Let’s overlook the fact that it’s a bikini.

And forgive the sensual photos in the retailer’s ads.

I’m not here to create a boycott or ban. I just want to illuminate some educated thoughts on an argument that I see happening about a padded push-up bikini top. This one happens to be created for girls 8–14. (Yes, I just pushed the “8” key on my keyboard. Pick yourself up. Let’s talk!)

The top, which was labeled “Ashley push-up triangle” as seen above, features heavy padding as opposed to other bikini tops by the same retailer which feature “lightly-lined” padding. Immediate parental outcry met with a lesser amount of parental defense seems to have already spoken to the retail giant, which has changed the label of the top to be simply the “Ashley triangle.” This, however, does not remove the product and the potential for harm.

An American Psychological Association task force report links mature clothing marketed to younger and younger girls, the sexual content of the marketing, and the sexual overtones of the products themselves to eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression when these girls become teenagers. I’ve also read many sources that seem to link more immodest and mature clothing to an earlier sexual debut. Though this can’t be traced case-by-case, the Medical Institute for Sexual Health has noted that among the top five factors that place teens most at risk for early sexual activity is this one: “appearing older than their actual age.” I think that a padded bikini top on an 8–12-year-old would make her look older, don’t you? The news of this padded bikini top breaks the same day that my local newspaper features an article on a ten-year-old who recently gave birth to a baby. My heart is sick. And it’s sick because I know we’re headed in a direction where this will become more and more common if we, as moms, don’t speak up and change the tide of acceptance when it comes to sensualizing our girls at younger and younger ages.

I know I’m preaching to the choir. But you and I have to care about the girl whose mom does buy her that itty bitty bikini because one thing is clear: the fashion industry doesn’t. The leaders in the industry are aware that creating and marketing age-inappropriate clothing creates significant emotional disorders and an early sexual debut in our daughters. They care only about the bottom line. The bottom line is that tweens are a lucrative demographic, commanding about $43 billion of spending power nationwide. Girls 8–12 spend about $500 million a year on beauty products alone. (Mascara and eye liner sales doubled in this age range last year.)

Perhaps the saddest part of this financial factor is that these girls don’t have jobs, so it’s the moms who willingly fork out their credit cards to buy these tools of destruction for their daughters. These moms are rarely educated on the risks of a simple padded bikini top, a miniskirt, or some mascara, and are often prey to the “logical defenses” of a product like the  “Ashley triangle.”  In this situation, moms are hearing the buzz that this “great new product” protects a little girl from the embarrassing revelation of breast buds. How frail an argument! First, the initial name of the product contained the word “push-up.” Clearly, it was not created to hide anything, but to enhance. Second, the store itself carries other lightly-padded products and patterns that would also eliminate the discomfort of showing off breast buds.

We can’t just speak to the retailer; we have to raise awareness in moms, and this is a great opportunity for us to speak about something that’s important to us. A social buzz on a topic invites us to speak truth. And, in this case, there are a lot of moms who need some of that. Maybe you could use this headliner to sit down with some of your friends today and express your concern in hopes that it’ll become theirs.

Editor’s Note: The Secret Keeper Girl blog has a post about this by Dannah today also, with some action items that we, as moms, can do easily. I hope you’ll take a minute to share this information with your friends both online and off.

UPDATE: Editor’s Note — The padded bikini top appears to no longer be available on the Abercrombie website; however, as far as we have learned, it is still being sold in stores.