Model and socialite Elizabeth Hurley got into trouble last month because of a launch of a bikini line for preteens called "Fun." The protests came mostly from parents and a charity called Kidscape who were offended by the values promoted by the clothing line, calling it "disturbing" and "inappropriate."
Many parents were up in arms because they didn’t want their 8-year-olds to be inappropriately viewed by society while wearing leopard-print bikinis. At first glance, the protests seemed like a fluff piece in which people got angry about absolutely nothing and considered it newsworthy. Upon further evaluation, however, it reveals a disturbing and prevalent problem that we, as a society, should be concerned about.
To begin this argument, let us all be in agreement on one point: the sole reason bikinis are worn is to make women look attractive. It’s not because they provide any advantage in swimming or because they offer any more or less mobility — if this were true, at least a few, if not all, Olympic swimmers would wear bikinis, but they don’t.
It is my most sincere belief that people have the right to wear what they want. How a person dresses is an expression of their individual personality and the complete freedom of expression is paramount to my beliefs. However, I draw the line at expressing thoughts that are not your own or saying something just because everyone else is saying it — and that includes expression through clothing.
From a biological perspective, as a girl grows older she will go through puberty, and the chemicals and hormones within her will assert that she likes someone. That much is inevitable. In order to gain the person’s attention or just look good when she goes to the beach with her friends, she will want to wear something flattering, and there are very few types of clothing that make a woman look more flattering than a bikini.
The point here is that she is making those choices voluntarily in the post-pubescent period where she is mature enough to make decisions. She can weigh the negatives (“some creep will stare at me” or “I’m just not comfortable”), and finally come to a conclusion.
That’s not what happens in children of the targeted age range for this bikini line, ages 8-12. Girls at this age don’t wear them to attract guys. Nor are they able to assess the pros and cons. An 8-year-old girl wants to wear a bikini because her friends are wearing them, because the popular girls are wearing them and because that’s what, regrettably, society has bombarded her into believing is cool.
I draw the line for freedom of expression here simply because the expression is not her own. It’s not something that she came up with or something that she decided was for her — it’s something that she is doing to fit in.
The problem here transcends mere clothes and fashion sense. The underlying problem here is how girls who are as young as 8 want to look grown up and think of themselves as “sexy." This overemphasis on sexuality, especially in young girls, is rampant and visible through the clothes they wear, the shows they watch on TV, the toys they buy and the music they listen to. Yes, there were rebellious female singers who sang about sexuality in the ’80s, but those songs weren’t half as sexualized in video or lyrics as “My humps…my lovely lady lumps."
The next time you watch Nicki Minaj gyrating in one of her videos, imagine an 8-year-old girl dancing in her place — it’s disturbing, and yet it is exactly what is happening today. In our culture, models and pop stars are idolized not for their music, but simply for how attractive they look. Children want to be “grown up” like these figures they see on TV, and in the process of doing so make the involuntary trade-off of their childhood.
Researchers recently conducted a test in the Midwest which concluded that girls ages 6- to 9-years-old would, ideally, rather be "sexy" than "trendy," in part because they associated sexiness with popularity at school and other advantages.
At this point in the argument, feeling like a preacher, I tried to play the devil’s advocate by asking myself if there were any real benefits to wearing a bikini when you’re 10-years-old. It turns out, there are none. However, exposure to sexual content in large amounts in the pre-pubescent stage can have extremely detrimental effects, according to an article in Psychology Today.
In the pre-pubescent stage, children are learning and absorbing knowledge and behavior, and exposure to sexual content during this time leads to increased sexual activity in the teenage years and a decreased sense of security during the act — inevitably leading to an increase in unwanted teenage pregnancies.
This idea of "sexy self being the only self" is now being pushed on girls from a fairly young age, and even though there is no denying that there is a fair amount of entertainment for children that emphasizes character rather than looks, it’s few and far between and gets buried under the tons of programming that displays otherwise.
Som Kandlur is a sophomore in finance. Please send comments to [email protected].