CHICAGO — Ignorant. Vain. Disrespectful. Negligent. These are just some of the character traits of people who not only accept but condone, finance and promote the sexualization of very young children.
If this sounds a bit harsh, how else would you describe parents who sex up their infants?
Yes, their babies.
Imagine my disgust — after previously having written about how young children have sexual identities projected onto them by the adults in their lives through toddler beauty pageants, sexy clothing for kindergartners, and French-style lingerie for girls as young as 4 — at finding sexualized clothing for newborns.
News reports earlier this month told the story of a group of outraged parents in Mississippi who complained to their local TV station when they found baby onesies for sale printed with a woman’s bust and slim waist covered in only a polka-dot bikini.
Does such a frivolous item mean the end of the world? Of course not, but this is the lame argument that people who believe this novelty is completely harmless often make to defend the indefensible.
And the bikini onesie is among the tamest baby clothing you can find with a quick web search. CafePress, an online seller of stock and customized clothing, has infant body suits that read “Hung like a preschooler,” and one sporting a rainbow that reads “Not gay.” There’s also the “Stripper Infant Bodysuit,” which has two tassled stars silkscreened where the baby’s nipples go. I won’t detail the ones with messages hinting at sexual arousal, pimp culture, sex toys and sexual predators.
Har-dee-har-har. This is what passes as funny for the numbskull parents who choose to clothe their babies in these billboards for family dysfunction.
But maybe you’re one step ahead of me in noticing the trend of sexualizing babies. Maybe you’ve scrolled through your Facebook timeline and come across a cute, innocent baby picture with a caption referring to the youngster as “sexy” or “hot stuff.”
If you thought that was a one-off aberration, think again. Apparently this is a hot topic of discussion on baby blogs. Thankfully, based on what I’ve seen, the number of people disgusted that parents refer to their children this way is far greater than those who believe “sexy” is the same as saying “gorgeous.” Though, chillingly, some parents admit giving their very young kids that compliment to make them feel grown up.
Is there an epidemic of people calling their babies and little children “sexy,” or dressing them in extremely inappropriate clothing? No. But just give it time.
As I’ve said before, these trends take off because there’s money to be made in hawking such novelty wear. In this case, people will be profiting from boors who are willing to debase their completely uncomprehending children for the sake of another adult’s cheap laugh.
But here is where sexy infancy — and other trends such as adult-style clothes and high-heeled shoes for toddler girls — leads: In a new study, researchers at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., found that girls between the ages of 6 and 9 already value looking sexy.
The girls sorted dolls into groups that they wanted to look like and those that would be most popular in school, and overwhelmingly showed preferences for the sexy dolls that were dressed in tight and revealing clothing.
The reason? Media that glorify highly sexualized images — and parents, teachers and peers who consume, approve of, emulate and encourage such images.
As Melissa Wardy, an activist mom trying to “redefine ‘girly’” via the website pigtailpals.com, told me during a recent Twitter chat, “The sexualization of little girls and young women has become the elevator music to American cultural life. It’s time to change our tune.”
It’s a terrifyingly short jump from babies who grow up being called sexy to 6-year-olds who feel the need to be sex objects in order to gain approval from the adults in their lives. That means it’s up to those of us who care to speak up: “If you see something, say something.”
There’s no politically correct way to do that, folks. If you know parents who are sexualizing their babies, toddlers and preschoolers, be brave enough to call them out on it and ask them to stop.
Esther Cepeda is syndicated columnist and an NBC Latino Contributor.
You can reach her at email@example.com.
(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group