The Sexualization of Little Girls
I order my tall skinny latte and try to find a place to sit and read the paper among the tables filled with hipsters and others not so hip working on their laptops, their paper cups long empty. While I wait I notice a mother and her pre-teen daughter in line ready to order. I can see only their backs; the mom wears a long conservative summer dress and sensible sandals. Her daughter, shorter by a head, wears a tiny red ruffled skirt that barely covers her behind and a tank top revealing bra straps. Her celery stick legs totter on black and white polka-dotted high heels. She carries a small black purse. I’m guessing she’s pre-teen from her skinny legs and her awkwardness on those shoes.
My latte is ready and I find a table vacated by one of the guilt-ridden unhip. I open USA Today and on the front page is an article entitled, “Puberty Too Soon.” The lead is “Girls are maturing faster than ever, and doctors are not sure why.” The paper reports that about 15% of American girls begin puberty by age 7 based on a study published in Pediatrics last year. The paper quotes biologist Sandra Steingraber, author of a 2007 report on early puberty for the Breast Cancer Fund: “Over the last 30 years, we’ve shortened the childhood of girls by about a year and a half. That’s not good.”
No kidding. The study lists a number of factors that may be contributing to the trend towards earlier onset of puberty: childhood obesity, premature birth, genetics, environmental chemicals, time spent sitting in front of computer or TV screens, and family stress. And then there’s the incessant marketing to “tweens,” children between some number and thirteen. That number drops lower and lower every year, even, as you will see in the video below, to perhaps 6 years old. And here’s a creepy little factoid: girls who don’t live with their biological fathers, some preliminary studies at Berkeley are suggesting, are more likely to move into puberty early.
I lift my eyes from the paper and notice that the mom and her daughter have found a table facing me, and I see I am right. The little girl dressed like a hooker has a sweet, lovely, unblemished face. No make-up. My guess based on my own experience is that she pleaded with her mom to let her wear the outfit today. It’s just to go to the coffee shop! The logo on the front of the bag she carries is Hello Kitty. Hang tough, Mom, I think. Hang tough.