When Young Girls Dress Sexy, Their Self-Esteem Pays the Price

An online journal called Sex Roles has just published a study about the “sexiness factor” in clothes made for pre-teen girls. To conduct their study, the researchers looked at the clothing available online at 15 popular stores in the US, and assessed the clothes on how “sexy” each item was. They defined sexy clothing as: “clothing that revealed or emphasized a sexualized body part, had characteristics associated with sexiness, and/or had sexually suggestive writing.” They also looked at whether or not these clothing items also had “childlike characteristics,” like a child-like fabric (such as polka dots) or a modest cut.

The findings of the study are no huge surprise if you’ve been in a tween clothing store in the past five years. More than 25% of the clothes they looked at had both childlike and sexualizing characteristics. What exactly does that mean? It means that clothes clearly made for young girls are weaving in sexual characteristics, most often emphasizing the look of breasts, or drawing attention to the buttocks. The worst offender? Abercrombie Kids, which had the highest proportion of sexualizing clothing.

The authors of the study had this to say about the results: “Confused parents might be persuaded to buy the leopard-print miniskirt if it’s bright pink. Clearly, sexiness is still visible beneath the bows or tie-dye colors. We propose that dressing girls in this way could contribute to socializing them into the narrow role of the sexually objectified woman.”

So what happens to young girls when they dress “sexy,” want to wear clothes that have “sexualized characteristics,” or live in a society where sexy clothes for tween girls is the norm? Here are just some of the consequences of young girls being sexualized according to a recent study by the American Psychological Association (APA):

  • Self-objectification (which is basically seeing yourself the way you think others see you) can actually make it harder for you to concentrate and focus
  • Self-objectification also undermines confidence, and results in shame, anxiety, and self-disgust
  • Sexualization in young girls is linked to eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression
  • Self-objectification has been directly linked with diminished sexual health among adolescents (decreased condom use, less sexual assertiveness, etc.)
  • Young girls who are oversexualized are more likely to be okay with women being seen as sexual objects and name physical attractiveness as the most important criteria for a woman’s value

And those are just a few. Can you think of more negative consequences?

Listen. I’m all for girls and women wearing clothes that make them feel good, that accentuate their beautiful bodies, and that are comfortable. Grunge, preppy, goth, emo, indie, scene…it’s all good. But when it comes to clothes for young girls that are overtly sexy, that draw sexual attention to their breasts and butts (remember these padded bikini tops from Abercrombie?), that’s where I have a problem. Wearing clothes like this doesn’t just make a fashion statement – it also reinforces the message that girls are sexual objects, both to the world at large and to the young girls clad in the very clothes.

What’s your take? Do you ever find yourself trying to dress sexily because you want to be seen a certain way? Do you believe young girls dressing sexy is a problem?


  1. Courtney Belyea Said,

    May 14, 2011 @ 12:23 pm

    Hi Debbie: This is saddening to hear, little girls should be little girls, not forced into such roles, it is not a normal thing to enforce and it isn’t okay, this kind of clothing shouldn’t be tolerated, supported or boughten by people. These girls are our future and look what companies are doing just to earn a few bucks. I think another negative effect of this could be adults seeing children as sex objects which would contribute to child porn. Scary stuff.
    That’s why I just LOVE Japanese fashions, they place such a heavy emphasis on adorably cute “kawaii” clothes and even teenagers and women in their twenties purposely try to dress childlike with frills, baby pink, carton characters, Hello Kitty, ribbons, lace, ruffles etc
    The Japanese have pretty much perfected the art of cuteness and I can tell you any girl who has worn a lolita dress knows being desexualized and modest can be a beautiful feeling.

    Peace and keep up the great work for girls everywhere!

  2. Courtney Belyea Said,

    May 14, 2011 @ 12:41 pm

    Can you please sign these two petitions I wrote?
    I’m a 16 year old girl and I want to see some change in the world please support me!



    Thank you 🙂

  3. Courtney Belyea Said,

    May 14, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

    More to say on this subject haha…
    I can not get over this injustice to young girls, it’s horrifying, it’s terrible, look what we are telling them they should be. I felt pressure to grow up early too, looking back I wish so much I could take back my self hatred, magazines were very damaging to me, I don’t read them anymore. I remember being disgusted with myself as a preteen. So, so tragic beyond words. Hating myself stole my childhood and contributed to my mental illness.
    How did America go from sweet 50’s girls clothes and frock dresses and gingham? I guess you could still go on sites like Artfire though and buy a pretty, homemade gingham dress for your daughter. Tre adorable. 🙂
    I wish now I could’ve dressed like that instead of trying to look older. I was young, impressionable. It’s bad enough these big corporations have so much power, enough to damage girls feeling for themselves. Enough to effect our lives, our self worth, our self esteem. I don’t believe in supporting large corporations, especially Wal-Mart. When Wal-Mart comes into an area it has been proven to drive out all small, local run businesses even if it takes years, it always happens. I think the amount of them should be regulated, I think the power this CEO’s must have, it scares me.

    Fair trade, organic, local and hand crafted forever!

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