From Diapers to Thongs

  Thanks to the media coverage, you may have already heard the latest flap over clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch's antics. The company's store for seven- to fourteen-year-olds, called "Abercrombie," was selling thong, or "rearless," underwear for very young girls. In the words of one outraged mother, "it's Frederick's of Hollywood" for kids. The offending undergarments also had the words "Wink, Wink" or "Eye Candy" printed on them. And again, these were for seven- to fourteen-year-old kids! Abercrombie's response to the uproar was insulting. "It's cute and fun and sweet," said company spokesman Hampton Carney. "Any misinterpretation of that is purely in the eye of the beholder," he said. Carney went on to try to minimize the issue by saying the thongs were aimed only at girls aged ten and up because they came only in sizes medium to extra large -- as if this was a good thing. Dawn Walker, director of the Canadian Institute for Children's Health, criticized Abercrombie's marketing for promoting "an inappropriate awareness of sexuality at too early an age." She says, "Inappropriate, suggestive information from television, movies, and now clothing promotes a lifestyle that is inappropriate." Abercrombie was flooded with e-mails and phone calls from disgusted parents and other citizens. Stores in the Milwaukee area pulled them from the shelves, and Abercrombie said it had no plans to restock stores when they sold out. But this isn't the end of the issue. You see, it's not just a matter of what age girl the underwear was geared toward or simply getting the thongs off the shelves. This is about what image we want to promote to our kids. The fact that Abercrombie even thought of selling such a garment for very young girls is abhorrent. And, in fact, this is part of a larger problem. Jo Paoletti, a costume historian and associate professor at the University of Maryland, said this is part of an evolution toward promiscuous clothing. "We're living in outrageous times, in terms of pop culture," she said. Our popular culture is saturated with sexual imagery geared toward children. What's a parent to do? Al Seago, father of an eight-year-old girl, had the right response: "I think that the sexualizing of any children that age is revolting. When she is old enough to do her own shopping, I hope I will have raised her to avoid such inappropriate messages," he said. The short answer is to refuse to patronize businesses that promote this kind of rot. Two years ago, Abercrombie & Fitch published a catalogue filled with what can only be described as soft-core porn. Parents boycotted and even protested at Abercrombie stores. It worked. Company profits dropped, and the catalogue was withdrawn. Our children, sadly enough, are going to face a lot of cultural garbage in our style-obsessed society. "Style is a major ingredient of the emptiness in modern culture," writes social critic Os Guinness. "Thus it affects the drive to sex and violence." Parents must teach their kids how to become persons of substance, how to respond properly to these insulting images by rejecting them outright and rejecting those who promote them. For further reading: Os Guinness, Fit Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don't Think and What to Do About It (Baker Books, 1994). Chuck Colson, Answers to Your Kids' Questions (Tyndale House, 2000). Odile Nelson, "'Edgy' U.S. retailer tries to sell thongs to pre-teens," National Post, 23 May 2002. Vikki Ortiz, "After complaints, Abercrombie pulls thongs from shelves," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 23 May 2002. Vikki Ortiz, "Parents say kid's thong is just plain wrong," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 17 May 2002. Ray Delgado, "Retailer courts more outrage-sexy undies for little girls," San Francisco Chronicle, 23 May 2002.


Chuck Colson


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