Mobile Sexualization: Kids Bikes & Sex

Recently, I was shopping with my four year old daughter, comparing prices for her first bicycle. Going on bike rides as a family while growing up is a fond childhood memory of mine, so I was quite excited about Amelia (the Original Pigtail Pal) reaching this milestone. Her grandparents already had a bike waiting for her at their house to use on our visits. My husband and I were looking forward to teaching her to ride this spring so she could razzle dazzle them during our next visit.

My enthusiasm quickly diminished. I was expecting the limited and stereotypical pink/purple/turquoise color choices. I was expecting sparkles and butterflies. I was expecting almost all of the choices to be character branded with my friends from the Disney Princess crew, Hannah Montana, Barbie, etc.

What I wasn’t expecting was that even children’s bicycles have become sexualized. Of all things, the quintessential part of childhood – a first bike – carrying a sexualized message on it. What, might you ask, had me so up in arms? A Huffy bike model, sized 16 inches, displaying the words “Major Flirt” on it. (Recommended for ages: 3-6 years old)

Huffy 16inch Girls Bike: "Major Flirt"

I was shocked. Disgusted, actually. In this day and age, in our hyper-sexualized society, is it really in the best interest of our children to send them freelancing around the neighborhood on a bike letting everyone know they are a flirtatious coquette?  And, is “Major Flirt” as bad as Huffy’s “Hot Stuff” 16 inch model, also recommended for 3-6 year old girls. Do 3-6 year old girls have stuff that is hot? Should girls of that age be flirting?

I don’t think so. I went home and researched bike selections at the popular big box stores like Target, K-Mart, Walmart, etc. In the price range we were looking for our daughter’s first bike (under $80), these were the model names from numerous manufacturers: So Sweet, Pop Star, Dream Journey, Spring Fling, Hot Stuff, Major Flirt, Daisy Diva, Sea Star, Twirl, Pizazz, Mist, DeeLite, Jasmine, Precious, and Candy.

Maybe with those names, I’ll be lucky enough to find Amelia a bike helmet that reads “Stepford Wife in Training”. With the exception of ‘Sea Star’, every single model name referred to sweet behavior, sexual behavior, attractive appearace, or a princess. Ugh. So maybe I should let this go and just buy her a Dora bike. It would be easy enough for me to say “That’s not for my child” and choose to spend my money elsewhere. But what about the kids whose parents don’t think that way? This isn’t just about me and my child. It is about all of our children. Remember, the 15 bike models listed above are the top sellers at the major retailers which means: 1) they are mainstream, meaning they are most readily available to the highest number of people, and 2) they are what people are buying because they are what the stores are stocking.

Unless you’re one of the lucky kids with a giant unfinished basement and get to ride your bike indoors, most kids ride their bikes outdoors. In public. Where anybody can see them. So what happens to the little girl who is unfortunate enough to be alone and ride her “Hot Stuff” bike past a group of older boys who surround her and start questioning her on how hot her stuff really is? Can a six year old handle that? Should she have to?

When I first called Huffy Bike Customer Service and asked to speak to someone about the sexually charged children’s bike names, I got the response from two different reps, “Um, no one has ever asked us that before.” Fine. But I was asking now. And I demanded to speak to someone in the marketing department. Ultimately, I received a call from Huffy Bike headquarters and had two very nice conversations with a marketing manager, a mother of two grown daughters. She told me she understood my concern, and told me when Huffy came up with these names ‘Hot Stuff’ and ‘Major Flirt’, they were influenced by fashion and what was popular in girls clothing at the time.  She informed me that due to “a number of calls from parents” about these names, Huffy was no longer manufacturing them. Because they are still carried in stores, I asked if Huffy provided stickers or anything that parents could use to cover up the words. She said no. Although still available at retailers and promoted on their website, she said Huffy was trying to be more sensitive to those kind of things. So, I asked for a statement reflecting such. Instead, I got this:

Huffy has been working to help parents and children with bicycling for years. We’ve never seen ourselves as just bike manufacturers. To us, it’s more than that. Biking is a way for both adults and kids to be active outdoors. The Huffy website has a lot of information to help make sure bicycle riding is enjoyable and safe. www.Huffy.com has tips for parents teaching their children how to ride a bike; bicycle safety posters for kids; guides for finding a bike path in your area and much more.

Well. Huh. That’s not really what I was looking for. I wanted a major corporation like Huffy to say something like:

Huffy has been proudly making bikes for parents and children for years. We are more than just bike manufacturers. To us, biking is a way for families to enjoy the outdoors in a healthy and safe way. Connected to our commitment to safety is the knowledge that our bikes carry messages and images that allow for healthy and age appropriate development. We responsibly consider all areas of your child’s safety when developing, marketing, and promoting our cycling products.

After all, this is our children we’re talking about. I can find a bike path on my own. What I have trouble finding is understanding for the thought process that goes into thinking names like ‘Hot Stuff’ and ‘Major Flirt’ are appropriate for a small child. A child that, at 3-6 years of age, would probably lack the social skills and vocabulary necessary to stop sexual advances from a predator or older children. And why the hell do I have to use the phrase “sexual advances” in a post about my daughter’s first bike?

So, Huffy, and the rest of you, here’s our thought for the day: THERE IS NOTHING SEXUAL ABOUT OUR CHILDREN OR THEIR CHILDHOOD.

I spoke to my children’s pediatrician about this, and he was dumb founded. And this is a man who is married to a marketing professor. He said, “Why would parents do that? Why would they have their child on a bike that says that?”. I replied that unfortunately, that is what is sold in the mainstream, Big Box stores. So next I went to my independent bike retailer here in town. His bikes were twice the price, but you could tell the difference in quality. I asked the owner what he thought of all of this, and I watched him get physically uncomfortable. He said “As a parent, I don’t like it. I don’t think that’s right for the kids.” Apparently my local bike shop owner is brighter and more socially conscious than Huffy’s marketing and development department.

Let’s do this. As adults generally concerned about the safety and healthy development of our children, let’s all write to Huffy and ask for a stronger commitment. From a wholesale perspective, they have orders to full fill that would have been written months ago. Retailers are expecting the bikes they bought at market to be on their shelves. Huffy can’t change that. What they can change is the content of their website to reflect the level of commitment they are responsible for. Whether or not these bikes are still in production, the fact remains they are still being sold and they are inappropriate. And they could prove dangerous to our children.

Here’s what Pigtail Pals will do: I had the idea, what if Pigtail Pals created rad stickers that parents could put on their girls’ bike to either cover up sexy/stupid messages, or to just generally empower their girl toward overall awesomeness? Pigtail Pals will be working on two designs for reflective stickers and will have them available in a few weeks. See, Huffy? That was easy.

Here’s what you can do: Write to Huffy so they get a better picture of how committed parents are to ending the hyper-sexualization of childhood. Encourage them to go farther in their steps towards corporate responsibility. Encourage them to do better.

Huffy Bicycle Company

Attn: Ray Thomson, Vice President of Marketing

6551 Centerville Business Pkwy

Centerville, Ohio 45459



Comments

  1. Way to go, PP!!! is there an email address we can send to Mr Thomson? I will gladly send him a message :)
    .-= Andrea Owen´s last blog ..The Easter Bunny meets Cesarean Awareness =-.

    • Thank you Andrea.

      We were not provided an email address for Mr. Thomson. The emailed response was sent from a manager in the marketing department (Robin Moore = robin.moore@huffy.com). I like the tangible effect dozens and dozens of letters will have. Emails can be quietly sent to an electronic folder and forgotten. A nice fat pile of letters sitting on someone’s desk won’t be as easy to ignore.

      Whichever medium you choose, let’s applaud Huffy for their small steps towards ending the sexualization of our chidren, and strongly but politely encourage them to go the full distance. I truly think a lot of companies are only starting to think about the negative affects of all of this on our little ones.

      Let’s educate them.

  2. Great post. Such things are just not on and not ok. Applause to you for standing up.
    .-= Julie´s last blog ..A Week In The Life Of Photoshop… =-.

  3. i love this – and i’m not even a mom. but this is the kind of thing that scares the living daylights out of me and makes me want to raise dogs instead of little girls. moms like you make it seem possible. thank you for your activism and passion.

  4. Melissa,

    Great post! Since it’s been awhile since I’ve looked at bikes for little girls, thanks for bringing this issue into focus. My daughter is now 12 and I can tell you that for the past two years, she and I BOTH have been aghast at the clothing style selections for girls in her age group.

    Seems this hypersexualization of childhood is trickling down to younger and younger children. Parents need to step up, say something and be heard. If people stop buying it, they have to stop making it.

    I’m sending my letter soon!

    The stickers are a nice touch! Let me know when they are done, I’ll be happy to do a blog about it!

    Wendy @Kidlutions

    • Wendy,
      I invite you and your daughter to write a guest post for us about your feelings on girls’ apparel choices. Sounds like your 12 year old has more common sense and good taste than many of the execs sitting in the offices at the apparel and marketing companies. This blog is for all of us, because you are very correct when you say that if parents stop buying this garbage and demand better products for our children, retailers will oblige.

      Age compression = hypersexualization at younger ages. The whole concept of “tween” is proof of this. A nine year old is not a tween. She is a child, and should be treated as such. Commercial culture is wanting us to raise our children at a faster pace simply to turn them into consumers at younger ages. Its all about money, money, money.

  5. Melissa, i LOVE the fire that you let loose on Huffy for the sexualization of little girl’s bikes! I am speechless & dumbfounded that a company like Huffy – who i’m sure is made up of many parents – could manufacture & sell bikes that sexualize our lil girls.Thank you for making this public. Even more thank you’s – for taking that xtra step to call them & make your voice heard. I will be writing a letter to Huffy informing them of my disgust – because childhood is not sexual – & sexual innuendos on lil girls bikes ARE NOT SAFE for our girls. Please let me know if there’s anything else i can do.

  6. Good for you, Melissa, for drawing attention to this issue, and for calling Huffy on it. I, too, am outraged by products marketed to young girls that feature words like: Hot Stuff, Foxy, Juicy and Flirt. It’s shocking to see young girls turned into sex objects from the get-go. I also get irritated when I realize that, for both women and girls, often the coolest, most well-made, useful products for outdoor activities are only available in men’s styles or sizes. It seems I’m still meant to look cutesie and helpless, even though I’m a grown woman who is very active and capable. Keep fighting the good fight.

  7. Thanks for being a parent willing to ask the hard questions of the big companies and of your community. We need more connected parents like you!

  8. a twist on this strory would be to ask the question – why is the author shopping for a brand new bike from all these major retailers. she could save 80% off the price of a new bike that her daughter will outgrow in two years and she would be helping to “recycle, reduce, reuse”. or better yet, we got free one from a friend whose daughter was done with it. and yeah, it was pink but she liked that ;)

    I know that wasn’t the ‘point’ of the story but…  

    • Hi Tom –
      It isn’t the point of the story, but to settle your curiosity, my daughter and I were shopping for a different item when I suggested we go look at the new bikes to get her excited about the big event this spring. During the last several grocery shopping trips she had seen kids wheeling new bikes out of Wal-Mart, so she was interested in the whole process of a kid getting a bike and learning to ride. I was hoping this would buy me some time until I could search Craigs List or garage sales for a used bike.

      In fact, my parents had already gone the route of “reduce, reuse, recycle” and had found a bike for her from a neighbor that had outgrown it. We gave it to her this past weekend and it was a huge hit. And we saved 100%, as it was free.

  9. Excellent post! I have been wanting to do this with Gymboree. The little “daddy” slogans on the shirts are getting worse! One girl shirt said, “Daddy’s my main squeeze” and a boy shirt said, “Daddy’s my copilot.” Both sexual references.

  10. I was shopping for a new bike for my 4 year old and came across this bike. I was floored… It saddens me to read this post though. Because now I know Huffy didn’t recall this Bike. It is still out there. I don’t get shocked by much but this really opened my eyes to the creepy business and creepy people that are out there.

  11. Mom2Natalie says:

    So grateful to have come accross this post on a google search. I have recently tried to avoid character branding for all purchases… not because I dislike the “characters” but WE HAVE ENOUGH, seriously Enough. I’m not against the princesses/barbie/dora/etc BUT lately I can’t seem to buy even a kid’s toothbrush or tube of toothpaste with out feeling the “character assault” (all at child’s eyelevel mind you). Sandwich bags, really? Okay, to the point… I was searching for a bike for my daughter’s 4th birthday (without character branding) AND I ALMOST BOUGHT THIS BIKE!!! UGH I can’t imagine what I would have done if I had bought it because I know I would have rushed to put it together and quickly stowed it away until the big reveal (at her party in front of friends/family!) I would never have noticed what is said while in rush/stealth mode. I was just so happy it didn’t have Ariel or Barbie on it and was psyched to have found it. On the website, I really couldn’t see what it said and NEVER IMAGINED IN A THOUSAND YEARS it would say MAJOR FLIRT. My eyes were opened when I saw this post while searching for a cheaper online source for the bike I had decided to buy. So glad this opened my eyes!!!! In future, I will be much more aware while navigating the toddler/kids isles. SAD REALLY :)

    • I loved your comment, and as I am finishing up another blog post (on birthdays, no less!) at 2am and I really want to go to bed….it is comments like yours, especially the “glad this opened my eyes” part that keep me fueled to burn the midnight oil and keep doing what I’m doing.

      So glad you enjoyed and learned from the post. I hope your daughter has a wonderful 4th birthday!!

  12. playonwords says:

    Came across this blog post on Democratic Underground. Living in the UK I compared with one of the big bicycle discounters over here – Halfords. Firstly Bikes over here are more expensive but there is far less sexualisation.

    Second point you might do better as a first bike to consider a “balance bike” rather than one with training wheels

    • Playonwords –
      We take the pedals off so that the bike is a balance bike and then can go back to being a regular bike. Benefits of a balance bike are great! And they can be achieved by only buying one bike. I’m glad to hear the sexualization isn’t as bad across the pond.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] was no carefully crafted statement. At least Huffy gave me a statement about bike paths. Kohl’s said it loud and clear: BOTTOM LINE: IT [...]

  2. [...] my search for a photo of my old bike I ran across this from a blog called “Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies” written in June of 2010, but still floating on the internet and still worth a read, especially [...]

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