Examples, in the minds of some observers, include the Bratz Cheerleader costume (for girls five-to-seven), the MJR Flirt (it just says "small" and is an Army skirt with a studded belt), Wonder Woman (for four-to-six-year-olds), the Bratz Bumble Bee (for five-to-seven-year-olds), and the Punky Pirate (for five-to-seven-year-olds).
Why is this happening, and what can parents do to dissuade their daughters from wearing such outfits?
"We used to see this only in the little beauty pageants for little girls, and there, it was the one arena where it was OK," marriage and family therapist Dr. Jane Greer told co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez on The Early Show Wednesday. "I think, now, that desire to be pretty and attractive has spilled over into being sexy, and so it's hard to make that distinction; (the trend affects) little girls, starting at 5 years old, even under, and going older.
"They all want to grow up. Remember, when we were younger, we wanted to wear our mother's clothes, step into her shoes. Now, being grown-up, ala Lindsay Lohan, means being sexy, low-cut jeans, mid-drifts. And, that's what they want."
So, Rodriguez asked, does it boil down to changes in role models and movies and TV shows?
"I think, most definitely," Greer responded. "The icons now are very different. It used to be the Wicked Witch and the Good Witch little girls wanted to dress up as. Now, they want to be pop stars, they want to be rock stars. They want to be out, there and that's all the, you know, leads to the peer pressure. That's all the motivating that goes on, to put on those pretty little costumes."
Then, what can a parent say if their daughter expresses a desire to wear a costume that happens to be sexy -- say, that of a superhero?
"Before you talk a child out of anything," Greer replied, "first, see if you can find out why -- what is it about that particular costume, that particular role model that they're pushing for. Because there may be qualities and traits to that superwoman or wonder woman that are really valuable and redeeming, and that you can help them in terms of their self-esteem and body image. So ask why.
"The next thing is see if you can distract them or help them to focus on other possibilities, other options that they might have that capture the elements of that particular quality -- the strength, the power, being somebody who's going to go in and rescue and save people. But, in another form. Who else could they be? What else could they do?"
And Greer urged parents not to give in, because there's "a consequenc" to giving in. "It's really important, as a parent, if you feel in your gut this is not the right time or the right costume, you don't want them to go along with it because of the peer pressure, you want to encourage their individuality. But at the same time, there comes a point where you have to say 'No.' And be aware that you're saying 'No' is protecting their innocence, it's really protecting them. You can say, 'Look, you'll be able to do this, you're gonna get there. There'll be a time ahead when you can be that bumblebee or that sexy cheerleader, but not this year. ... That's the job of the parents, to keep the limits in check," and be the boss.