Meg Meeker, M.D.
Victoria’s Secret’s latest ad campaign, “Bright, Young Things,” features lacy, colorful thongs with words like “Wild,” “Feeling Lucky?’ and “Call me” written on them. Despite the company’s insistence that this campaign is not aimed at young girls, parents of pre-teens are outraged, believing these sexual messages are indeed targeting their daughters.
I hope that you find this as offensive as I do. If you don’t, read on.
Marketing cigarettes, alcohol, and sex to our kids has been a source of concern for the American Academy of Pediatrics for years because numerous studies show that advertising changes a teen’s behavior. If you make cigarettes look sexy, kids buy them and smoke them. That’s why we killed Joe Camel, remember? If you market seductive underwear to little girls, they are at higher risk for starting sexual activity. Period.
Research shows that if a girl begins having sex before she is 16 years old, the number of sexual partners she has over her lifetime increases dramatically. And when a girl has more partners, she is at risk for contracting one or two of more than 30 sexually transmitted infections, like HPV, which causes cervical cancer.
In fact, in March 2004, a Congressional Hearing was held regarding prevention of cervical cancer in girls because then head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr Julie Gerberding, publicly stated that the best way to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer in women was to do two things:
- reduce the number of lifetime sexual partners, and
- help a young girl delay her sexual debut as long as possible.
Consider this irony: we immunize girls as young as 10 years old against the cancer-causing HPV while letting them buy underwear, which can put them at higher risk for getting it. Can you imagine if we immunized kids against lung cancer but allowed them to buy clothing with cigarette references on them? There would be public outrage.
Encouraging young girls to be “sexy” can lead to devastating physical health problems, but it does more: it can lead to psychological and emotional harm. First, data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health shows that when a girls starts having sex at a young age she is more likely to become depressed. Currently, a staggering 20% of teens report a lifetime of depression before finishing adolescence. We parents and physicians need to be doing everything in our power to drive these numbers down and not allow the numbers to rise. If selling sex to young girls can contribute to their becoming one of the 20%, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to speak up.
Second, when advertisers sell our daughters sex, they encourage them to believe that their identity equals their sexuality. But not even a healthy sexuality; rather a cheap one where girls are reduced to sexy playthings.
We want our girls to believe that their identity stems from their character, their uniqueness (not sameness), and their intellectual or physical achievements.
In a passionate letter to Victoria’s Secret, a father by the name of Mr. Dolive wrote about his feelings. I encourage you to read the entire letter. He said:
“As a dad, this [the words on underwear for young girls] makes me sick.
I believe that this sends the wrong message to not only my daughter but to all young girls. I don’t want my daughter to ever think that her self-worth and acceptance by others is based on the choice of her undergarments. I don’t want my daughter to ever think that to be popular or even attractive she has to have emblazon words on her bottom.
I want my daughter (and every girl) to be faced with tough decisions in her formative years of adolescence. Decisions like should I be a doctor or a lawyer? Should I take calculus as a junior or a senior? Do I want to go to Texas A&M or University of Texas or some Ivy League School? Should I raise awareness for slave trafficking or lack of water in developing nations? There are many, many more questions that all young women should be asking themselves … not will a boy (or girl) like me if I wear a “call me” thong?”
Bravo, Mr. Dolive. You are speaking for not only hundreds of thousands of parents, but also for the young girls themselves. They want to know that they are more than sexual objects and that their value comes from being strong young women, not sexy playthings for boys.
So let Victoria’s Secret hear from you mothers and fathers. Selling sexy lingerie to adult women may be fair game, but selling it to our little girls isn’t.
Meg Meeker, M.D.