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Abercrombie bikini tops: Threat to girls' mental health?

lipstick, girl, sexuality, stock, 4x3
lipstick, girl, sexuality, stock, 4x3 istockphoto

(CBS) Sexy bras are nothing new, but one major retailer sparked outrage among the mental health police by peddling provocative push-up bikini tops to second-graders.

"These bras are an egregious example of a broader culture that is saturated with sexualizing messages aimed at young girls," psychologist Dr. Eileen L. Zurbriggen, leader of an American Psychological Association task force on the sexualization of girls, told CBS News. "There's nothing wrong with wanting to be attractive, but girls are getting the message that being sexy is the only thing that is important."

Dr. Zurbriggen, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, was talking about the "Ashley push-up" triangle bikini top featured on the Abercrombie & Fitch website before the retailer - apparently in response to outrage over the bra - agreed to "recategorize" it as an item better suited for girls age 12 and older, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

Calls to the company weren't returned by press time.

Can wearing a sexy bra really have a corrosive effect on little girls? Absolutely, says Dr. Zurbriggen - and the scientific evidence seems to back her up. In 2007, research conducted by the task force linked sexualization of girls to eating disorders, low-self-esteem, and depression.

And sexy clothing may be only the tip of the iceberg. The task force said sexualizing messages could be found in virtually every form of media, including television, music videos, music lyrics, magazines, movies, video games, and the Internet.

What's the solution to the problem?

"As a society, we need to replace all of these sexualized images with ones showing girls in positive settings - ones that show the uniqueness and competence of girls," Dr. Zurbriggen said in a written statement released in 2007. "The goal should be to deliver messages to all adolescents - boys and girls - that lead to healthy sexual development."

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