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Suggestive Underwear: The Message It Gives Teen Girls

Pictures and mannequins of women wearing provocative underwear are not uncommon at the mall. But suggestive underwear for girls is raising some eyebrows. On some underwear at Victoria's Secret PINK store, the slogans are as stunning as the colors. "Let's Get A Room," "Take It Off" and "I Get Around." They catch the attention of Whitehall 10th-grader Alyssa Guinn. "Oh my God! Wow, that is nasty. I'm Alyssa, and 'I Get Around' means that she messes with a lot of men and a lot of people done seen that underwear. Wow," Guinn said. PINK stores often are attached to Victoria's Secret, which sells intimate apparel for woman. But PINK appears to cater to younger shoppers. Its undergarments come in colors like hot pink, bright green and purple. Sleepwear, sweats, t-shirts and clothing often feature school-type crests. Ann Paulins directs Ohio University's School of Human and Consumer Services and studies the social psychology of consumption decisions. Paulins said PINK's market reaches the adolescent age group. "While the company is marketing, would say young adults, what we know is teenagers are always looking to the a little bit older than them for inspiration. And there is a real social desire to grow up and be a little older," she said. Limited Brands declined to comment about PINK's target market, and did not respond to an email seeking comment about this story. Not all of the underwear and sleepwear at PINK has statements as sexually overt as "Wild In Bed" or "Your Place Or Mine." Others are more subtle. The company sells a pair of grey, cotton panties that say "I heart banana" with the picture of a banana on the front the underwear. Paulins said some of these messages will be lost in today's teenagers. She said they're already bombarded with sexual innuendo in other media like TV and music, plus they're naive. "A younger generation is highly desensitized, almost doesn't notice that there are elements of visual cues which can include words as well as pictures that are shocking, considered inappropriate by a more mature group of people," Paulins noted. But the pictures and words were not lost in any of the high school girls we talked with. The teens were shown pictures of six pairs of panties: "I heart banana," "Take It Off," "Get Ready For Some Fun," "Sure Thing," "Let's Get A Room" and "I Get Around." Eyebrows raised and gasps were audible. "Oh," some of the girls laughed. "It means, like, she's ready. Like, 'Take It Off,' really? I, like, that is the message. It's clear," Cassidy Edwards said. Edwards is a 10th grader at Whitehall Yearling High School. She and four classmates are having lunch. All the girls are part of a peer education project headed up by Planned Parenthood of Central Ohio. "My name is Diedra. And 'Let's Get A Room' is kind of ridiculous. Obviously you're giving the message to teen girls to go have sex," 10th-grader Diedra Gardner said. We also talked with some high school girls who are not involved in a peer program. Fifteen-year-old Courtney Raine, 15-year-old Sabrina Hutton and her 18-year-old sister, Brooke, all go to Whetstone High School in Clintonville. They had similar reactions. Like the Whitehall students, they all know of PINK. "I personally don't have anything that says anything on my underwear. It looks pretty disgusting, actually," Brooke Hutton said. When asked what their parents would say if they bought them. "They would probably throw them away. Yeah. Because usually when we go our mom is the one taking us. And she wouldn't even consider it. No, she'd say no. And if my dad saw it, that'd be horrible," the girls said. The Hutton sisters' mom, Christina, did get a chance to look at the same pictures her daughters saw. "If I seen my kids had something like that, they would be grounded. Those are inappropriate," Hutton said. Hutton said it's been a while since she and her daughters have been to PINK. "I don't want to go in if they're going to have stuff like that," she said. A quick survey of other retailers found at least one selling underwear for teens with messages. But they were not as provocative. J.C. Penny sells panties which include phrases such as "In Your Dreams," "Keep the Peace," and "Flower Power." One pair had "Kiss Me" in small script. Target, Wal-Mart and K-Mart offered underwear that appears to be tailored for young women. None of those stores' websites featured underwear with provocative phrases. They did have panties with patterns and well-known characters like Hello Kitty and Betty Boop. Paulins said retailers look at who controls the money when they price and market their products. And for teens, who often struggle with their public and private self, Paulins said underwear is an affordable way to secretly act more mature. Lynn Feils with Planned Parenthood of Central Ohio leads the peer education program at Whitehall Yearling. "Even if they're not wearing it to have sex, the ideas that they're getting from it about who they're supposed to be as an adult women is concerning to me. It doesn't say on it I heart brains, I heart independence. It's specifically saying I like being a lustful object for somebody," Feils said. Paulins added more often than not, people dismiss the bigger picture with fashion objectification. "It's interesting that even in merchandising we can capitalize on opportunities to get various populations involved in spending that even exacerbate some of the challenges we have with bigger issues in society," she said.