Sex & Relationships

Confessions of a Lingerie Lover

I'm all for sex appeal, but using butts as billboards is disturbing among adult women -- and downright scary in prepubescent girls.
I have a confession to make: I am a lingerie-loving woman.

Ever since the black lace bra and panties set I ordered out of the J. C. Penney's catalogue with one of my first paychecks at age 17, I've had a weakness for anything that lifts, separates, smoothes, or otherwise enhances the equipment that came originally installed. It's a good day when my panties and bra match, and a really good one when garters and stockings are involved.

I love lingerie stores, catalogs and websites, and spend more money and time than I can afford perusing the available offerings. I've even been known to structure a weekend shopping trip solely around the fact that Victoria's Secret is having its semi-annual bra sale.

But my affection for lace and silk has a darker side. What's the purpose of lingerie? If you spend any time analyzing the media, it's clear that lingerie is viewed as both costuming for sex and an advertising gimmick. We see images of women in lace and frills being used to sell everything from CDs to cars: a message that's drilled into us in every possible way our entire lives.

The message that "sex sells" is one we learn very young -- which was proven to me (again) on a recent trip to Victoria's Secret. On my right as I entered the store was an enormous display of their entry-level line, "Pink." These items are, apparently, all the rage among young girls: skimpy bubble gum-hued panties worn under low-cut velour sweats with the word PINK emblazoned across the butt.

Now, I find the use of "ass as billboard" problematic in adult women -- but it seems particularly inappropriate on an 11-year-old girl. (I don't know what the word "pink" makes you think of, but Barbie is not what comes to mind for me.)

Victoria's Secret contends that its younger line, with accompanying stuffed-dog mascot, was designed for the college set. But the Chicago Tribune recently explored Pink's appeal among "tweeners" -- the newly created (and lucrative) consumer market that falls in early adolescence. Are "extreme low-rise v-string" panties the gateway drug to peekaboo thongs and push-up bustiers, or are they something even more disturbing? Regardless of what Victoria's Secret considers its target audience, the Pink line just may be the Joe Camel of early adolescent sexuality -- an adult industry using childlike imagery to drum up interest.

Advertisers call this model of growing your market "aspirational," which sounds very appealing until you consider what we are aspiring to become. It's one thing for a grown woman to be moderately (OK, quite) obsessed with technological enhancement, but another thing entirely for prepubescent girls to concern themselves with hot undies.

OK, so I grew up in a era when girls wore "six-packs" of underwear with the days of the week printed on them (why wasn't there ever a Sunday?), but this isn't about my age. I think this focus on lingerie for girls just reflects a greater cultural value -- one in which what we say is clearly different from what we do. We may say that sex is for adults, that abstinence is what our kids should be taught, that childhood should be a protected state. But ours are not the only voices our children hear. There is a ridiculous level of contrast between the "just say no" approach to teen sexuality and capitalism's need to grow a market, one thong at a time.

Women spend an incredible amount of time hearing that sexy is the most important thing they can be. I'm all for sex appeal -- bring it on, particularly if it's black, lacy, and a 36B. However, it doesn't take much thought to figure out who all this sexiness is for. Is it for women, to increase their own pleasure and pride in their bodies? Or is it for corporations that make ridiculous profits off our desire to live up to a standard we'll never meet?

The message we're telling our girls is a simple one: You'll have a great life if people find you sexually attractive. Sexy = happy, and it just takes time and the right products (maybe even pink panties), to end up blonde, tan and leggy. Grown women struggle enough with this ridiculous standard. Do we really need to start worrying about it at 11?
Fae Goodman is a writer in Louisville, KY.
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