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Health & Parenting

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Little Girls Gone Wild: Why Daughters Are Acting Too Sexy, Too Soon

Push-up bras, pedicures, hip-hop dance classes: These are now the social currency of the under-10 set. What happened?

WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Rachael Combe

Redbook Magazine Logo

It was the high heels that finally got my attention - my daughter received four pairs for her second birthday, pink plastic ones with rhinestones and feathers. Louisa quickly became disconcertingly expert at walking, running, and kicking soccer balls in them. I couldn't put my finger on why they creeped me out. After all, I loved to play dress-up at her age too. My grandmother was petite, almost child-size, and I spent half my childhood swanning around in her low-cut evening gowns, my cheeks rouged up with her Mary Kay. But then I realized there was a major difference: I played dress-up with my grandma's high heels. Louisa plays dress-up with heels that have been manufactured for and marketed to children - with their own celebrity style icon in 4-year-old Suri Cruise, who has been known to wear higher heels than I do as an adult.

There's been a lot of noise about little girls acting and dressing way too sexy lately. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't that concerned when Miley Cyrus took her clothes off, or when her then-9-year-old sister, Noah, showed up for a Los Angeles Halloween event dressed in what looked like a Goth hooker outfit. (Those crazy child stars, I said to myself.) I rolled my eyes at the YouTube clip of scantily clad 8- and 9-year-olds in a dance competition, pelvis-thrusting to Beyoncé's "Single Ladies"; it reminded me of the show Toddlers & Tiaras - disturbing, but very different from the reality of most kids. But then I started hearing reports from my real-life friends. One complained that they only make padded training bras now and that her sixth-grader looked like a Pamela Anderson wannabe. Another called to talk about her 6-year-old's dance-recital costume: fuchsia hotpants with heart appliqués on each buttock. The insanity seems to be trickling down to real girls - our girls. Take this so-wrong-I-hope-it's-not-right statistic: According to a survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and cosmogirl.com, 22 percent of girls ages 13 to 19 have sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves online.

Luckily, Louisa doesn't know how to operate the camera or computer, and I feel pretty certain that I can prevent her from turning into a teen who lists "topless dancer" as one of her career aspirations. Yet the first thing you learn in parenting is that pride comes before a fall (you know, the old "My children will never watch TV/whine/sleep in my bed" thing). So I wondered: When do I start taking action to protect her from our supersexed culture - and what do I do, short of sending her to a nunnery? I posed the question to educators and moms around the country - and while I discovered that it all begins much earlier than you'd think, I also learned that there's a lot that parents can and should control.

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