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Cannon: Don’t buy Victoria’s Secret empowerment farce

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Ann Cannon

By Ann Cannon

Tribune Columnist

First published Mar 29 2013 09:51AM
Updated Mar 29, 2013 06:49PM

Take a look at your 3-year-old daughter in her sweet little Easter dress.

She’s adorable, right?

Now imagine where that adorable girl will be 10 years from now.

You hope she’ll be doing well in school. Enjoying friends. Playing soccer. Keeping a diary in the grand tradition of 13-year-old girls everywhere. Wearing skimpy underwear emblazoned with the words "wild" or "call me" or "feeling lucky."

Um, yeah. I didn’t think so.

I bring this up because the blogosphere has erupted this week with conversations about Victoria’s Secret’s reputed move to target teens and tweens with its popular "Pink" line.

Google the words "Bright Young Things" and "Victoria’s Secret," and (besides getting an eyeful) you’ll see what I mean.

In particular, a blog post written by an outraged father (bit.ly/11U5sUF) has gained enormous online traction, with countless readers posting it on their Facebook pages.

"As a dad," the father says, "this makes me sick. ... I don’t want my daughter to ever think that to be popular or even attractive she has to have [emblazoned] words on her bottom."

As a result of all this online chatter, Victoria’s Secret posted the following statement on its Facebook page this past week: "In response to questions we recently received, Victoria’s Secret PINK is a brand for college-aged women. Despite recent rumors, we have no plans to introduce a collection for younger women."

OK. Fine. Maybe Victoria’s Secret is telling the truth here, because you know how major American corporations are — always telling us the truth! But may I say this post seems more than a little disingenuous in light of the fact that Justin Bieber — heartthrob of underage girls — performed at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show last November. Furthermore "introducing a new collection" and "marketing an existing collection" are two different things entirely. (Hey, way to parse words, VS! You should be a lawyer when you grow up!)

And, finally, what are we to make of chief financial officer Stuart Burgdoerfer’s recent observation that young girls "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"?

Burgdoerfer’s right. Young teenagers are eager to emulate older teenagers. People like me who are involved in children’s literature know that when you write about characters who are 16, it’s the 12-year=olds who are reading.

I’ll be honest. The early sexualization of girls — particularly when it’s done for profit — just depresses the hell out of me. And I find it especially distasteful when done under some weird post-feminist, Madonna-esque guise of female "empowerment." I am woman! Hear me roar! I don’t have any old-fashioned hang-ups about sex! Which is why I wear my underwear in public. Isn’t that awesome?

Awesome? I don’t know. In fact, I feel inclined to call b.s. on the whole thing. This particular brand of "female empowerment" is the same old objectification of lady parts. Only it’s more troubling now that such young women are involved. Objectification isn’t good for anyone. Not for our daughters. Not for our sons either (now there’s a subject for another day).

So what’s a parent to do?

I put the question out there to people in the thick of raising girls. Virtually all of them responded with concern and frustration. My friend Amelia concedes she’s just finding her way around this issue "like everybody else." No one had any easy answers, because it’s a tough job these days, one that requires them to say "no," as in "no" to age-inappropriate underthings.

And it requires frank and open discussions, too. Amelia begins with questions: What is the point of a commercial? What is it trying to sell? What does all of it mean?

But then parenting always has required hard conversations. A gift my own dad gave me was his assertion that a woman shouldn’t have to say yes in order to be loved. I was in junior high school when he said this, and it embarrassed me, because I did NOT want to hear either of my parents — ew! — say anything about sex. Fortunately, they were less squeamish than I was.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for looking out for me.

Ann Cannon can be reached at acannon@sltrib.com or facebook.com/anncannontrib.

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