Samantha Goodin, a former Kenyon College student, and a research team led by Dr. Sarah Murnen, a professor of psychology at Kenyon College examined the frequency and nature of sexualizing clothing available for young girls -- children, not adolescents -- on the Web sites of 15 popular U.S. stores.
The study, published in the journal Sex Roles, finds of the 5,666 clothing items studied, 69 percent of the clothing had only childlike characteristics. Of the remaining 31 percent, 4 percent had only sexualized characteristics, 25 percent had both sexualizing and childlike features and 4 percent had neither sexualized nor childlike elements.
Sexualization occurred most frequently emphasizing the look of breasts, or attention to the buttocks, the researchers say.
"Confused parents might be persuaded to buy the leopard-print miniskirt if it's bright pink," the study authors say. "Clearly, sexiness is still visible beneath the bows or tie-dye colors. We propose that dressing girls in this way could contribute to socializing them into the narrow role of the sexually objectified woman."
Women from western cultures are widely portrayed and treated as objects of the male gaze, and this leads to the self-objectification, in which girls and women internalize these messages and view their bodies as objects to be evaluated in terms of sexualized attractiveness.