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)
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