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Teens Like Sexy Clothing for Powerful Reasons

December 11, 2000

Tube tops that leave little to the imagination. Short, short skirts. Skin-tight leather pants. Troubling as these styles are to parents, girls find power in wearing sexy clothing, says UC Davis scholar and cultural critic Sarah Projansky.

Projansky, who studies how television and films portray girls and teen-agers, offers insights and advice for parents.

The U.S. culture is fascinated by young teens as sexual beings, says the assistant professor of women and gender studies. "Girls don't really have a choice: Society defines them in terms of sexuality."

Popular television shows reinforce the idea that sexualized girls are powerful, with super-hero roles such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Sabrina."

When teens go shopping in malls, little more than sexually provocative clothing is on the racks. "So, girls do what they can with what they have," Projansky says. "By adopting the sexualization to their own ends, they can express individuality, self-acceptance and an ironic distance from the culture's sexualization of them."

Before making assumptions about their teen's motivation in choosing their wardrobe, parents should ask them what it means to them, Projansky suggests.

"Once you understand what the clothes are about for the kids, you can talk to them about what they would wear if there were no social pressure."

By acknowledging that adults are socialized by narrow clothing choices, too, and encouraging teens to think about their ideal alternatives, parents can help their children expand their awareness of how they can express themselves through clothing.

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