watch a film like 1938's "Love Finds Andy Hardy" and you'll know that young people were just as interested in sex as they are today -- maybe more so, since overt sexual expression was so taboo.



Lana Turner was already an established sexpot on screen (and off, as it turns out) while still a teen.  She may have been more clothed than today's celebrities, but movie moguls exploited her assets shamelessly.





"Wholesome" family-oriented fare like the MGM Andy Hardy series turned into teen exploitation movies in the Fifties about juvenile delinquents.  Though often presented in quasi-documentary style as cautionary tales, these films were obviously meant to titillate.









On the flip side there were "good" girls like the the late, great Annette Funicello, one of my favorite celebrity teens.  From everything I've read, Annette was a genuinely sweet and modest person, but the set of The Mickey Mouse Club was a hotbed of hormones, with intense competition among the girls to look sexy despite Uncle Walt's watchful eye.  Annette's full-figure was usually front and center, even if she wasn't dancing around a pole in platform shoes and lip gloss.





So is the fuss over more recent envelope-pushers like Britney or Mylie Cyrus really anything new?





There's also been controversy recently over Victoria's Secret "Bright Young Things" line -- allegedly aimed at teens -- and its lacy, racy underwear.



Many teenage girls are going to want to wear this stuff, if only because it's heavily marketed to them.  But don't most teenage girls want to dress more provocatively than their parents might wish, hiking up their school uniforms, putting on makeup, unbuttoning the top buttons of their blouses, just like they always have?  

Wouldn't it be better to teach them about sexual health rather than simply forbidding them to wear "Call me" thong panties?

Readers, I ask you:

1) If you were ever a teenage girl, did you push limits and try to dress more grown up than you were?  Could anything have kept you from doing what you wanted to do?  (Any "hot-rod girls" out there?)

2) If you have teenage daughters, does the sexy teen fashion issue come up, and if so, how do you deal with it?  (Are you stricter than your parents were with you?)

3) Has anything really changed with regard to teen fashion -- is it truly more revealing -- or are we adults simply not comfortable with pubescent girls looking sexually provocative?

Jump in!   (But please be respectful if others' opinions differ from your own.)




75 comments:

  1. I was lucky...right when I would have had to worry, my children's buddies decided that drugs were not cool, certain kinds of clothing were not cool....but they still had fun experimenting with fashion. My daughter had a black leather skirt, but she wore it for fun, and not in a provocative way. My children were in a medium size school, every ethnicity and income level.

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  2. Just a note: From what I've seen online, the picture of Annette Funicello in the black hotpants and tied-up shirt was taken when she was thirteen. Yeah. I kept checking date to see if there wasn't a misprint somewhere that was reporting her as ten years younger than she was, because this (1955) is a lot of leg for a thirteen-year-old. I mean, I know girls who were built like that at that age, but this isn't exactly making her look less, uh, sexy.

    I was a teenager in the grunge years of the 1990's and dressed accordingly: Wide-leg jeans, black T-shirts, and wool Pendletons that I stole from my father. I actually have clothes that are older than I am. My mother, who is infamous for her dowdy wardrobe, actually wished I had dressed a little more, well, sexily. Maybe not as far as actually sexy, just less un-sexy.

    I do think some things have become bare-er, though. I've seen some recent prom pictures featuring dresses that would have gotten me sent right back home in 1996. But our high school was a bit conservative. No unnaturally-colored hair, boys' hair couldn't touch the collar of their shirts; no sideburns; no facial hair, etc. Same rules my dad had in 1964.

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  3. Hey Peter,

    long time- lurker, first time commenter...

    I admit that the tiny-feminist in me raged a bit at first glance of the post's title (ha, ha), but your observations are thought-provoking, especially to someone like me, who is less atuned to media/ popular culture of past several generations and even now. I think the whole sexy (female) teen fashion hysteria is part of the a much larger and hypocritical social discourse aimed at women and girls: that one has to somehow be virginal/ pure, but also sexy/ sexually available. From your examples, this message does not seemed to have changed much and my own two cents is that the "real" problem is that this conversation is solely about girls as you observed or that a double standard exists, to throw in some gender studies' term.

    This is why I love your blog: fabric loving one day, thought-provoking social discussion another, and beautifully sewn clothes always :)

    -Vita

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  4. Just a note -- "Bright Young Things" was the name of an advertising campaign, not a line of underwear. The photos featured young-looking models but wasn't intended for young teens or tweens.

    http://jezebel.com/tag/bright%20young%20things

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  5. Oooh, this is so timely! I did push the limits as a teen but in very moderate ways (which is to say my parents had no idea). I should mention that I went to private school and wore a uniform so my idea of pushing the envelope was on weekends and hanging out with other girls! I did go bad-ass when I was 17 but I was never provocative in the modern sense. My own daughter, just 13, goes to a coed school and has started wearing ridiculous outfits - crop tops and stupidly tight pants. She goes out shopping for these things or borrows them from friends. In general, I'm pretty "free to be you and me" but it is excessive sometimes and I'm intervening (and having all of those teenager arguments). Teen fashion, IMO, is most definitely more revealing than it ever was.

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  6. I have two teenaged daughters (ages 17 and 19) and I understand what you're saying. I do worry about my daughters attracting unwanted attention. It's one thing if boys their own age are attracted to them, and quite another when creepy older men are yelling at them from car windows. I do make the 17 year old change if I think her outfit is inappropriate. The 19 year old is away at school and an adult, but her style is more quirky than sexy.

    Myself--I was a teen in the mid-late eighties--and I dressed like a cartoon in The Preppy Handbook and was barely distinguishable as female, let alone sexy. My rebellion was to be sloppy, not sexy.

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  7. People getting upset that 16 year old girls are wearing bras and panties? Ridiculous at best. I loved wearing "adult" underwear because being a teenage girl is really hard and it made me happy. Would we not yell at the girls for not wearing a bra because we americans hold a lot of nipple shame? Girls were allowed to be "good" and show skin in the 50's. If there is one thing I can't stand it's slut shaming!

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    1. I think that it's not about that. The brouhaha about this particular marketing campaign is that it doesn't distinguish between 12 and 13 year-olds and older teens. And the idea that we'd put the words "Call Me" on underwear - well, who exactly is that message for? We know it's not the girl wearing them, or her female friends. So we have to assume that it's for someone who's seen her in her underwear or even out of it. And that presumes a male. There's an assumption that women (and by extension, girls) need to be sexual beings for men in order to be of value. I have 2 girls - one is 12.5 and one is 6.5. It's very difficult for me to find clothing for my older daughter that doesn't make her look like she's wearing clothes that are too small for her (booty shorts or super-mini skirts) or ones that are too revealing (midriff shirts, tiny bikinis). She should be able to feel comfortable in what she's wearing, especially since she's at an age where she's still kind of a tomboy. She shouldn't have to worry if her bum is showing when she stoops to tie her shoes.

      The same is true of my younger daughter. Once little girls get out of the toddler section, it can still be difficult to find clothing that is age-appropriate. I don't need my kindergartener to wear sweatpants with the word "hottie" printed on the butt and I can't imagine why anyone else would. It fetishizes them in a way that is way too creepy when you dress little kids like adults. There are heavily padded bras marketed toward 8-10 year-olds. As though a child that young needs cleavage, real or not.

      So it's not about whether or not young women who are on the verge of being adults wearing sexy clothing. It's about young girls being presented with the idea that to be beautiful and like the way one looks a girl needs to be sexy, rather than simply confident in her own skin (and clothing); the idea that for a girl to like herself others need to like the way she looks, and the other is male.

      Of course, it doesn't help that the Victoria's Secret models sometimes look really young, so the line between adult and child is blurred even more.

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    2. I agree wholeheartedly with you. When I was younger tight jeans were sexy but nowadays the envelope is definitely being pushed too much with super short minis and spaghetti strap midriff tops. I have a daughter who doesnt dress as provacative as I've seen but when she does want to put on something questionable I have a discussion with her about who is she trying to get attention from and how she feels about herself because ultimately I want to know she feels beautiful and valued without having to be scantily clad. Personally I don't understand why anyone would suggest buying a teenager underwear with those messages what are we saying to them but at the same time the underwear does not make the teen do anything that they aren't or can't say themselves.

      Last thing I'd like to say is when my daughter was 12 or 13 and I started buying her bra's I was apalled that I could not find one bra that wasn't extremely padded and the attention on breasts in American culture is just plain old ridiculous.

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  8. I have to add--I think a lot of the outrage is that sexy styles are now marketed for pre-teens, and younger girls, and I've heard of sexy outfits for toddlers. This deserves outrage, in my opinion.

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  9. I'm only 23 so my teens aren't that far away anymore, and I really wasn't interested in dressing provocatively in any way. I mostly just didn't want anyone to notice me at all, due to some serious self esteem issues. I do remember the teen fashions around the time I was fourteen: low rise jeans, tight tops, large hoop earrings, loads of lipgloss. I don't worry when I see a fifteen or sixteen year old girl all dolled up, but seeing the same type of outfits on girls that are way younger does scare me a little. Even though those kids might already have a sense of sexuality, they are still way too young and immature to fully comprehend the message they're sending. Teenagers are relatively new, but nowadays it seems children should be teenagers as soon as possible. If we lived in an ideal world people could wear whatever they wanted without other people thinking anything of it, but sadly enough some of the teen fashions today communicate a sort of sexual awareness that isn't always present in the wearer.

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    1. Woah! No message is sent with what they are wearing. That is like saying "she was asking for it". If people have a problem with what others wear then that is their problem.

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    2. Wrong - there IS a message. And if you think there isn't, you might be missing the bigger picture. Because younger children don't buy their own clothing - their parents do. If you allow your child to wear clothing that is deliberately provocative, it's seen by many people as permission for people to treat them as objects. And, unfortunately there are people out there who would have no problem doing just that. So parents and adults in general have a duty to protect children from unwanted attention. Yes, in many instances it doesn't matter what the child wears - if someone wants to sexualize them, they will do it regardless. But allowing a child to be 'sexy' allows them to entertain the idea of being an adult, and there is a fine line between dressing like an adult and attempting to act like an adult. Kids want to "be like mommy" or "be like X star" and that means emulating dress and behavior, often without realizing what these things mean. EVERYTHING has meaning. We don't wear suits to job interviews because they're comfortable; we wear them to make an impression. The problem is that adults know that clothing has meaning, as well as appropriate time and place. Children aren't aware of this.

      By your logic, if a person refuses to wear a life jacket when she doesn't know how to swim, I can't say that it's not her fault if she drowns. Or if someone chooses to not wear a hat when it's cold out because it will ruin her hair and then has frostbite on her ears, the doctor can't say "If you'd worn a hat, this wouldn't have happened." Parents make their kids wear life jackets and put on their hats and coats because they know that if they don't make them, they'll be held legally responsible as the parent. That's the difference.

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    3. Well said Jen. And I agree - regardless of whether you like it or not, what we wear sends a message to the people that look at us.

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    4. Yes, very well stated, Jen. I agree with many of the people pointing out the difference between marketing this sort of thing to teenagers (ie high schoolers) and to pre or barely pubescent grade school children. Once I had a job and was paying for my own clothing to a certain extent (i started working in a neighborhood store at 14) my access to/desire to wear slightly more adult garments increased. What really bothers me is the role that parents play in encouraging overly sexualized presentations of self in children even younger than that, and the frequent (although obviously not inevitable) results that this sort of self image has on these girls for the rest of their lives.

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  10. I agree it's partly hysteria, but the objectification of women and ever younger girls is troubling and seems to be getting worse. I've noticed the red carpet looks seem to be a double-dare to see who is willing to show the most skin.

    Yes, my daughter wore some provocative clothing, mostly in middle school, though at the time she was not sexually active (yes, I'm sure). I didn't make a big deal of it, but tried to promote her self-esteem in areas not related to body image as well, such as her artistic talents. She's grown into a well-balanced adult.

    And no... I never wore anything the least bit revealing at that age. My skirts weren't even all that mini.

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  11. Michelle, the brouhaha is not over teens wearing adult style underwear. It is about what is printed on the underwear, and the way the models wearing it are presented. I don't care if the objectification of women is as old as the Venus of Willendorf. I still don't want my daughter- or myself- seen as primarily a sex object. I don't mind it being a part of her person. It is certainly a part of mine. But it is time for both (all?) genders to be capable people first, with sexy being a adjective that occurs to observers later on.

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    1. VS markets to college women and older, the "targeting teens" outrage was created by some overly religious people that didn't know what they were talking about.

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    2. I think you are a little naive if you really believe that VS is not marketing to teenagers. I have a nineteen yo daughter as well as three teenage neices and from observing them and all their friends I can assure you that VS markets to them.

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  12. Hmm. You ask: "did you push limits, and try to dress more grown up than you were?" But wearing short shorts or crop tops or cheeky underwear isn't something that grown ups do. That's what I find so confusing about the whole sexy teen girl hysteria. Those teenage years are the right time to enjoy your body. If only we could get grownups to stop staring--whether in lust or disapproval. As soon as a girl stops having a pre-pubescent body, suddenly she's scrutinized by the world. My personal response to this was to avoid the overtly sexy looks. But I wish I hadn't had to think about it.

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    1. Well, I'm only in my early-mid 20s, but I definitely feel like short shorts and crop tops are appropriate for me now, when I definitely did NOT feel they were appropriate for me or any of my peers at 17. There may have been one or two girls who were genuinely comfortable enough in their bodies to carry it off, but mostly my peers were not remotely old enough for the way they dressed.
      I think the time to enjoy one's body is when one is both physically and emotionally mature enough to handle it, and most high schoolers (not all) just aren't.

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    2. But that is what you feel for yourself. If you are not comfortable, fine. But other girls that are should not be made to feel like they are slutty because they wear shorts and crop tops in the summer.

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  13. I was a teenager in the 80's when big chunky fishman's knits, Doc Marten's and dungarees covered everything (and of course kept out the damp Irish weather).

    I now have two late teen daughters. Both are extremes; the eldest will not show an inch of flesh, the youngest, more of it. I have yet to do the horrified mother act as regards the youngest's choice of clothing.... the only advice I've given her is the either/or cleavage and legs bit of wisdom. I've also talked over with her about how to handle the attention she gets.

    The one thing that I object to is her use lately of fake tan. It seems to be a peculiarly Irish trait for young women to slather it on to disguise bone white skin and freckles. It looks horrendous. She is blessed with gorgeous creamy skin but ends up an unnatural shade of orange. She claims she feels like a freak if she doesn't put it on......it's that ubiquitous in her peer group.

    But as I said, they are both in their late teens. I didn't have to deal with them as much younger teenagers dressing revealingly; they just weren't interested. At least now, at their age, they should (theoretically at least!) be able to handle the reaction they get.

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  14. the upset amongst parents is actually less with teenage fashion and more with 'sexy' clothes marketed towards preteens. I get that it isn't high fashion that offers those clothes, but families in suburbia have their choices limited to target and wallmart (maybe due to finances and location) and those giants seems to have moved the bar lower and lower when it comes to their girls clothing. And no, you don't have to buy it, but if every one else in their Grade 1 class is wearing it ...

    I am somewhat grateful we have school uniforms in Australia, but to see 8 year old in tincy wincy bikinis during swimming lessons I feel like sending a note to the parents informing them of the danger of skin cancer.

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  15. Navigating the early teens with my daughter- I explain proportions/ highlighting/ "camouflaging.

    She has an extreme hourglass figure with g-h cup breasts, a tiny waist and nicely rounded thighs and buttocks. At 12 she looks far older- I don't ban her from wearing anything- she is finding her own style, but I also inform her that certain outfits may garner a great deal of possibly unwanted attention and she does dress on the conservative side.

    When she first developed- merely a year or so ago- she'd wear ultra boxy clothes, but now is finding what suits her and what she likes - Hopefully it will a journey full of fun and wonder!

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    1. I have a nineteen year old daughter who is a freshman in college. She has the same body type as your daughter. My biggest rule was nothing printed on the bottom of pants or shorts. We talked a lot about what was flattering on her. She developed early so many times something would fit but was not age appropriate. The one area I was more lenient on was showing a little cleavage. If I wanted to cover her completely she would have been in turtlenecks or matronly dresses. This was especially true for prom or other type dresses. Our compromise was if the dress was lower cut, we taped all the edges down securely so nothing would shift. This kept her a bit more modest.
      The battle I'm losing now is leggings are not pants. Apparently all the girls wear these with oversized tees on campus.

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  16. I was probably the least sexy teenager ever. Honestly, it was baggy jeans and oversized t-shirts every day of the week. I didn't start dressing in anything remotely form-fitting until a good way into my 20s. Even then it took near half a decade to get me out of sweat shirts and tennis shoes.

    As far as the whole sexy-teen underwear thing goes... Well, I am not a fan, but I also think that teens need to learn to make choices about how they dress and how this is perceived by the world. Because, let's face it, people make judgements about you based on how you dress (though they may be accurate or not). It is the sort of thing that I think should be a discussion, but I wouldn't forbid it. Though the underwear in question - I sort of feel like a kid would have the personality to wear it or not, and the ones who wouldn't will probably get it as a gag gift from their friends just for the embarrassment factor. In a much less serious vein - if your teenage daughter suddenly decides to start doing her own laundry you will probably know why.

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    1. I was a preteen/teen in the 80's, when all the girls wore XL t-shirts so you had no idea what kind of body was underneath. It was great for someone who was uncomfortable with growing breasts, like I was. My Mom horrified me one time, trying to get me past the XL shirt stage by saying, "If you've got it, flaunt it." I nearly died, but she was a teen in the late 50's, and all her dresses and tops were fairly fitted, although her skirts were longer.

      The times I wore sexy things were pretty much only at Girl Scout camp, where we all tried to have the tiniest bikinis available at the time (omg, they make them so much smaller now!). Short shorts and tank tops were perfect for the Texas heat. I never worried about showing anything when I was surrounded by girls. It was only the boys at my school who made me feel ashamed of my body. (We wore school uniforms, and I still wore the thickest, biggest white button-downs I could find.)

      My sister 3 years younger pulled an Audrey Horne every day at school. As soon as she was dropped off, she'd put on makeup at her locker, roll up her skirt waistband to make the skirt shorter, and sometimes even change shoes.

      Funny how individual sexiness can be, even during the same style era.

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  17. My parents did not bat an eye at anything I wore as a teen - even when I got sent home for "dressing like I was at the beach" (that particular outfit would be beyond tame today!). Yet there are some things I wore, looking back now, that I wouldn't want my daughter wear at the same age. She's only 3 now, but what troubles me is it seems like the provocative clothing is skewing a lot younger these days. For her 2nd birthday she received a black tee with silver glitter writing saying "Single & Loving It!" as a gift (which promptly got donated).

    The stuff we wore as teens trying to look adult is now available for 10 yr olds or younger. The last thing you should be interested in at that age is thongs & bodycon minidresses. On Easter I was pretty shocked at our 7yr old niece's black and neon pink outfit choice - she looked like a miniature Hot Topic model. She doesn't even seem to like it that much, but it's what her friends like and she wants to fit in. It just seems sad that girls today are barely out of diapers and they're already being ushered into mini skirts and crop tops. I get 16yr olds wanting to look adult or push the envelope, but the marketing to the tweens & under creeps me out.

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    1. But they are not. The outrage was made up, VS made a line for PINK, which is for college age girls.

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  18. Actually, until recently (recently being the past century or so) people were expected not to get married until they were around the same age or older than today. Noble ladies were married off super early, but other than that, you were expected to have completed an apprenticeship as a man, which put them in their late 20s, and weirdly, women mostly married in their early 20s. Granted, fashions change, but this was true for most of Europe for an astonishingly long time, especially given the shorter life spans that people had! Basically, most people were marrying in their middle aged years.

    That being said, while I definitely think it's hugely important to educate kids about safe sex, I also think it's hugely important to teach both boys and girls about making their own choices, and thinking things through before they make any decisions. I definitely know teens who were ready to be sexy and sexually active, and I definitely know teens who weren't, and felt pressured by society to be more mature than they were.

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  19. It has been pretty plain to me for some time that a covert campaign to sexualize children (spelled 'g-i-r-l-s') at earlier and earlier ages is definitely underway in the media, and most people are so inured to it they don't even notice it. But, people like me, who only see it now and again, can see it quite clearly, just as the stink in the monkey house at the zoo is unsmellable by those who are there for the duration. To wit: "Lingerie' for nine-year olds? Items for children with 'sexy" printed on them? High heels for five-year-olds? What would a visitor from another country think about all this OTHER than "children are being sexualized!"

    Aside from the damage done to young growing feet, it is quite clear that there is a "push' on to 'ready" younger and younger females for the 'meat market' attitude that awaits them. And why should this be a surprise to anyone other than those who live on desert islands? Po.rnograp.hy is big big business. There is more slavery now than at any other time in human history, and 85% of it is FEMALE. it's called PR.OST.ITU.TION. All that sexual energy aroused by all that (readily available to absolutely anyone of any age who can operate a computer) po.rn has to be 'discharged [sic] somewhere, right?. This sort of industry is largely predicated on young women, and they naturally need to be "softened up" and "prepared" for their ultimate fate like any other species of cattle, right?

    If you grow up thinking porn is "normal" then you will see "working" in it as "normal", too, right? Kids are nowadays being exposed to levels of sexual degeneracy that even adults hardly had regular access to even as recently as 10 years ago. All of this registers as "normal" to them... And it's a sad day for society (and for women!), when we have a generation of youth growing up that thinks that, say, "b.est.ial.ity" is 'normal'!

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    1. I hope you are not equating girls wearing clothing you think is provocative to women that are prostitutes. Also, there is more slavery today than at any point in history? Yeah. Right. I need you list your source on that one.

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    2. Funny thing, but one thing I (and probably most people) have never seen is a prostitute in a maxi-skirt and a loose-fitting turtle-necked shirt, nor one in a sweatshirt, comfortable flats and baggy pants. There is A REASON why a common reaction to a provocatively-dressed woman is "She's dressed like a PROSTITUTE".
      The tendency of women to want everything every which way, (such as the notion that they should be free to dress like whores while insisting on being treated like untouchable virgins) only reinforces the notion that they are collectively lacking in intelligence and rationality and thus need to be sheltered and protected like feebleminded children, since, on their own showing, "reality" is obviously not a concept they are familiar with.

      And I suggest you Google the websites dealing with sexual slavery: I am sure they have all the up-to-date stats on modern-day slavery you could possibly want.(And then some)

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    3. I seriously hope you are not suggesting that all sex work is slavery, or that it's ok to shame or put down sex workers with nasty slurs, or to put down or shame non sex workers women by calling them 'prostitutes' or 'whores'. Because that would be ignorant and nasty.

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    4. Michelle in the US, the numbers of people in slavery are largely under-reported and unknown, but there are estimated 100,000 – 300,000 children alone that are sex trafficking victims in the US.
      ultrahedonist the problem is not when people confuse sex work with slavery, the problem is when people confused a sexual slave with a sex worker. There is a huge difference between using you sex and being forced to use your sex for working. The problem between sex work and sex slavery is when clients don't know or understand the difference, for them is the same.

      Now according to Merrian Webster you have 2 definitions of SEXY:
      1:sexually suggestive or stimulating : erotic
      2:generally attractive or interesting : appealing

      Now in this times we live, when sex is everywhere and sells everything, this, this is a problem, because when a girl wears sexy clothes, she will be associated to the definition number 1 "sexually suggestive or stimulating" not to the definition number 2. Let's said she can do it, is she mature enough to deal with the unwanted attention? Does she realize the impression this cause in other people? Do adults understand she is still a child? Do they care she is a child? Do they see a girl or an object of desire? Do you understand that this objectification is transferred to all women of all ages, we are sexual objects or we are undesired object? Please don’t misunderstand me, I know we are human, and we have a sexual side! But it’s just one side of our complex being! Just one. But when that one single side becomes the whole side of us, the only one side and all that we have to give, and the other can see it in the same way too, that is wrong and not good at all.

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  20. I was the teen in the early 90's trying to dress like the girls in rap videos. All behind my mother's back (or so I thought.) I also bought the satin bikini undies so unlike the cotton Hanes my mom bought me. So I think teenage girls have and will continue to explore their sexuality. However, I don't recall any specific marketing for the lingerie thing - I found that all on my own. Now that my daughter is 13, I do see the effects of that marketing. She's already convinced that Victoria Secret bras and undies are better. But I do remember that age so I try to be patient. I figure the most important thing I can do is to educate her to value herself, have good self esteem and be confident. Better to explore than exploit those strange new feelings.

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  21. great post!

    i was absolutely wild, fashion wise, as a teenager. lace leggings and such. everyone thought i was a slut, no question in their minds-- but i was one of the few (proud) virgins. i wonder what that says; because i knew what image i was putting out there.

    i'm too tired from major housecleaning to figure that one out!

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    1. Thank you for helping to prove that what we wear is not who we are.

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    2. Michelle-- What we wear may not be who we are. BUT if you dress a certain way you have no right to get self righteous or indignant if people view you a certain way because of it. The way you dress is a choice. It's not like being born into a certain race. If you choose a particular style of dress, you must accept whatever connotations or social stigmas that go along with it. That's just the way it is.

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  22. As a teenager I dressed a lot like a boy - baggy jeans, sneakers, oversized sweatshirts. It wasnt that I was trying to cover up, noo! it was what was in at that time LOL!
    I do not aprove of overly sexy clothing for teenagers, but sadly that is what the stores are offering. I went shopping with my 15 yo niece recently. I don't consider myself to be an old fart at age of 29, but it turns out I just might be...the things she choose oyh wey! I would never!
    I asked her a bit why? Why all those "sexy" things and what I got from her answer - peer pressure. Everyone else is dressing the same way so should I. A bit sad. But in few years she will look at herself differently and it all will be in the past!

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  23. I discussed the "peer pressure" thing with my children...and suggested that they set the "look"...not copy...and they went for it.
    They decided they'd each be creative and wear what they wanted to wear...
    I'm very grateful for that.

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  24. Peter, I just love how one day you are talking about sewing, and the next you are making a thought provoking post like this one!

    I wasn't provocative in my clothing at all until I was about 19 and going out to nightclubs with my friends (legal age for such things in Australia is 18) - I was too interested in other aspects of my life to worry overly about boys and sexuality. I just wore whatever really...it was the 90s

    But these day's I am step-mum to a beautiful blonde haired blue eyed 15 year old with a gorgeous figure. I'd love to protect her from all the bad things in the world while still letting her be herself. And I think that I'm in a unique position to do so. Her Mum and Dad can (and sometimes do) get enraged about what she wears, but its because they don't want their little girl to grow up more than anything as she doesn't wear anything that isn't appropriate. I have told her that I will always give her an honest and unbiased opinion about what she's wearing, and if I say its too short, or too revealing, then it definitely is.

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  25. Two different factors:
    1) the undies in question are made for girls under the age of consent. That's a little out there - and my daughter (now 8) will not be wearing those while under my roof.
    2) The actresses (Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, et al) who play squeaky clean teens are easily confused with their characters. And the audience is *not* other teenage girls, it's tweens - 8 to 11 yrs old. Aware parents know this and differentiate (my daughter loves Selena Gomez, but the only "product" of SG she can consume is on the Disney channel), but if you let your child hero-worship those folks... when they decide to get a bit gritty (for better roles, just because they've had enough of the Mouse, whatever) suddenly the hero becomes off limits. And it's the hero-worship by pre-pubescent girls that's the real problem.

    So it's not so much older (16+) teens exploring their sexuality as sexuality being marketed to progressively younger girls.

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  26. But that's the IDEA, you know: haven't you noticed, that just as one of these young stars 'comes of age" she automatically gets a role where she plays a "prosttitute/bad/promiscuous" girl , with plenty of skin on display (just see Selena Gomez's latest offering) and this is supposed to show us she's "all grown up": reduced to a "piece of screen meat". Does anyone remember that incredibly disgusting publicity stunt where some "millionaire" was supposed to have made a cash offer for Britney Spears' virginity?

    It was so obviously a publicity stunt; and, I ask you: which part of her body does one instantly think of when the world 'virginity' is mentioned? Well, no doubt THAT WAS THE IDEA.

    What was even worse is the LACK of public outrage at such a disgustingly sleazy PR stunt (she was underage at the time, wasn't she?) And even if she wasn't, it was so degrading, it's no wonder she eventually mentally went off the rails, being subjected to large-scale sexual abuse like this!

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  27. You know what is funny, is I've always been naturally conservative. I really liked 50s fashion when I was in middle school, partially because I felt it aligned with my shy nature. Now that I am 24 and more "adventurous" my Mom is applauding my more adventurous nature... I still think I am more conservative than her, which is really odd. As much as I think kids want to rebel against their conservative parents, we are all doing what feels right to us. I just think the more adventurous teenagers deserve to be educated as well.

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  28. Ahh, I love a post that combines my two passions: sewing and sexuality! I think you're spot on and am sick to DEATH of the patronising 'concern' about what young women wear. Teenagers are sexual beings. Full stop. And sexual presentation (e.g. dressing to enhance our sexual attractiveness), while it should certainly not be compulsory, can be a fun, healthy and logical (if you want to attract mates!) part of a person's sexuality. Our culture does have an over-the-top emphasis on female beauty, but we can critique this without denying either the existence of female sexuality or the possibility of its expression through clothing.

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  29. I think you might have a point. But I also feel uncomfortable with girls being oversexed to young. 4 year olds dancing to music videos etc. I am atm moment reading a book by A.J. Jacobs and he mentioned extra security having to be hired at bar mitsvas in NY to stop the 13 year old girls performing oral sex to the 13 year old boys. That one really freaked me out.
    I did work for a short time as a youth worker, and then only with the disillusioned disengaged sector. No normal kids. But I was disturbed to find a culture of girls doing things to get guys and other girls to like them. One girl had started prostituting herself. But one could argue that she was doing that even before she was selling it for money.
    I think respect is something that's missing and should be taught. The idea that friends and boys will be interested in a girls whole self, not just her sexuality is missing. That is something that we should really get across to these girls.

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  30. I was a wildly provocative dresser in my late teens and I was a slut. I was not "exploring my sexuality". I was desperately seeking attention and approval because I came from a very dysfunctional family. Very cold, dominating mother and violent father. Oh yes, that clothing can mean something.....

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  31. My grandmother has been buying children's clothes almost non-stop since she had her first son, as her oldest son had children before her youngest son was in middle school.

    She says it has been getting harder and harder to find clothes for children that is not very short, very tight, or has some overtly sexual message written on it. I'm not even going to wade into the mess of what teenagers should and shouldn't be doing and wearing (especially since "teenager" is a term that includes people above and below the age of consent), but no four or six or eight year old needs to be wearing pants that say "hot stuff" across the butt.

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  32. This is a never ending topic, to be true... If one should get philosophical, the real trouble is that there is still a wide difference of how extrovert persons are treated because of which sex they happen to belong to. A male does not often have to consider the possibility of being abused/disrespected due to the choice of clothes. While most(?) females often ponder such thoughts when deciding what clothes to wear for the day.

    To me, the greatest problem is that certain people have a problem with the idea of consent.
    #1 The clothes on a person's body (or even the absence of them) cannot give consent to anything! I SHOULD be able to go out butt naked without being raped. Period.
    #2 BUT - if I DID go out butt naked, I would be a fool to think noone would stare at me. Appearance will make an impression, and peoples' opinions will be affected.

    In an ideal world, we would treat everyone with the same loving respect no matter what their apperance or our opinions might be. But that is not possible - I will assume that a person dressed as a Hindu monk IS in fact a Hindu monk, and that someone in a KKK-outfit IS a racist (bastard). And I will treat them differently, because I put different values on them.

    As to myself, I had a mother who worshipped Elvis and Tommy Steele in her days, and I will never ever match the amount of make up she wore back then. And still, she was a fierce feminist who would scare the living cr*p out of most guys.
    There wasn't much I could do (as far as clothing was concerned) to make her raise an eyebrow. I was never one for sexy outfits though, it was all heavy metal and then black metal. Dr.Martens, leather jacket and blackblackblack all year round.... (Funny how at a certain age you are way too cool to be affected by factors like heat, cold etc...)
    I guess lots of people reacted badly to my appearance, perhaps more than I would imagine/intend.

    I now have a daughter of 8, and she is all for comfort. No style, comfort only. Sounds nice, yes, but most comfortable is no clothes at all. Hence, I have to make more of the "butt naked" reasoning above than you might have supposed...

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  33. Clothing that makes one person feel confident and happy will make another feel vulnerable and self-conscious, and yet another feel frumpy and insecure. What one person finds sexy another finds boring or another ridiculous. We do and always will make (first) judgements about people that are, at least in part if not totally, based on a mix of what they look like and our own prejudices/preferences. And others judge us the same way: we don't have to care what they think, but we have to realise that they think it.
    The idea that female skin makes a man unable to keep it in his pants should be insulting to everyone concerned.
    Dressing young children in clothes that would be stereotypically sexy on an adult presents them as stereotypically sexy to the world. Surely that's a bad idea when they aren't old enough to be able to understand or relate to their appearance in an adult way.

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  34. I'm 60, so I was a teenager in the miniskirt era. I developed excellent posture and learned safe lifting techniques, bending my knees while keeping my back straight. If I bent over to pick up a pencil I my knickers were on display! I have used this to teach my community college Early Childhood Education students how to lift objects without damaging their backs. "OK girls, now pretend you are wearing a dress this long ( indicating the bottom of my buttocks) and you want to pick up this box without showing your panties". My daughter was a teen in the bare midriff era. She designed her garments, I just sewed them up. Very economical, her designs used very little fabric. She is now making her own clothes. She and I have both moved on from overexposed flesh, but it didn't harm either of us. If you've got it, flaunt it because it won't last forever.

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  35. Yes...I'll confess...I wanted to be a Sexy Hot-Rod Girl or a Hot Motorcycle Chick!
    But sadly, I didn't have the bucks for breast implants, or parents who would have tolerated (or paid for) it. As an A-cup 90 pound 5' tall teen...I could only dream, LOL!

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  36. I was a teen in the 70's. No hot rod biker chick here, but I flaunted everything I had. I think it is hardwired into girls to exercise and practice their sexuality however is appropriate for their culture. It is part of the mating dance. Every culture has different rules of dancing.

    My daughters, teens in the 90's, wore baggy sweatshirts and grunge jeans until one day each of them started parading out in tight/short whatever.

    I don't think my girls dressed much differently than I did, excluding the plaid thing of the 70's, nor much differently than now. Of course there are some girls who bend the rules of good taste and probably all of us do here and there.

    Flaunting female pulchritude is a message, but that message should NEVER be interpreted as "she was asking for it."

    It is about perceptions. Did I flaunt my sexuality? Absolutely! Is that what is happening today? You bet! Has it always been thus? A resounding yes! Will it always be so? Of course! How else will the human species propagate?

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    1. Great comment -- I think what's hard is that there is no longer a consensus about what is appropriate, especially in the United States, and there's a sense that marketing that targets young people is overwhelmingly sexual in tone.

      Perhaps this is nothing new, but it's harder to avoid: visual media saturate our culture like never before.

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  37. Re: In the promo poster 'Running Wild' it's Mamie Van Doren! No. It's Ellie Mae Clampett (Donna Douglas)! No. It's Mamie Van Doren. Hmmmmm.

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  38. I'm pretty sure I would have rolled my eyes at this underwear when I was a teen just as much as I'm rolling them now. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xnZ6g14WwY

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  39. I agree that young women want to flaunt it, I know I certainly did. And, it's not new, Peter, you are right. I think a lot of this is hard-wired. However, it is worrisome for two reasons that I see. You can say that exposed skin is no excuse for sexual aggression and it isn't, but it does encourage it in males who have poor impulse control and character. If he has to pick which one he will go for, it won't be the one who is covered up! Also, it does reinforce objectifying women at a young developmental age. It's not new, I did it, and it will continue. I was lucky that nothing happened to me because of it. By the way, these underwear are just silly, as I suspect most teenagers know. You are right, we should just be having honest discussions with our children about sexuality and precautions rather than getting upset about underwear signage! Americans can be so hypocritical!

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  40. Wonderful Post, Peter.

    As the mother of a five-year-old boy I am acutely aware of my responsibility to raise him respecting himself and others above all. Hoping that when he is grown, that no matter how a girl is dressed he will act in an appropriate way towards her. Because from experience - if a boy likes a girl - it really doesn't matter if she's wearing a mini-skirt or a paper bag!

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  41. I could comment with a novel's worth of info here... but I won't. The bigger issue, in my opinion, is that for girls, your body is changing, and you are often appreciating those changes and the attention it brings. I have a tween-ager, and think it is very important to let her know that she may have a desire to be seen as sexy, and she will have sexual desires before it is appropriate to act on them. That is not "wrong" or "bad", it is just part of growing up. That is why we educate our daughters about what is appropriate to wear, to do, what the risks are, etc... We've got to consider it from all sides, and that's how the rules get made in our house.

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  42. I never felt safe to dress provocatively. I was always aware that it attracted attention I neither desired nor knew how to handle.

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  43. I would just like to point out that we are NOT all "sexual beings from a pretty young age". I am asexual, along with over 1% of the human population.
    I'm also a teenage girl, (18), and I find all this stuff both annoying and confusing.

    I have always dressed extremely modestly. Partially because I want to avoid sunburns. But also because I feel that wearing revealing clothing in today's society will send messages that I don't want to send, and get me labelled as things that I'm not and don't want to be labelled as.

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  44. My children are not to that age yet, so luckily I am not as worried about it currently.
    However, I do think that it is kind of scary that they have that kind of stuff for all ages of girls (really down to babies). It is sometimes difficult to buy things that I think are appropriate for my 4 and 8 year olds. (And yes they have bedazzled bras and things for girls who are younger than 8). Girls are just trying to grow up too quick.

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  45. I dressed pretty frumpy up until I was 18 or 19. I never even wore makeup. My mom was very strict but she really had nothing to worry about with me because I had no interest. I also had body image issues and low self esteem. I do wish that I had dressed in a more flattering way and developed my own sense of style earlier in life. Young girls who dress in cute, fashionable and quirky ways exude self respect. Young girls who have sexual messages stamped on their butts, obsess over every inch of their bodies, and expose as much of their skin as humanly possible are exhibiting a different kind of low self esteem that I believe is much more self destructive. I don't think parents should micro manage what their children wear but they should be aware of the message their children send out to others by the way they dress. Labeling someone based on what they wear may be unfair, but it is a reality in essentially every human society, and you are very naive if you believe otherwise. I also believe that it is extremely hypocritical when people say "I want to express myself by the way I dress" and then get offended when people make assumptions about them based off their clothes! Isn't the reason you put that on this morning because you wanted to portray yourself in a certain light? If you don't want people to think you're a "slut" don't wear bootie shorts with "come and get it" on the seat. This principle applies to children and adults alike.

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  46. A lot of comments...

    Interestingly enough, in another place on the interwebz that I frequent, this topic (or more specifically, modesty) was raised and 100% consensus couldn't be found there either. In the interest of full disclosure, the place in question could be considered rather conservative as it is religiously based.

    I don't have teens, but I have two pre-teens, 9 & almost-11. I have never had a problem finding modest clothing for them to wear. We shop at Target and Justice almost exclusively these days and I have yet to find clothing for them that would not pass the county's dress code for school. In fact, I'm at a loss as to where to look for inappropriate clothing because all of the major stores in our area trend towards respectable coverage. Even bras aren't overly padded at Target or Justice. Just a little padding to keep "the girls" from being a thermometer.

    Are there things that I consider inappropriate available? Yes. But for every one of those, there are three things that aren't inappropriate. I feel like I'm totally missing out.

    I have a few simple rules regarding clothing:

    1. Skirts and shorts may not be shorter than one's fingertips when standing. This is a school district rule and I find it easier to go along with this guideline since it's easy to see/enforce. And if my girls don't like it, I tell them to take it up with the school board. Win/win.

    2. Nothing with writing on your buttocks. No one needs to be staring at your nether parts. Your face is UP HERE.

    3. Is it appropriate for the venue/weather/activity? They have a lot of lattitude because down here in Florida it's warm pretty much 11.75 months of the year and we tend to be a lot more casual all year round.

    I'm not as much a stickler for writing/designs on the front of a shirt as long as they don't say stupid things. Anyone remember the "I'm too cute to do math" tshirts? Yeah. Oh hail no. We're big into STEM here, so that shirt was a non-starter.

    As long as they stay within the guidelines above, my kids can pretty much wear whatever. I don't think I've had to say "Oh no you don't!" about anything yet and my girls are REALLY opinionated. Especially the younger one, whom we call The Fashionista.

    We have had discussions about how to match color/design/texture/styles, and that's about as far as it goes. My girls love to watch Project Runway, so I think approaching it from a *fashion* sense rather than a *rules* or "you better not try to be sexy" sense works better for us.

    Of course, not having any teens yet, I'm a total expert, right? ;-) I trust my girls to make good choices because they've *always* had the opportunity to make choices. My middle child has been choosing her own clothes since she could walk (less than a year old). I believe that giving (controlled) choices early teaches the ability to make choices later.

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  47. The essential problem is that males are STILL defining female sexuality. We have corporate America selling limited choices of what is sexy.

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  48. Oh, so much yes! LOL. I still have the little red dress in my closet that provoked my (liberal feminist) mother into telling me I looked like a hooker when I was eighteen. . I think my main goal for YEARS (starting at about fourteen) fashion-wise was to look as skanky as possible. Tight, low cut, high cut, cutouts, bare midriff? hellz yes. It wasn't until my later twenties, maybe, that the idea of aiming for anything else really occurred to me. Which may have more to do with having a bit more tummy flab than I used to than anything else.

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  49. I feel that I should leave a comment here since I'm still a teenager lol. I feel lucky that my mom understood the way I wanted to dress a little more provocative. She was this age once too so when she saw me start dressing inappropriately she just stated that "I would grow out of it eventually." She told me storys of how her mom never understood her desire to wear mini dresses and gogo boots. So she wanted to be more accepting of something that was inevitable with an immodest and shapely daughter lol.

    Of course she never let me take things too far though and my older sisters criticize everything I wear. All in all I'm not any worse of than I would be if I was forced to wear jeans and a t-shirt constantly, I would know I tried that too. People still stare... ._.

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  50. In my experience, some teens may not even realize the message they send with their clothes. My "uniform" at 14 was cropped spaghetti strap tank tops and short-shorts. They were comfortable for riding my bike in and I thought I looked cute. I couldn't figure out why all the boys in school kept asking me out and then dumping me a week later. Because I wasn't following up on the message my clothes sent, that's why. The following year I suddenly started wearing very baggy clothes, again just out of my own personal preference. I loved going around in my dad's T-shirts and the widest-leg jeans I could find. The attention came to a grinding halt. Imagine that.

    And just a few weeks ago, with me now at the age of 30, I was standing outside a bookstore waiting for a date to meet me, in a cute red wrap dress showing off cleavage. I was approached by a man who took my outfit as an invitation to stand far too close to me, comment on my breasts, and talk about what sort of sexual acts he'd like to do to me. I kept a calm head and told him firmly that I was not interested. When my 6'5" 250 lb. date showed up a few minutes later, the guy beat a hasty retreat. I was very unsettled over the whole incident, mostly because it was another reminder that there are always going to be disgusting people in the world who think an outfit that you merely perceive as cute is a neon sign flashing "F*** ME."

    It's unfair, but that's how it is. I would never EVER EVER suggest that ANY woman deserves to be assaulted or to even be catcalled because of what she wears, but we do a disservice to all of us when we act oblivious that what we wear garners a certain kind of attention. Should we go around in burqas instead? No, but we should be aware of this fact and teach it to our daughters. And while we're at it, we could teach our sons that we shouldn't judge books by their covers or girls by the clothes they wear. We can't change the views of society as a whole, but we can at least attempt to create decent human beings.

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    1. Good, nuanced comment. I just saw an animated video on street harassment. It was posted on Feministing or Feminist Philosophers.

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  51. There is considerable documentation of research within the drug/alcohol prevention world on marketing to children and pre-teens. One of the points that really stuck with me is that nearly every child has chosen their brand of beer by (I think it was 8 years old) and the research has proven that they stay with that brand throughout their life even though they do not consume it until a decade later. (Budweiser frogs anyone? Notice how quickly that campaign disappeared.) Consumers become irate when these types of tactics are used against them but there are millions of dollars at stake in identifying how to get and keep loyal brand customers. Budweiser will swear to you that they never marketed to children. So will Victoria's Secret. But the truth is they need to get their brand locked in as early as possible before the field gets crowded with competitors. It's a thin line to walk. And it's a very effective strategy.

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  52. Sexual health ed is important, but so are lessons in self-respect. When I was growing up, 14-year-old girls weren't being pressured to give blow jobs.

    The underwear you posted is vulgar and could easily be misconstrued as a come-on.

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  53. I am a mother of a 5yr old girl, with whom I recently had a conversation about why she was not a sexy lady(heard in a song on the radio we were singing too)but beautiful or pretty or cute or any other but not sexy because sexy is for adults. I know I have more of this issue to cover as she gets older but I am hopeful that comunication will help me help her navigate the 'what you choose to wear will be judged by others no matter what your original message'.

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