Multiplying like Rabbits

    This past summer, my daughter Emily was shopping in a swimwear store when she came across something that absolutely horrified her. Featured on the front of shirts clearly marketed to teenage girls was a rabbit head -- the Playboy logo. While incidents like this no longer shock most of us, the fact is that the past decade has seen unprecedented efforts to sexualize our children. The marketing of sex to kids is nothing new; I've addressed the issue on BreakPoint many times. But these efforts are increasing, and they're aimed where many kids are most vulnerable -- fashion. The Washington Post reported this spring that GapKids sells terry-cloth bikinis for pre-teens, and Sears carries in its girls section "metallic-looking bras and bikini underpants labeled 'Girl Identity'." In Canada, the Ottawa Citizen reported that a seven-year-old girl accessed a hard-core pornography site by typing in the Internet address printed on her T-shirt. And Abercrombie and Fitch has been in hot water -- again -- for selling thong underwear to girls as young as seven. This blatant pitch to kids underscores the problems facing parents these days. First, this sexual imagery is aimed directly at kids, bypassing parental authority and protection. Last year PBS's Frontline exposed the advertising world's efforts to create and sell to a parallel culture for youth. And why not? According to Michael Wood, vice-president of Teenage Research Unlimited, a company that studies teenage trends, girls aged twelve to eighteen currently spend more than 37 billion dollars on clothes. With money like that, it is easy to see why companies like Playboy, that have always put the bottom line before responsibility, are willing exploit our kids for profit. And Playboy isn't even hiding the fact that it is marketing to teens. Helen Isaacson, president of the company's product marketing, told the Wall Street Journal, "We need to develop a buzz in the younger market and then move up." This is why Playboy's marketing is so despicable. This debate is not simply about the appropriateness of certain clothing. Playboy is not just selling a bathing suit; it's selling an entire lifestyle that revolves around sex without consequences and devoid of emotion and meaning -- and it's selling this to kids. This is nothing more than grooming young girls to be the sexual objects young men want them to be, and it's done under the guise of playfulness and fun. Believers understand that the divorce of sexuality from the Christian ideals of fidelity, selflessness, and sacrifice has resulted in many of our culture's woes. We also know Playboy is not selling fun to our kids, but poison. When kids believe the messages about sexuality embodied in the logos on skimpy outfits, they are internalizing patterns of thinking and behavior that will make it difficult to build lasting relationships and are setting themselves and others up for a lifetime of suffering. I hope you will read BreakPoint the next few days to learn more about efforts in our courts, on TV, and in academia to sexualize our children. If we don't reverse these trends, our culture's woes will not only continue -- they will multiply like rabbits. For further reading: Michael and Diane Medved, Saving Childhood: Protecting Our Children from the National Assault on Innocence (HarperCollins, 1999). BreakPoint commentary no. 020617, "From Diapers to Thongs: Abercrombie and 'Outrageous Times'." BreakPoint commentary no.010315, "Mooks and Midriffs: Bypassing Parental Authority." "The Merchants of Cool: A Report on the Creators and Marketers of Popular Culture for Teenagers," Frontline, PBS, 2001. Laura Sessions Stepp, "Nothing to Wear -- From the Classroom to the Mall, Girl's Fashions are Long on Skin, Short on Modesty," Washington Post, 3 June 2002, C1. Patti Edgar, "Zellers pulls shirts linked to porn site," Ottawa Citizen, 26 June 2002 (archived article). Mark Stewart, "Exposed: Sex sells and many wonder if the media saturation is warping the minds of teens," Washington Times, 11 April 2000 (cost: $1.95 to retrieve). Alison A. Nieder, "Promoting Playboy: Los Angeles manufacturer wants to cash in on magazine's cache,", 18 June 1999. Wendy Bounds, "Can Aging Playboy Bunny Lure Women?" Wall Street Journal, 10 November 1998.


Chuck Colson


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