Swimsuit season is just around the corner and Abercrombie & Fitch: Kids knows exactly what you've been looking for and is more than happy to provide you with it:
A padded bikini "push-up" bra for your second grade daughter.
This is by no means the first time the brand has come under fire for questionable merchandise. A&F stores have long been a source of controversy for everything from 2002's racist t-shirt recall to pumping their stores full of environmentally hazardous cologne.
After ABC News took a look at the latest in tween swimwear, Babble.com bloggers were justifiably outraged, saying:
"The push up bra is, effectively, a sex tool, designed to push the breasts up and out, putting them front and center where they're more accessible to the eye (and everything else). How is this okay for a second-grader?"
Unfortunately, a similar incident occurred just last April in the UK when department store Primark pulled padded bikini shops from the racks after being criticized for "premature sexualization". The store later apologized and donated all proceeds from the tops to a children's charity.
But the question is, how did these tops make it into stores in the first place? The fact that in two separate instances, the idea for a padded bra for tweens (as young as eight years old) was able to make it from conception to production and into stores, is disturbing in and of itself, as it means that every step of the way, not one person said, "Hey, maybe this isn't the best idea" (or if there was, they were in the minority).
During the Primark debacle, child protection consultant Shy Keenan of the Phoenix Chief Advocates told The Sun UK:
"It never fails to amaze me just how many High Street household names are now prepared to exploit the disgusting 'pedophile pound.'"
In a more recent interview with ABC news, child psychologist Dr. Michael Bradley responded to the Abercrombie & Fitch swimwear and the increasing amount of emphasis retailers are placing on pre-teen sexuality:
"American Psychological Association warned us back in '07 this stuff was happening. They're targeting girls as young as age four to be sexualized creators".
Bradley said that this cultural shift could lead to at least "four bad things":
"One, we're shaping their beliefs. We're actually teaching them that this is their primary value in this culture, that's what they're all about. Second, we're shaping their behavior. We find that kids that get into this stuff do get into high risk early-onset sexual behavior. Third, we whack their body image. We tell them "You're not okay as you are. You have to use this kinda stuff". Finally, we're taking their childhoods away from them. At age eight we throw them into this pressurized, high anxiety world they're not ready to handle and we think it's part of why we see so much depression and anxiety in kids."
When asked if the onus should be placed on the parents of these kids, Dr. Bradley says:
"Yeah, but not to do the thing we wanna do. Don't yell and scream, no way. Ask your kid what they think about the stuff. You have to shape their beliefs. Engage your enemy on the battlefield of beliefs. Ask her why she does it, what she gets out of it, what the payoff is, where this is gonna to go."
Bradley makes an excellent point. If this is the world girls are going to grow up in, asking them to question the forces they are up against is definitely a step in the right direction. By causing them to examine the messages they're receiving from retailers and marketers, we can give girls the ability to stand apart from a culture that seems to be doing everything it can to tell them they don't get a say.
Author's Note: It would appear that Abercrombie & Fitch removed the words "push-up" by the time this posted.