Published April 22, 2004
NEW YORK – You see them at the mall, waiting for the school bus, even in church: preteens wearing tight T-shirts that say "naughty" and low-slung flared pants that expose their pierced belly buttons.
America's prepubescent girls continue to emulate the dress styles and attitudes of their older role models: Britney, Christina and Paris. But some girls say the sexy trends have created a backlash within their social circles — and they've even got a word for them.
"They're called 'prostitots,'" said Anna Miressi, a Kingston, N.Y., high school freshman who claims the term is commonly used among her peers. "It's those girls at the mall with the tight jeans and belly shirts. They're in between the age group of 10 to 13 or 14."
Miressi and other members of Generation Y say the 'tween trend of dressing like 20-somethings is disturbing.
"The media tell you that this is what you have to look like to get boys to like you and be a member of the popular crowd," Miressi said.
The 15-year-old prefers a less revealing wardrobe, which includes "jeans that fit me but that are not so tight that I can bounce a ping-pong ball off my butt."
Miressi has no body piercings or tattoos, and her makeup includes eyeliner — "just on the top lid" — mascara, shimmery eye shadow and Chapstick.
"I try to look as natural as I can because I really don't like the whole heavy black eyeliner thing," she said.
Miressi and her friends aren't the only ones uncomfortable with the adult-acting 'tweens. Some media-savvy youngsters are using film, literature, radio and the Internet to encourage their peers to avoid the pitfalls of premature adulthood.
Marty Beckerman, a 21-year-old student at American University in Washington, D.C., interviewed preteens and teens across the country for his new book, "Generation S.L.U.T.: A Brutal Feel-Up Session With Today's Sex-Crazed Adolescent Populace."
The book, written from a young person's perspective and vocabulary, serves as a wake-up call to the author’s generation.
"The stuff coming from prepubescent children was really pretty shocking," Beckerman said. "These kids are talking about doing everything under the sun."
The young journalist, who started working on his book while in high school, said he was disturbed by the adult behavior that kids as young as middle-school age engage in, including drinking, drugs and sexual activity.
"I'm not against having fun — that's not my message," Beckerman said. But he was particularly thrown by the sexual anonymity among some teens. "These kids aren't even catching one another's names."
Beckerman said teens lack heroes who aren't using sex or stupidity to sell a movie or record.
"We've got Paris Hilton and Ashton Kutcher (search) — what the media tells us are our heroes," Beckerman said.
Young people are "sexualized at an earlier and earlier age," said Susan N. Wilson, director of the Network for Family Life Education (search) at Rutgers University. "There's no antidote to what society and the media says."
Stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera have long been criticized for exploiting their sexuality for profit. The next generation can already be seen emulating its older sisters — literally.
Having teens reach out to teens is one of the best ways to combat the emotionless sexual imagery they see in the media, said Wilson, whose organization's Web site SEX, ETC. encourages teens to talk through the adult experiences and expectations they have.
About 32,000 teens a day log on to the site, which includes stories written by teens on sexual health issues such as: "Hooking Up: Harmless Fun or Health Risk?" "Older Guys: Dreamy or Dangerous?" and "Sexy Teens on TV: Is That All There Is?"
"We hear from kids from all over the country that the stories have convinced them to choose abstinence," Wilson said. "There's no moralizing or preaching — it's teens talking to teens."
Young people can also post questions that are answered by doctors, social workers and teachers.
"I think [young people's] need for answers is more intense these days given what's happening in the media and the Internet," Wilson said. "We use sex to sell everything in this country. Kids must be very perplexed."
Teens are also using other arenas to get out a positive message and fight back against the deluge of sexed-up media.
The Center for Young Women's Health at Children's Hospital in Boston is training high school girls this spring to educate middle school girls on health issues.
Also in Boston, students from the Log School for underprivileged teenage girls have launched an all-girl radio station, R-LOG (540 AM) to fight the rump-shaking image of women in rap and hip-hop videos and album covers.
Instead, the 13- to 18-year-old writers, producers and engineers play music with a positive message and discuss issues of the day with call-in shows.
There are a few famous young women who are putting out a positive image for girls, Miressi said.
She considers actress Natalie Portman (search) a role model. "She's seems comfortable with her image and is well educated. She went to college."
Miressi said 17-year-old actress Lindsay Lohan (search) of "Freaky Friday," "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen" and the upcoming "Mean Girls" doesn't flaunt her sexuality.
"She seems like a really down-to-earth kind of girl," Miressi said. "She seems normal; she doesn’t have that attitude."