“Developing News” was flashing on my TV screen this morning. I had become numb to any kind of “breaking” news but this one caught my attention. The “developing” story (pardon the pun) was about a new bathing suit being sold by “Abercrombie and Fitch” originally called the “Ashley Push Up Triangle Bikini”. In short, this bikini had a padded bikini top and was being marketed to seven-year-old girls.
Parents reacted quickly, spit-firing mad at this promotion of prepubescent pressure and A&F quickly changed the name to “Striped Triangle Top” despite keeping the offending padding in the swimsuit top.
Seeing this news brought me back to about 8 years ago. Some old friends were visiting from out of state. They brought with them their two daughters, one ten and one five. Since they were staying with us for a week, they were welcome to use my laundry room.
One morning I needed to wash some clothes and took out our companies' clean clothes from the dryer. As I was setting them aside, my eye caught a most unusual item. It was the smallest tiniest black lacy padded bra I had ever seen. I was puzzled. What the heck was this and whom did it belong to? Some kind of Amazon Barbie Doll?
I brought it out into the kitchen holding it like a smelly piece of moldy food. My children were in the room, as well as the ten-year-old visting girl. Her parents were gone running errands.
“Who the heck does this belong to?”
The little girl, truly a little girl who was showing no signs of development or the advent of puberty, said shyly, “Oh, that’s mine.”
I was stunned. What the heck? Who would make a tiny little bra like this all black and lacy and padded for little girls? And, gulp, who would buy this for their child?
Without thought or reflection, I instinctively knelt down next to the little girl and said, “Oh sweetie. You don’t need to harness yourself like this. You’re a little girl. Your job is to go outside and play. Play in the tree house, swing on the swings, dabble in the creek, jump on the trampoline, play with the dog, zip down the zip line. Play and know that you’re beautiful just the way you are.”
I was met with the blank stare of one who did not understand.
I felt angry with her parents, furious at “The Limited Express” for making the damn bra in the first place. Angry that this little girl was getting a loud and clear message at such an early age. YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH.
I thought back to my own prebuscent days, days that lasted well into my teens. Without getting into any unnecessary details, let’s just say that I was a very “late bloomer”.
Memories poured in of junior high school and of the taunts and teasing from clueless and stupid acne-faced boys. As I would walk in the halls between classes it was not uncommon to hear, “There she goes, the carpenter’s dream…flat as a board.” Or, “Oh there’s Mary, her chest is like a sunken treasure.”
At that tender and vulnerable age, I found this grossly unfair. Hello! I had no control of my breasts or the timing of when they would finally decide to come out and play. And thankfully, I had a strong sense of self. While the jibes and insults were hurled my way, I knew that the size of my chest, or lack of it, had nothing to do with my value as a human being.
But I’m not saying it didn’t hurt, that it didn’t penetrate the heart of this wild-hearted little girl who longed like anyone else to be loved, seen and valued for who she was.
This morning, I wasn't as angry at "Abercrombie and Fitch" as I was at the parents who are buying them. I was quite sure A&F had done their market research and determined what there is a strong market for. The company is simply reflecting the culture.
Call me a prude. Call me judgmental but shame on any parent who buys their little girl a padded bra or swimsuit. If parents don’t buy them, guess what? The company will stop making them. Period.
The “breaking” news today was nothing new. The sexualization of little girls has been going on since the beginning of time. But those behaviors have always been considered abhorrent, illegal and more than immoral.
Normalizing those behaviors, in fact promoting them by buying padded bras and swimming suit tops for little girls is just plain wrong and again begs the question, “Isn’t there some way we could make people pass some kind of common sense test before they can become parents?”
But we can’t.
I’m glad there’s a “bikini backlash” to this new Abercrombie and Fitch bathing suit. I’m glad parents are mad as hell and declaring that they aren’t going to take it anymore.
But I'll be curious to see A&F's quarterly sales reports to see how this new spring line does because that’s the real bottom line. If this suit is a hot seller, it's going to age me real quickly. And you will find me fumbling and mumbling my way through life repeating over and over, "I just don't know what this world is coming to."