You can now read 10 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

The Boston Globe

Opinion

The Podium

It’s no secret what they are selling

A woman walks in front of a Victoria's Secret store in Chicago in January. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh.

A woman walks in front of a Victoria's Secret store in Chicago in January. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh.

I’m thinking of moving my family to Amish country, or, better yet, to a remote island in the Galapagos. Anywhere to get my 6- and 9-year-old daughters far away from corporations that want to sexualize them as soon as they hit their tween years.

The last time I was this outraged about girls’ clothing was when Abercrombie & Fitch offered a padded, triangle bikini bathing suit to girls as young as 8 years old. This time it’s Victoria’s Secret’s brand Pink, and the launch of their latest bathing suit line. The advertisement shows skinny young models barely out of middle school frolicking in tiny bathing suits. The new tag line for the ad campaign? Bright Young Things.

Continue reading below

Victoria’s Secret’s Pink line was launched in 2002, allegedly targeting 18 to 22-year-olds. But Victoria’s Chief Financial Officer Stuart Burgdoerfer was recently quoted at a conference as saying, “When somebody’s 15 or 16 years old, what do they want to be? They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the girl in college, and that’s part of the magic of what we do at Pink.”

Ah, yes Stu, the magic. It’s magical to call young girls “things” and sexualize them when they’ve hardly hit puberty. I wonder if Stu has daughters. I’m also wondering, are these corporations too stupid to realize they’re sexually exploiting girls … or too blinded by dollar signs? Given that tweens and teens in this country have billions in spending power, I’m guessing it’s the latter.

Of course, since the uproar about “Bright Young Things,” Victoria’s Secret is now insisting that the target market for its Pink line is college-age women. Right. That must be why it chose Justin Bieber, a favorite of my 6-year-old, to sing at its fashion show in New York City last year. Justin sang while models strutted down the runway wearing the candy-colored Pink lingerie line with — I’m not making this up — pinwheels and toys attached to their bodies. Also, show me a middle school at recess, and I will show you at least a half a dozen girls wearing Pink brand sweatpants or hoodies. So who’s kidding whom about the target market?

To deal with our disgust, my mom friends and I jokingly remark about how companies should sell some of the teen/tween clothing we see as “Tramp Starter Kits.’’ Or perhaps they should include a beginner size stripper pole with some of these swim suits.

Sarcasm aside, none of this is OK for our daughters. None. Of. It. The sexual exploitation of young girls by corporate America has enormous ramifications on girls’ self-esteem, their personal development, and on their relationships with the opposite sex. Parents on Twitter and in the blogosphere are outraged, as they should be. When you sexually objectify young girls, the consequences reverberate across society.

In some ways, I worry even more about how this impacts boys. When a consumer powerhouse brand like Victoria’s Secret has advertisements plastered everywhere calling girls “things’” — what message does this send to boys? That it’s perfectly fine to treat girls as objects, because that’s how the rest of the world sees them?

As a parent, I can’t control Victoria’s Secret or any of the other corporations that want to turn my daughters into sexual objects far too soon. But my husband and I can control what happens at home. We can raise our daughters to love and value themselves and take pride in their intelligence and their accomplishments. We can, and have, had conversations about age-appropriate clothing and the absurdity of some of these advertisements. Finally, we can also control where we spend our money, which is the only act that might — might — make a corporation like Victoria’s Secret change its tactics. But I’m too cynical to hold out much hope for that.

Of course, if I get really fed-up, there’s always one of those islands in the Galapagos.

Jane Healey is a writer who lives in Melrose.

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week