The recent backlash against Victoria's Secret's "Bright Young Things" collection of lingerie geared toward teenagers is part of a larger design trend that has less to do with the over-sexualizing of girls than it does with manufacturers enforcing a youth-obsessed fantasy of women as remaining in perpetual adolescence.
I wear a size 32A bra. I have worn this size for as long as I can remember having breasts, which is a considerable slice of my 37 years on this planet. It is not an unusual size and not even the smallest size on the scale. As such, it should be relatively easy to pluck a bra from the rack that is style and age-appropriate. But there's a marketing memo circulating somewhere that gives the "no small-breasted women left behind" mandate. We can make the most of our darling clementines, it states, despite all that bothersome womanliness. Gel-like or satin padded inserts provide the helpful lifting, thrusting and pushing up of my breasts somewhere just south of my chin and north of my collar bone like perky little champs, lest they be mistaken for breasts that actually belong to a thirtyish woman. Apparently, somehow aware that I am supposedly pining for my evaporating girlishness as all women my age must be, manufacturers also provide me with bras in my size cheerfully doodled over with hearts, flowers and little cupcakes or candies that would inspire Katy Perry to write a hit song right there in the dressing room. My breasts are offended. They know what they are and they are not part of a Fisher Price play set. Neither of us (my nuggets or I) want to exist in a state of suspended girlhood to satisfy a skewed perception of femininity or sexuality.
Lingerie lines like "Bright Young Things," part of PINK, forge a continuum that keeps girls infantilized well into some of their most formative years as young women. Fashion is always political. Women's clothing in particular carries significance for the way it may be used for self and political expression, as a mode of resistance and for art. What we wear under our clothes matters just as much if not more in this respect as lingerie -- used in nearly every kind of media from advertisements for yogurt to music videos -- serves more than a functional purpose, it is a material system women use as a means of self-discovery and empowerment. It is hard to feel empowered with the words "Call Me" or "Wild" stitched across your underwear, not because these phrases invite unwanted salaciousness but because they parrot unimaginative, proscriptive statements that limit fantasy, play and the parameters of ideas about sexiness. In this case, those ideas fall squarely within ones yoked to a weird kind of feminine arrested development: girls who seem like women playing at being girls.
The "Bright Young Things" targeted by Victoria's Secret's latest campaign are individuals, not "things," and they will eventually grow up, much to the company's best efforts to sell them on the contrary, to harness considerable consumer power. And with enough dialogue and education, rather than literally buying into someone else's notions of sexual or feminine identity, they might just manufacture their own.