Sexy Little Girls

I’m a father of two girls. I go shopping with them often. Let me say it simply: It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find modest clothes and bathing suits for my daughters.

The fashion world is putting the pressure on, nudging young girls to get too sexy too soon. But most kids are on board. They’re simply following the fashion of their role models.

The question many parents and youth workers have is: where do we draw the line? We could be like the one mom we all know at church that always dresses her daughter in Amish-like apparel. I know her daughter well (I’ve met hundreds of them). When she turns 18 she’s going to rebel completely. She’s already started. Or I guess we can do the opposite and be like the overly-permissive parents of many of the girls we see on public high school campuses– girls who hardly wear anything at all.

Parents have a choice to make. Are they supposed to sway to either of these extremes? Is there a modest balance?

Youth workers have an equally difficult choice to make. In the U.S., it’s more difficult the next couple of months. The weather is hot, and that means bikinis, shirts with spaghetti straps, and other revealing attire. (As I sit here, my girls are at church camp- a camp that doesn’t allow two piece bathing suits. Some of the girls from our church literally didn’t have one-piece bathing suits. This can be a tough rule to enforce)

A FEW THOUGHTS:  (first I’ll link a couple great articles on the subject, then we’ll talk about what parents can do, then I’ll touch on how youth workers can set guidelines)

David wrote a really powerful article on this subject this week, Short Skirts, Short Shorts and Short Shirts. Here’s just a snippet:

According to their article published in the research journal Sex Roles, of the 5,666 pieces of clothing studied, 31% of them had “sexualized characteristics.” The sexualization of the clothing was usually in the form of “frequently emphasizing the look of breasts” or bringing “attention to the buttocks.”

We know that watching sexy TV shows has a direct correlation to early sexual activity, as does listening to sex-laden songs. But is there also an effect on girls who wear clothing that’s sexual? The researchers claimed that “Dressing girls in this way could contribute to socializing them into the narrow role of the sexually objectified woman.” (CLICK HERE FOR THE ENTIRE ARTICLE)

Some great discussion has transpired in the comment section of this article. I encourage you to check it out and/or join in.

I think parents inside and outside of the church are growing frustrated with some of the companies that are “selling out” to this kind of “oversexualized” clothing for young girls. A while back I blogged about an ABC news report titled, Too Sexy Too Soon, with a great video on the subject. Some parents are getting fed up with this “corporate pedophilia.”

So how can parents set guidelines?
First… I don’t think we need to over-react to either extreme mentioned above. Personally, I don’t see the need to wrap up our girls head to toe. I’ve had a conversation with my girls about the way they dress because of the simple truth that it affects the guys around them. I’ve talked about how “visual” guys are and how much bikinis and revealing tops can affect them. These have been good conversations.

Does that mean that we never have disagreements about apparel in my house? Ha! We have to remind my girls quite often. (I actually talk about this and some guidelines we use in greater detail in my book, Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent)

But Lori and I don’t just give up. We’ve set realistic guidelines and we’ve explained why they exist. My girls (13 and 15) are pretty cool with that.

What about youth workers?
How is a youth worker to respond when it’s summer camp and a girl shows up in a revealing two piece? (not that all one-peices AREN’T revealing!)

I actually addressed this on our ASK THE SOURCE page when a youth worker wrote and asked about a situation where they were trying to figure out a dress code for church activities, and how to approach kids that didn’t follow the code.

Here’s a snippet of my response:

I also think you can handle a lot of this one-on-one. If you see someone wearing something risqué, you can have a female staff talk with her. I would use discretion and be sensitive to “unchurched girls.” You don’t want to scare a kid away from the church over a bathing suit. And let me assure you- the world has no problem with small swim suits.

I spoke for a church last year at a one week water-ski camp and they had a similar rule about bathing suits. Sure enough, a few girls wore risqué suits. I saw two female staff approach girls about this. It was interesting to see the difference in the two approaches. When someone first voiced the concern, the two staff girls spoke up. The first announced, “I have no problem telling her to change. Where is she? Watch this!” I think this staff girl was a little more excited about the chance to enforce her power than she was caring about the individual. The girl’s reaction was not good. Not surprising.

However, the second staff lady handled her situation quite well. She was one of the mothers on the trip and when the situation arose, she simply said, “I’ll talk with her.” You should have seen her gentle approach. She just walked up to her, put her arm around her and said something to her about “a pretty girl like you doesn’t need any more help getting guys to look at you.” Then she joked with her. “Why don’t you wear this t-shirt this week over that suit and have mercy on some of our guys.”

I remember that incident well. It’s amazing how most situations can be defused when you and your team of leaders pour on “love.”

So what do you think? How are youth workers and parents to set these guidelines? Where do you draw the line?

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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This entry was posted in Discussion Ideas, Family, Parenting, Self Image, Sexuality, Youth Culture, Youth Ministry Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Sexy Little Girls

  1. Jen says:

    I agree that the most important thing to do is communicate. As adults, we seem to forget that we were young and naive once. We think young girls must know what they’re doing when they dress like that. I can tell you, when I was young I honestly didn’t know what I was doing. It wasn’t until I read the book For Women Only that I realized how visual guys are. I dressed that way because I wanted people to look at me like I was beautiful, something I never heard from my father.
    Parents and youth workers do need to set boundaries and enforce them. That, along with open communication, can help change a young girls perspective. I can’t believe the way I used to dress, but I really didn’t know any better. Parents need to talk about things like this at an early age.

  2. Linda says:

    wow, hard for me to be brief but here goes: it needs to be mainly up to the parents to set and keep a standard for their children. However, youth workers should have some say when they run programs/events on dress code. that can alleviate potential problems. we can bring it up for discussion and work out how God feels about it but these things must be done carefully and with love. so many of our young people are happily conforming with the worldly (& wild) standards and expectations. in the end, the individual has to decide. we can pray, encourage, educate, pray, talk, pray, listen, and pray!!!! 🙂

  3. Madison Osborn says:

    I have parents who i understand that they are thinking of us but sometimes i think they may be a little over reactive. My parents are usually pretty good but one of the things that annoys me is the bikini thing… my sister and i are 13 and 15 i am the younger one and she is definitly the rebel of us. In this problem my parents explain they don’t want us wearing these but they say we want them becuase we want the guys’ attention but really we just want to be like everyone else and especially when we are in the sun in our bathing suits we kinda want our stomaches to match the rest of our stomach’s tan but that doesnt happen with tankinis. And especially in my case i pretty much have nothing to show off i just find bukinis cute and im skinny so i look better in them because after i swim the tankini sticks to my stomach and it looks kinda scary because im soooo skinny. My sister on the other hand is normal sized around the stomach but well lets just say she is not close to flatchested like me but being the rebel she once went to hollister and called my mom at the check out. she told my mom she was getting a bikini and my mom said no. My sister’s response was definitly not that simple. “Oh 20$ you say? Okay here you go. KACHING! Thank you.” and then she hung up.
    And this week we went on vacation and she found out someone sent her tankini through the drier. (and it wasnt her truly) so she conviently had her bikini along (not saying she ruined the tankini) my parents made her promise to wear a shirt over it but of course she didnt. In my case my conscience is too strong for me to rebel if i even forget my homework at school i cant sleep thats how strong it is so… Im stuck with a tankini.

  4. Amanda says:

    Madison, you are awesome. As a youth leader, I definitely want to see my girls wearing modest bathing suits for the sake of our poor visual guys who are bombarded with nearly-naked girls all the time. I totally understand your pain though – I used to love wearing bikinis before I worked in ministry because of the more ‘matching’ tan. My advice to you is to tan in your backyard with a two piece (as long as you have a private back yard!) if you want a nice tan, but wear something modest around others – not only does it help the guys from stumbling, it sets a great example to other girls – as girls, we also like to gossip about how other girls look – wearing modest clothes means you’re helping the guys from looking AND the girls from gossiping about your skimpy outfit or bikini!