Amelia Gets Sexy

The photo I asked the PPBB Community to caption.

During our caption contest for the photo at your left there were a couple of comments about kids not noticing this kind of thing / don’t make a big deal if they don’t / don’t shelter your kids just talk to them / and one about packing up the kids to play at the park instead because they shouldn’t be at the mall anyway.  (Yes, you could have played along on our Bingo card and won several times over.

I don’t think removing children from public spaces meant for all ages is the answer. The existence of children is not the problem. The acceptance of sexualization of the female form as our status quo is the problem.

My kids and I had no choice but to walk past this on the way to the specialty store we needed to buy a gift at. I very rarely go to our mall, so I had no idea this display was waiting for us. Because of the way the window sits in the wall, from the direction we were walking a shopper cannot see the images until you are in front of them. And then you are in front of 8 feet tall porny banners for poorly made lingerie and sex toys. With your seven and four year old. You are fooling yourself if you think kids don’t notice these kinds of things. Eyes wide shut.

My seven year old daughter did notice the banners. And she did comment. And I did talk to her.

“Oh, those girls are pretty. I really like them.” -7yo Original Pigtail Pal Amelia

“What do you like about them?” -Me

“Oh, they are so pretty. Like Barbie.” -OPP

“I think you are pretty and I think I am pretty. I think these women are showing a different look. Why do you think they are dressed like that?” -Me

“Well, that is their fancy underwear and the man is trying to see their boobs.” -OPP  (See photo below)

“Remember the other night when you asked me what ‘sexy’ meant? These girls are dressed in a way that many people view as ‘sexy’. The underwear is called lingerie, it is only for grown ups. Their hair and makeup and poses, it is all meant to be sexy. They want the man to be looking at their breasts.” -Me

“Oh my god. I had no idea that is what it….Mom? Am I in trouble for looking at it?” -OPP

“No, you are not in trouble. There is no way for us to not look at it right now. But I want you to see the difference between being a beautiful, strong little girl in your own heart, and being a sexy grown up who wants men to look at your body. Being sexy is not for kids.” -Me

“Yeah. That isn’t appropriate for kids’ private parts.” -OPP

We walked into the store we needed to go to, ironically the University Bookstore right next door, and on our way out, Amelia said, “Mom, you should take a picture of me in the car like Ben because then people can see that I am a kid and that sexy ladies are for sexy ladies.”

So here you go. The photo of Benny (above) was taken in the moment, to show the juxtaposition of the children’s play space being invaded by sexualization. The photo of Amelia is staged, at her request, so that you can see that, in her words, “Sexy ladies are for sexy ladies, and not for kids.”

Amelia gets "sexy", and wanted to show you why it isn't for kids. C'mon People!

My first grader learned two new words at school this week, neither of which I am happy about. “Sexy” was one of them. The other was “asshole”. I always say that if the child is able to ask the question, she is ready for the answer. I don’t believe in sheltering my children, but I do believe in respecting their childhood. Our children have a natural born right to a childhood. I didn’t want to be explaining these concepts to her at seven years old. I am pissed that I have to.

Yet, I do have to. Or at least, begin to. This will be just one of many conversations about this topic as she matures. This wasn’t a commercial that I could turn off or something that I could have avoided. As is the case with so much marketing, there are very few ways to escape it. That is WHY they call it marketing.

Because I respect Amelia’s right to a childhood and her right to develop a healthy sexuality and sense of self-worth, she is now starting to understand “sexy”. I explained it to her in as best an age appropriate way as I could manage. I think she is getting, in a small way, what “sexy” might mean. The concept of “sexy’ isn’t a bad thing when introduced at an age appropriate time, and allowed to be explored when the person is ready. But I do have to say, the people who force this on kids and families really are assholes.

 

I’m really glad she didn’t notice or didn’t ask about the whip and tie. I can handle talking about a lot of things with my kids. BDSM less than ten feet from the kiddies rides is not one of those things.

 

Web shot of Spencer's window advert for their lingerie sale.

Window display at Spencer's, looking directly out onto the mall walkway and directly across from children's play area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here were my favorite captions :

Caroline Burkhart Askew: “Hop in, Mom! We’ve got to get away from this blatant display of sexism speedy quick!”

Theresa Costello: “Yellow Sports Car Ride: 25 cents. Soft Core Porn in the store window: Free. Your son leanring he has to pay more for a fake car ride then a woman’s dignity? Priceless.”

Daniel Singha:l “Mom, you can’t park in the red light district, lemme move the car.”

Christine Harris” “Bemused preschooler flees porntastic midwest mall in speedster hotwired by older sibling. News at 11.”

Comments

  1. Our mall opened a child’s play area about a year ago. The type that is enclosed with benches for the parents to sit and watch the kids. The stores directly around the playground are Sears, an apple candy store, an ice cream store, and Frederick’s of Hollywood. Sometimes the display just bothers me with all the kids running around. I will admit shopping there in my younger years, but that doesn’t mean I find it OK that my 4yr old might see their display every time she goes to play.
    I don’t see how mall mgmnt didn’t think that maybe this wasn’t the best place for the playground or maybe the store. And no I have never complained. I just cross my fingers my daughter doesn’t see it. (shame on me)

    • Well, we do live in a democracy and that means our reality is determined by participation. Why not voice your concerns to the manager so that these needs can be met, or at least considered? YOU are the person that mall is trying to serve, after all and even if they disregard the concern, you need to voice a concern to initiate any hope of change.

      Also, I am struck by the difficulty of explaining the trashy sexuality of a sex shop to a 7 year old, as opposed to regular, wholesome sexuality…daunting. It reminds me somehow, though the situations are very different, of discussing how adult nudity (we were at a nude beach with a bunch of nature lovers who were all peacefully sunbathing – with no sexual energy whatsoever), is perfectly appropriate for children – but sexual nudity is very inappropriate. I grew up on German beaches where everyone was topless – it is not even remotely about sex – men there would be appalled if anything inappropriate did happen. But they are also famously ribald off the beach – there is an innate respect for distinctions between healthy nudity and the pleasures sex. They are considered two entirely different things.

      It’s one reason why they tend to consider American’s to be incredibly immature. Our Puritan heritage really messed with our minds!

  2. I am so glad that you bring up the topic of when is the time to discuss _______(fill in the blank) with your kids. I raised two daughters to be independent self assured people. One is gender queer, and one is happily girly when she wants to be. They are nearly 18 and 19 now. I somehow managed to field the questions over the years, tried to explain the unexplainable when one of their 7 year old girlfriends was molested when they were 5 and 6. I wanted them to know enough to help them protect when I was or was not with them. As they grew, they had to learn more than I ever dreamed any child would need to know, 13 year old class mate pregnant, 14 year old friend that was gay and able to come out with loving support of his family and friends. Being raised by a gardener mom with a decided preference for men’s clothes meant that “Sexy” was not portrayed at home very much. I sometimes felt ill-equipped to explain why the fashion trend of young teen girls with spagetti-strap tanks and barely covered breasts was not only against school rules, but was a choice for displaying their bodies in a manner that was demeaning. I struggled also to not impose my personal discomfort at display of cleavage and shoulders, and mentally revisited the topic each time before I discussed this with them. In the end, I have two young adults that are seemingly comfortable with their own bodies, and their sexuality. I am blessed:)

    Living in a society that deems it OK for young girls to dress sexy when added to full lines of age inappropriate cloths while my children were both very mature physically at age 11 or 12 was very hard. I support public information and forums that help parents know how to deal with this without damaging kids naturally developing sexually.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. I am always so impressed with how you handle these conversations with your kids! I absolutely agree with you that it is important to answer your questions, even when we are uncomfortable.
    I was shocked that my daughter had so many questions about where babies come from — and very specific follow-up questions — when she was only 3. I answered all her questions and she hasn’t asked again — except when someone at school had different information.
    This year in kindergarten, “sexy” hasn’t come up yet, but I she has had questions about what she should do if a classmate brings a gun to school, why would one of her classmates want to kill himself, and is it OK for a grown-up to hit a child. I’m hoping it gets easier . . .

  4. Welcome to society! Your kids will possibly hear “sexy” and “asshole” and other profanity no matter where you take them. Some adults won’t feel like censoring themselves around little ears. For some adults, speaking profanity is so much of a part of their daily life it doesn’t occur them to censor themselves near kids.

    • With all due respect, @SherryMD, this is not about censorship or ‘profanity’—it’s about kids being able to grow up with healthy sexuality and a strong sense of personal agency instead of cruddy cues from retailers who choose to market women as perfunctory props in a whip/tie ‘pleasure bound’ one-liner to sell lingerie and boy toy media messaging.

      Kids ambient exposure to sexual ‘shoulds’ of ‘what sexy looks like’ is seeping into them like second-hand smoke; it’s just a different kind of pollution impacting public air quality that kids can’t get away from…(um, 72pp APA study on damage of early sexualization anyone?)

      Also, next Q…Where do we draw the line on ambient media vs public rights?

      Here’s a post I wrote on Liongate’s “Captive” billboards w/the movie’s depiction of women involving torture/violence/decapitation disturbing kids to the point of nightmares: http://www.shapingyouth.org/kids-are-a-captive-audience-with-ambient-advertising/ Displays can’t be ‘turned off’ and kids/parents shouldn’t have to run the gauntlet to avoid them.

      Rock on, Melissa, it would be my ‘pleasure’ to link up some binding policy tethers on corporate antics like these, so these companies with repeated misogynistic misfires trip up and hang themselves.

      • p.s. And I mean that figuratively, of course, from a non-violent ‘stop this nonsense’ perspective.

        Again, this feel less about protectionism, and more about civil rights. The rights of children to grow up without being “sold their worth” as a sex object, and bombarded by media defining them before they can even define themselves. Bleh. Bleh. Bleh.

  5. I have to wonder if you are also one of those people who is offended by women breastfeeding uncovered in public. Oh no boobs! I have an 8 year old girl. She plays with Barbies, Monster High and Winx Club dolls. She plays outside, most of her friends are boys and she knows about sex and what mammory glands are really for.

    The title of this Blog entry is misleading at best and disturbing at worst. I agree with the other poster who grew up in Germany, Americans are definitely immature when it comes to sexuality. Here in Canada we have nude and semi nude beaches and no one has died from it.

    • Having breastfed, and done so in public, no I don’t see anything wrong with that. I do see the HUGE difference between a woman using her breasts to feed her child, or exerting agency and laying nude/partly nude on a beach (done that before, too) and women dressed in porny lingerie on a giant sized poster directly behind the kiddie rides. The breasts aren’t the problem here. The geography of them, is.

      My daughter “gets” sexy now, meaning, she understands it. She gets it. That is exactly what the title says, don’t know how that is misleading. Ironic that you find that “disturbing”, but have no issues with your young child playing with highly sexualized dolls.

      • Funny, my child has the good sense to ignore sexualized media instead of playing into the idea that if you own your sexuality you’re setting the modern woman’s movement back a few decades. Heaven forbid my child actually care about her appearance yet be

        I have the feeling you feel I’m a ‘bad parent’ because my child doesn’t see that Barbies are sexual. Seriously you have a post about worrying about bullies yet anyone who doesn’t believe as you do about your brand of feminism is not right and I should have a problem with Barbie since my 8 year old doesn’t see them as a sex object. Do you think your daughter would know about sexuality and over sexualizing women in the media if you didn’t mention it?

        Funny, I thought feminism was about empowering girls and women to feel confident about who they are and to be who they want to be and so on and so forth. Not to be-little someone for allowing her daughter to play with Barbie.

        • My daughter has a few Barbies. I’ve written about it here on the blog and invite you to read those posts.

          And despite you being rude and insulting, I recommend you stick around and read some more posts because it would benefit you to understand the difference between sexuality, sexualization, and the ambient nature of unhealthy media messages. You may also want to look into the American Psychological Association Task Force of the Sexualization of Girls and what their findings reveal.

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  1. […] post by Melissa on her Pigtail Pals/Ballcap Buddies blog titled “Amelia Gets Sexy” is a solid example of the ambient existence of sexualization that kids are exposed to…and […]

  2. […] post by Melissa on her Pigtail Pals/Ballcap Buddies blog titled “Amelia Gets Sexy” is a solid example of the ambient existence of sexualization that kids are exposed to…and it’s […]

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