12 is the new 16. This is what my branding professor preaches during class, while we watch Axe commercials. And it’s true that marketing strategists are targeting kids at younger and younger ages with “sexy” products, expecting little boys to care about attracting little girls with their nearly-natural musk. Even amongst those of us who are still shy the pertinent hormones, sex has become a commercial object. That commercialization is first forced upon girls when they begin wearing bras.
As if puberty isn’t awkward and uncomfortable enough, preteens can’t seem to find anything that doesn’t scream Victoria’s Secret when buying their first brassieres. And why are preteen girls being sold sexy lingerie that’s padded and pushed-up, implying it’s for someone else to see?
Megan Grassel, a high school senior from Wyoming, wanted to change this hyper-sexual trend. After taking her younger sister shopping for her first bra (and finding nothing remotely age-comfy), Grassel started a business – Yellowberry, an underwear company devoted to pre-teens. Yellowberry is also thoughtfully named – Grassel has invited her buyers to compare a berry's growing process to a young woman's. “Think about a berry before you pick it. It’s still yellow. It’s not yet ripe," she's said. "It has to go through certain stages until it is ripe. And you can’t rush those stages because they are what will eventually create a beautiful berry." Accordingly, each Yellowberry bra is playful -- and free of underwire, padding, and all those other frivolities. Grassel even came up with the idea to attach an adage to each bra (like “campfires are rare; eat as many marshmallows as you can”) to remind young girls that there’s no rush to grow up.
My favorite media critic, Jean Kilbourne, wrote a book with Diane Levin about the sexualization of little girls: So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood And What Parents Can Do To Protect Their Kids. As marketers choose violent and sexual symbolism to teach kids about what’s cool and sexy, a kind of psychological backlash takes place. Girls specifically are taught from every media outlet that their most valuable currency is their bodies, so their self-worth lies directly with how “hot” they are. Corporations don’t care about the well-being of the young generation. They only care about the dollar signs. So, not only has it become our responsibility to teach young women self-care techniques and critical thinking skills,but it’s important to offer them counter-options to all that commercial sex business.
Yellowberry is that age-appropriate option. And Grassel wasn’t the only one yearning for a solution. Her company was just a pie in the sky idea until she won overwhelming support from a Kickstarter campaign – one of the most successful drives on the site to date, in fact. Grassel's efforts raised almost $42,000 in only a month.
And Yellowberry continues to grow! Fans are called “berries,” and the website features a lookbook of young girls having fun and doing what they love. Not only is Grassel changing the core essence of a lingerie brand from sexy to fun and functional, she’s surely inspiring young girls to pursue what they think is important because (as she's proven!) they have the power to change their environments.
This summer, Grassel will continue fighting against the hyper-sexualization of girls, bringing in new styles of bras and even a panty collection. Check out the company’s website if you have a preteen and even if you don’t, check it out just to make a good day into a berry good day! (Nyuk nyuk nyuk...) And most of all: power to the new savvy consumer, the little girl!
Photos courtesy of LingerieTalk and Yellowberry Company.