Author: Larissa Saco
Occidental Sociology Professor Lisa Wade sparked widespread discussion when she posted a criticism of abercrombie kids’ “ashley push-up triangle” bathing suit top on her blog, “Sociological Images.” The March 19 post, addressing the idea of sexualizing young girls, eventually led Abercrombie to take the product off its website. abercrombie kids’ website says that its target audience is girls who are, on average, 7 to 14 years old.
“The average age of puberty is 12. So, at what age should girls start trying to enhance their cleavage? How old is too young?” Wade wrote in her post.
Readers send messages about subjects they observe from a sociological standpoint to Sociological Images, and Wade, along with Nevada State College Sociology Professor Gwen Sharp, decide which messages get posted on the website.
A reader named Allison K. first sent the link to Sociological Images, which Wade picked out from 12-15 other posts the blog receives daily.
“We can really only take credit for breaking the story. I have to give credit to our reader who sent in the idea,” Wade said.
Wade’s post, titled “Push Up Bikini Tops At Abercrombie Kids,” acknowledges Allison K. and questions the meaning behind the Abercrombie product.
“Part of the task we’ve given ourselves is to document cultural trends, so it seemed appropriate to do that,” Wade said.
Evidence points to Wade’s post as being the epicenter of the controversy. First, the reader who submitted the message did not include a link to another news story or blog. Wade also did not receive many messages about the controversy on “Sociological Images.”
“A lot of times if something is out there we’ll get multiple people submitting the same thing, but it was just this one person,” Wade said. It was later that Wade received links from multiple readers who had not noticed Wade’s post. In addition, Wade had not heard about the controversy through any other means of media.
“Usually I read a lot of blogs that cover this kind of stuff, but I had never heard about it. And often I do hear about these things,” Wade said.
Readers also spread the information and quotes from the post through blogs, Twitter and Facebook. According to “Sociological Images,” Wade’s post was included in 174 tweets and “liked” over 2,000 times on Facebook. Following the social media explosion, many news outlets discovered the story.
“The next thing I knew, I was getting calls from journalists to talk about it,” Wade said. The post was quoted in The Chicago Tribune, the Columbus Dispatch and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The subject was also featured on CNN.
The post and the resultant spread of discussion in the media led to a response from Abercrombie. First the company stopped referring to the top as “push-up,” but the item remained on the website. Then they took the item down from the website altogether and posted on their Facebook page, “We’ve re-categorized the Ashley swimsuit as padded. We agree with those who say it is best ‘suited for girls age 12 and older.'”
Sexualizing young girls is not the only problem Wade has with the messages portrayed by clothing companies and the media. She connects the origin of sexualizing young children with the trend of infantilizing adult women.
“I don’t think that we can really understand why we are seeing so much of that without seeing the flip side,” Wade said. Wade draws from cultural evidence such as Halloween costumes, Vogue spreads and advertisements showing women dressed as little girls in provocative poses.
“This idea of infantilizing adult women makes sense because we do tell women that they should try to look as young as possible for as long as possible” Wade said.
Wade argues that this practice sends men the wrong message about women and sexuality.
“When beauty, femininity and sexiness for women is deeply tied in with being young, we see this pushing down of the age at which women seem appropriate partners for men,” Wade said.
Wade also argues that the padded bikini is a product of gender inequality. Marriage rates show men and women marrying asymmetrically. “Men marry women who are a little bit younger, less educated, shorter, weigh less and have a job that pays less money,” Wade said.
This phenomenon enforces the idea that women are less valued for their wisdom and intelligence yet more valued for their appearance and immaturity, according to Wade.
“Men are taught to look down towards women who are below them on multiple dimensions, age being one of them,” Wade said.
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