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The Pressure to Grow Up

Pamela Pizarro

Empowering young girls (and boys) to make educated choices over their bodies, rather than blindly following the "trend," is vital for their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

At 27, I have become a crotchety, prudish old woman. Every time I walk down the street or wander through a mall, I see young girls in short skirts, high heels and makeup. My immediate reaction to this scenario is to wonder where the parents are and think to myself "that girl needs to cover up." Then I become aware of how my instinctual reaction to seeing a young girl dressed this way conflicts with what I believe are progressive points of view on young women and sexuality.

Corporations today are targeting young girls with consumer messaging from a very early age. Walk into any toy store and in the aisles directed at girls you will find them full of mini high heels, dresses and costume jewelry. Makeup companies are partnering with toy companies to market items to 6-9 year old girls. By the time a young girl reaches the age of 10, she has seen countless images telling her to grow up faster. Empowered role models for young women are few and far between. The biggest celebrities in the "tween" market are rarely women known for their math skills or scientific discoveries. They are usually young women known more for their drunken antics than stellar accomplishments.

I see it in my sister's generation. She is 11 years younger than I am (that would make her 16) and she had to grow up a hell of a lot faster than I did. At certain age milestones, I often think to myself, "wow I crossed that bridge a lot later in life than she did." The sexual pressure on girls is enormous. On one hand they are being told by pop culture and retailers to dress a certain way and have a body shaped a certain way, but then society is telling them that they better not "sleep around" or put their morality in question. I don't think that we can put the blame completely on pop culture; we as a society are failing our young girls and boys. We are sending mixed messages as to how they should act.

Instead of educating our youth, we are pushing them faster and faster into a world that they are not prepared for. We are not equipping them with critical thinking skills, because if we were, our young girls would be asking "why am I dressing this way?" It is not just about high hemlines and plunging necklines, because that is the changing part of fashion. It is about young girls becoming involved in a culture that is actively telling them that what they think is not nearly as important as what they look like.

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Now this blog may seem out of place on a sexual and reproductive rights webpage, but empowering young girls (and boys) to make educated choices over their bodies, rather than blindly following the "trend," is about rights. It is about the right of women to not be seen as an object, but rather for whom they are. We need to tell our youth that we care and that they matter, and that we are ready to accept them for who they are on the inside.