Recently we were shocked, like thousands of other parents, to see Victoria's Secret's "Bright Young Things" advertisement for their PINK line of underwear.
It's not that thongs meant for young women emblazoned with phrases like "Call Me" and "Feeling Lucky?" are entirely shocking coming from Victoria's Secret, but more that they insisted on comparing our young daughters to objects and things in order to sell them this lingerie. Victoria's Secret already makes millions off of sexualizing adult women (over 9 million people watched their most recent fashion show on national television) but now they're coming directly for our teens who are most vulnerable to the media's messaging.
As parents of a daughter and a son (with another daughter on the way), we fear the impact this kind of messaging has on young generations, not to mention future ones. Not only is Victoria's Secret encouraging girls to sexualize themselves at younger and younger ages, but they're teaching men and boys to value girls' sexuality at younger and younger ages. This is dangerous.
Though the company has since removed the most offensive products and ads from their website, the damage has already been done. And in any case, their larger message of objectification is still reaching our daughters -- especially through their youth-oriented PINK brand. The aforementioned fashion show, after all, starred pop idol Justin Bieber.
The Chief Financial Officer of Victoria's Secret has said this about PINK: "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." We're sorry, but when did it become "cool" for college women to spend so much time and energy trying to appeal to the male gaze? That's not the college experience we want for Montana or her sister.
Hyper-sexualization and self-objectification are already national health problems, and as many as 60 percent of young women don't pursue the things they are most passionate about in life because of body dissatisfaction. Teaching teenage girls to see their value as a measure of how their body looks -- a central tenant of all Victoria's Secret advertising -- further limits their future possibilities in life.
Yet it's not just Montana and her sister whom these hypersexualized images and slogans will impact, but her brother Hunter, who is growing up in the same media environment that objectifies and devalues women and girls. How does he learn to value and treat women? How does he learn to see his own masculinity as relates to the hyper-femininity promoted by Victoria's Secret?
Certainly we parents have a responsibility to teach our children the truth and to have these important conversations with them as they grow older. But we're never the only ones teaching them how to think, what to do, or what to value.
The average American teenager consumes nearly 11 hours of media daily -- that's way more than most parents interact with their kids each day. These harmful media messages about women and girls are on the clothes their friends wear to school, promoted by their idols on TV, rag magazines, and the Internet, and celebrated on mannequins and models in the storefronts and billboards they walk by (there are more than 1,000 Victoria's Secret stores in America, and probably one in your city's mall right now).
As parents we can only do so much to shield them. At some point it becomes a social ill we must all contend with -- including the brands making millions on these harmful ideas.
Let us all challenge the idea that our girls are objects for the male gaze and things to be sold to, rather than people to be loved, respected, and valued for more than our youth, beauty, and sexuality. As parents this is something we strive toward every day, but it's time corporations recognized their role as well.