Do 7 year-olds need Shape Ups?

Skechers created a shoe, the Shape Up, for adults that’s aim is to tighten up legs, derrieres and tighten one’s core muscles. They just added children’s sizes to the line, specifically marketing them to girls 7 to 12 years of age. Is this just another example of focusing on appearance, providing the message to girls that the way to be popular and “in” is to wear their Shape-ups? Although Skechers reports that they are aiming to increase the health and well-being of girls, especially in an age where children are more sedentary than ever, the message gets lost in the marketing.

The situation is similar to the recent issue with a bathing suit designed by Abercrombie and Fitch, that was definitely not appropriate for young girls. 7-12 year old girls need to be learning healthy habits and ways to make healthy choices. When a commercial makes it look as though all they have to do is wear a shoe to be “perfect,” they have a difficult time deciphering the messages that a healthy lifestyle makes you attractive and fit, not a pair of shoes.

At stake is a young girl’s opinion of herself. The commercial focuses on body image, but not in an appropriate way. It focuses on body image but without providing ways to really feel good about oneself. It looks at how this piece of clothing can give you bounce or make you feel good. Feeling positively about one’s self is improved by a healthy lifestyle but not created with one. Girls need to know that appearance is only one part of the puzzle in creating a positive self-image.

A recent article pointed out the increasing trend in sexualized clothing and images being tossed at our girls. This commercial can be seen as yet another example of this. As highlighted, children don’t know how
to decipher the messages that are being presented to them and often mistake sexy for more than it is. Clothing manufacturers are marketing the same clothes for 16 year olds as for six year olds. Thus, our 10 year olds look 14 and our 14 year olds look 20. The trend of sexualization of our children especially the girls, promotes the message that being attractive is the ultimate thing to attain. It minimizes the strength, intelligence and determination that girls possess and can cause them to ignore these wonderful traits that will make them amazingly strong women.

We have to ask, though, are we making more of this than there needs to be? I don’t think so, personally. I do think that we need to be aware of the impact these types of commercials, and products do have on our children. Of course, parents do not need to buy the shoes, but tweens are growing consumers and are often the ones (especially at age 12) who go to the mall on their own and can buy them on their own. It’s up to parents to understand the messages, explain them to their daughters (and, of course, their sons) and discuss how it makes their children feel. Teaching empowerment comes from home first.

What do you think? Do you think these messages are impacting our children in negative ways?

Here’s the link to the segment I did with Erica Hill and Melissa Henson, Director of Communications and Public Education for the Parents’ Television Council on CBS’ The Early Show:
http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7365975n&tag=mncol;lst;1

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