On March 18, 2013, I found an article in my inbox sent by a colleague with the note, “YOU HAVE to blog about this!!” The piece, “Victoria’s Secret is coming for your Middle Schooler,” was written by Amy Gerwing and posted on the website, The Black Sphere.
I should have seen this one coming. My first red flag went up last November when Justin Bieber, the teen icon that’s worshiped by nearly every American girl under the age of 14, tweeted that he was getting ready to sing at the highly provocative Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
Ms. Gerwing continued to express her outrage at Victoria’s Secret’s new marketing campaign, Bright Young Things which, she explained, was targeting pre-teens and teens as Victoria’s Secrets next demographic to, and – these are my words, not Ms. Gerwing’s – be clad in garments with the sole purpose of rendering the tween unclad, if that is a word, as quickly as possible. And just to be certain that we are on the same wavelength here, I am not even saying that this is because the panties and thongs – yes, thongs for tweens – are lacy, and silky, and seem to scream, “Take me off!” No, there is nothing covert about this line of undergarments. There is nothing left to the imagination. These panties are branded with the following messages boldly placed on the front of the panty just above the crotch: “Wild.” “Feeling Lucky?” “Call Me.” I could see why my colleague was suggesting that I blog about this.
As a feminist who lost her virginity the same year that Ms. Magazine was born and who went through adolescence with the hot-off-the-press “bible,” Our Bodies Ourselves, it is easy to see why this blatant example of over-sexualizing pre-pubescent girls would enrage me.
Not to mention that my anger reminded me of some activist work I did regarding a line of t-shirts by Abercrombie & Fitch that resulted in the removal of the product by the company. So I started looking into it and found that there had already been uproar about the Bright Young Things campaign and at least a dozen articles, including one by Ben Davis published as early as March 11, with the same accusations and complaints voiced by Ms. Gerwing. And as the buzz spread from Facebook page to Facebook page and Tweets about Teen Twats took center stage with the viral speed, Victoria’s Secret released a statement on Monday, March 25th via their Facebook Page:
Despite recent rumors, we have no plans to introduce a collection for younger women. “Bright Young Things” was a slogan used in conjunction with the college spring break tradition.
And the floodgates opened and the media went wild! Was this whole thing a mistake; a misinterpretation on the part of the journalists who wrote the first stories about the tween marketing?
If that was the case, isn’t this issue now more about lousy fact checking and jumping to conclusions? I certainly couldn’t write a piece protesting a campaign targeting tweens if no such campaign existed. So I went back and had a look around. I found a plethora of articles from such sources as The Daily Beast, Salon, The Houston Chronicle, ABC News, and the New York Daily News. What emerged were three points of view. The first was anger at the sexploitation of girls as young as ten years old that has motivated Diana Cherry, a mother of four from Seattle to start an online petition lobbying for Victoria’s Secret to pull “Bright Young Things” from shelves. According to an article by Olivia Bergen published on March 26, 2013, Diana Cherry says:
Sexualisation of girls by marketers has been found to contribute to depression, eating disorders, and early sexual activity – and this new ad campaign is a glaring example of a culture forcing girls to grow up too fast.
Carrie Goldman writes in the Huffington Post on March 26, 2013, “My Daughter Does Not Need a Thong That Says ‘Call Me’ On the Crotch.”
The second point of view was anger at the opposition’s prudishness and at the suggestion that we should take away the choice of little girls to wear whatever damn underwear they want. I am trying very hard to understand that point of view. I am thinking that perhaps this group believes that having an age limit on sexy panties is not a very feminist point of view. One mom of a nine-year-old girl, Jenny Erickson, made the news on Good Morning America and stated this point succinctly: “No one wants to be the girl with the ugly underwear.”
And lastly, I noticed that the authors of practically every article were pointing their pens at V.S. and screaming “underpants on fire,” challenging their claim that it was NOT their intention to market this line to tweens, but to college girls. Most of the writers used the same supporting evidence to substantiate their point. According to Business Insider:
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.’ – Chief Financial Officer, Stuart Burgdoerfer, of Victoria’s Secret parent company, Limited Brands.
This statement made by Mr. Burgdoerfer in January, 2013, seems to imply that the company was fully aware of the trickle down effects of marketing and were counting on younger girls emulating older ones. The controversy now had another focus: the appropriateness of the lingerie line for young girls and whether or not VS had intentionally marketed to tweens in the first place. The subject became so confusing that it merited an entry on Snopes.
- Claim: VS introduced a line of provocative lingerie for teenage girls.
- Findings as of March 27, 2013: Mixed.
But even if we give Victoria’s Secret a one-time only “get out of jail free card” and the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t marketing to tweens, we also have to take Burgdoerfer at his word. The company knows that 15- and 16-year-olds want to dress like the college girls. And the college girls are wearing thongs and panties that say, “Get Lucky,” and, “Call Me,” on their pubes. So even if we believe they didn’t mean to market to little girls, how do we feel about that?
Victoria’s Secret is NOT the only retail giant who knows that sex sells and that selling sex to a younger demographic will sell more. Are we being too puritanical to complain about this? Or are we protecting kids from being called disparaging names like “Pedi-Bait” and “Prostitot?” What are the roles of the parents in all of this? Who ultimately takes responsibility, the parents or the vendors? What kind of messages are being sent to tween and teen-aged boys? I would love to hear your feelings, opinions, and concerns.
‘Til Next Time!