Last November Victoria’s Secret showcased its new “tween” lingerie line at its annual fashion show. The showcase was part of Pink’s new marketing campaign intended for what the industry calls “tweens”: girls and teens.

Pink, Victoria’s Secret’s “teen friendly” clothing store, and others like it such as Hot Topic and American Eagle, have created their own lingerie lines and have begun marketing them toward young women. Even Justice, a store that is intended for girls ages 7-12, has begun selling flowered underwear and tie-dye bras online.

In 2011, Walmart launched its makeup line, geoGirl, which is marketed to 8-12 year-old girls. The line has 69 cosmetic products including blush, mascara and exfoliants.

These marketing trends target younger and younger girls and women; they manipulate them by standardizing certain behaviors and styles of dress, impress upon them the idea that being sexy is necessary, engender an arbitrary and unrealistic idea of what being “sexy” is and distort their self-concepts.

Stuart Burgdoerfer, the chief financial officer of Limited Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, stated that “when somebody’s 15 of 16 years old, what do they want to be? They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the girl in college, and that’s part of the magic of what we do at Pink.”

By “magic,” Stuart essentially meant that Pink is manipulating younger generations based upon their ideas of what being older is like and is exploiting a need that it, as well as other clothing and cosmetics stores, helps create.

Victoria’s Secret uses college-age models, and defines “sexiness” as being extremely thin, having flawless skin, wearing make-up and having unnaturally white teeth. It then provides young women with the tools — lingerie, makeup, and perfume — that will help them achieve the unrealistic and arbitrary standard of appearance that it helps create.

The fact that teen heartthrob Justin Bieber was hired to perform during the showcasing of Pink’s “tween” lingerie line during the Victoria’s Secret fashion show last November clearly illustrates Limited Brands’s intention to persuade girls and teens that they need to use Pink’s products in order to be appealing.

Even though Hot Topic and American Eagle have not stated that they are targeting the same 15-16 age group as Pink, Marcie Merriman, founder of PrimalGrowth, stated stores are “all going to say they’re targeting 18-22 year-olds, but the reality is you’re going to get the younger customer.”

This is especially true in stores that are “teen friendly.” Placing clothing that is marketed to 18-22 year-olds alongside clothing intended for younger audiences will attract younger girls and women who, in Burgdoerfer’s words, “want to be cool like the girl in college.”

In addition to standardizing behaviors and constructing beauty, the increasing number of images that women and girls see of super-thin models have been linked to body image issues in women and girls. Researchers have stated that, “having unrealistic expectation[s] for one’s body image creates a greater chance for body dissatisfaction. The media may influence one’s body image in such a way through constant portrayal of the ‘thin ideal.’”

Walmart’s makeup line is a perfect example of the creation of unrealistic and arbitrary ideals of beauty for girls. Marketing cosmetics to any age group implies that one’s current appearance needs adjusting, but one striking fact about geoGirl is that it includes exfoliators. “The line’s creators claim it’s formulated for fresh young skin, with ingredients like willow bark to exfoliate and chamomile to calm, as well as anti-oxidants, which reportedly prevent aging.”

Preventing aging is impossible, however. Entropy cannot be stopped no matter how much willow bark or chamomile one uses. What is even more ridiculous is that we are talking about 8-12 year-olds whose skin is probably in the best condition it will ever be in. Other than “early bloomers” who experience acne at young ages and other similar cases, rarely do cosmetics problems exist for this age group.

Regardless, geoGirl is creating cosmetics problems for 8-12 year-olds, and then providing them with the tools to fix those problems.

What Walmart, Pink and similar clothing stores are doing is detrimental to the self-esteem, body image and general well-being of girls and women. Their marketing campaigns and lingerie and cosmetics lines create unrealistic standards by which women and girls are intended to live. Moreover, they objectify and sexualize their own consumers.

—Jeremy Markel is a junior from Dunwoody majoring in communication studies