It’s not often that my 13 year old and I can ditch the boys and have some girl time. While we didn’t necessarily ditch the boys (they were at work and school) we were excited to do a bit of shopping alone yesterday. My daughter is 13 and growing much faster than I’d like and I hadn’t personally invested in a new bra since I stopped breastfeeding my youngest (sadly, 2 years ago!), so we set off on the hunt for the perfect new bras with no distractions. There were a lot of places we could have went, but the opportunity doesn’t present itself often, so we decided on Victoria’s Secret. You and I know what the brand represents- to sell us the perfect body image and sexy underwear. However, I was confident that we could find her decent, age appropriate underwear. In fact, when we walked in, I was giving her “the talk” about finding AGE APPROPRIATE items, a lady in the store overheard me, made eye contact with me while laughing and smiling in a “you’re right” show of solidarity and sisterhood. My daughter is normally super modest, but as her mother, I still have to give direction. It’s what we Mom’s do.
I knew we both needed to be measured, and when being fitted explained to the associate we were fine being in the same fitting room. Looking back, I am very glad I went with that option instead of separate rooms. The associate was nice enough; very busy but still attentive. She measured us and just like I suspected, my daughter had grown and I had changed. She brought both my daughter and I very basic black bras to try on to confirm the sizes, and my daughter decided quickly that she liked the one she tried on. Everything was going great… UNTIL.
Until the representative came back in to check on us. Our conversation went just so:
Me: “She likes that one, so we’ll go with that.”
Sales Associate: (looking at my daughter) “Are you sure you wouldn’t like one with more cleavage? Or do you prefer the more natural look like what you have on?
Daughter: (looks at me with the deer-in-headlights stare, her eyes begging me to help)
Me: “She’s 13, she knows nothing about cleavage. We’ll take what she has.”
Sales Associate: “Well, you’d be surprised. Most girls her age ask for more cleavage. Usually those that are less endowed, they want a push up with padding.”
Me: “She’s not into push-ups, we’re good with what she has.”
Sales Associate: “Okay we’ll then I’ll go find you a few more styles to try on.”
She left the dressing room and while my daughter had moved on, I had not. I still haven’t moved on and it’s about 10 hours later that I’m writing this. I know some will say that I should expect to be sold “sexy” if I’m shopping at Victoria’s Secret. I considered her age and maturity before going, and she’s mature enough to shop for a bra and ignore what’s is clearly not intended for her. What I didn’t expect during our visit was for a sales associate to OFFER a 13 year old something that is clearly age inappropriate, and more importantly, could potentially plant seeds of doubt about her body image. It’s one thing to see a model on a poster as you walk by, it’s another thing for someone- another woman- to imply that you should sex up your image at age 13.
Let me be clear about something: I’m not offended by the conversation. I was taken aback. I’m proud to work closely with organizations who are committed to building strong, confident girls. I’ know first hand that our girl’s mental health and self-confidence is at crisis level. I am not offended, I just believe that we should ALL be accountable for the seeds that we plant in our children, and particularly with girls and body image. I know so many people who’ve said “I’m so glad I have boys”, but the truth is not being a parent of a girl will not exempt you from the pressures of society on girls (and vice-versa). You may not have a girl, but one day you’ll be a Mother In Law, or an Aunt, or a mentor. None of us are exempt, none of us should turn a blind eye.
I’m all about having a teachable moments with my daughter, and this was definitely one. As of now, she doesn’t really have body image issues. But imagine if she did?
The conversation with this particular sales associate was eye opening, and shed a clear light on how desensitized we’ve become as a nation. I’m not naïve, I’m sure there are plenty of girls who come in your stores without their mothers and ask for a push up bra. Or maybe they are with their mother. Either way, I see this a perfect opportunity in beginning a conversation and training with your associates about how you can be leading the charge in changing some of the statistics surrounding our young girls. You have a unique opportunity to make an impact on an issue that is plaguing young girls- body image, being confident and not feeling the pressure of being over-sexualized at a young age.
Please, powers that be at Victoria Secret…. please hear me in this. Talk to your sales reps about how they’re approaching young girls. I understand that you’re there to sell bras, and that you are to serve your customer. In our case, it was clear the sale was happening; yet she still offered my daughter, a 13 year old girl, the option of “more cleavage”. It was unnecessary, inappropriate and with a child that may be having issues, potentially harmful.
Words can impact in so many ways, good and bad. I hope that it is important to you as a company, that the words of your associates impact your customers in a GOOD way.
A Mama committed to raising a confident girl.
P.S. I refer quite often to the “state of the girl” in this article. To give you some insight, I highly suggest EVERYONE (for real, everyone) check out my friend Autumn Beam’s most recent episodes at Write Your Own Story Podcast featuring Dr. Lisa Hinkelman (trust me, she’s LEGIT).
Part 1: Girl Drama, Pressure + What We Don’t Know About Girls
Part 2: Gender Expectations, Relational Aggression + the Reality of Sexual Assault.