Selling sex to toddlers

By | June 11, 2006

Just sent this letter, mostly written by my wife, to the CEO of Disney World:

Robert A. Iger, CEO
The Walt Disney Company
500 South Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521

Dear Mr. Iger,

I am writing to express great disappointment in a product we purchased at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom during a trip there in February. As the mother of four young children, I’ve not had time until now to write this letter!

My three-year-old daughter learned to use the bathroom in time for our family trip to Disney World. While there, her grandfather bought her a set of Tinkerbell underpants as a special present to mark the milestone. We could not see the specific designs from the outside of the package. The size was 4 — the smallest possible toddler underpants. My daughter is quite thin, so I cannot imagine that anyone much older than three wears this size. When we got home, we discovered one of three pair in the pack has the word “Sassy” emblazoned upon the seat of the underpants. My older daughters can read. We find this completely inappropriate. It would never have occurred to me that a Disney product designed for and marketed to preschool children would contain a sexually-laden message.

We would like the company to exchange the offensive pair for a new pair with a Tinkerbell design. We would also like to suggest that your company consider the size of the clothing when choosing your designs. I understand Tinkerbell is also popular with older girls, but I assure you, none of these girls are wearing toddler underpants, size 4.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

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13 thoughts on “Selling sex to toddlers

  1. Tinkerbelle Dress Up

    Yea, that isn’t something that Disney should be selling. I bet that what they did is piece their costume together from stuff already out there and didn’t really notice the sassy on the underpants. People do some dumb things.

  2. K.C.

    jik, I totally agree with everything you’ve said. What’s more, I am seeing an alarming trend with Disney. It seems to me that they are trying to sexualize our little girls. It’s bad enough that society is selling sex to teens but little girls?? More and more the “Disney princesses” are becoming BAD role models for our CHILDREN. Has anyone else noticed that the princesses appearing on toys, clothes, etc are NOT the sweet princesses of yesterday? They now sport very revealing, sexy clothing (cleavage showing, tighter and lower cut dresses), bodies that are provacatively posed and look more like something you’d see at Victoria’s Secret than in a Disney movie and they wear provocative “come hither” looks on their faces. It is hard to find ANY Disney Princess product these days that is appropriate for a little girl – at least for MY little girl, anyway. It is sickening and downright scary, if you ask me. I don’t understand the agenda at all but if this continues I’m afraid that I will have to boycott Disney completely. Yes, SHAME on Disney!

  3. Jen

    I consider myself to be pretty accepting of the way our society is in regards to the sexual content and nature found in various forms of media. However, this acceptance comes to an abrupt halt when it is aimed at children.

    In this particular matter I feel it is not the word “sassy” itself that is objectionable to me and I could argue both ways on this debate. It is, however, extremely offensive to have ANY word written across the back of a small child’s underwear. While shopping for new summer clothes for my 4 year old daughter the other day, I found many cotton shorts in size 4 with various words written across the butt. I remember seeing this fad for the first time aimed at teenage girls, and wonder what father would let his daughter out of the house wearing something that so obviously drew the attention of onlookers to their child’s backside. To see this on a toddler size 4 shorts (shorts – not underwear) I feel is completely inappropriate. To all who have debated the word – I would like to state that the word itself is not the issue. The issue is the area of the body that it is drawing attention to. I don’t care if it is underwear that is only seen in the home, or shorts that would be seen by all. These girls are children – let them be children and not “mini-divas.”

    jik has a legitimate gripe and I was disappointed by the content of many of the other posts. Discussion and differing points of view are healthy – but insults are just rude. Jik – I commend you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to call Disney on the carpet for this. Shame on them.

  4. jik Post author

    I think the reason Brooke brought up the meaning of sassy again is because your thought of it being strictly sexual in nature is completely ignorant.

    I’ve never said that it was “strictly sexual in nature.” I said that it was sexual in nature emblazoned across the back of a pair of Tinkerbell underpants. Personal insult noted and ignored.

    If polled, 9 out of 10 people would say that sassy just reflects an attitude that comes from self-confidence.

    Groundless, made-up statistic noted and ignored.

    My daughter is almost four, and she is quite sassy. I think the concern comes more from your prudence than anything else.

    Incorrect usage of the word “prudence” and personal insult noted and ignored.

    But don’t worry, I’m sure that since you feel sassy is a “dirty” word and worry so much about what people think, none of your daughters will ever be “sassy.”

    Inappropriate personal comment about my family noted and ignored.

  5. Kori

    I think the reason Brooke brought up the meaning of sassy again is because your thought of it being strictly sexual in nature is completely ignorant. The definitions that you yourself used show that the word reflects a bold, confident attitude. The only definition you used that even slightly reflected anything sexual was impudent which has an obsolete definition of brazenly immodest. If polled, 9 out of 10 people would say that sassy just reflects an attitude that comes from self-confidence. My daughter is almost four, and she is quite sassy. I think the concern comes more from your prudence than anything else. But don’t worry, I’m sure that since you feel sassy is a “dirty” word and worry so much about what people think, none of your daughters will ever be “sassy.”

  6. jik Post author

    I’ve already addressed in an earlier comment the meaning of “sassy” in this context, so I’m not going to get into that again.

    Your point about being told by one’s mother not to sass or get sassy actually reinforces my complaint, because I wouldn’t want my toddler wearing underpants flaunting that meaning of the word either! This seems rather obvious, and I’m not sure why you used that example when it seems to undermine your point.

    I wasn’t in Orlando with my family. I doubt they opened the underwear while they were there, and even if they did, the person who first raised the concerns about it was me, not my wife or in-laws (although my wife did agree with my concerns once they were pointed out to her).

    Whether or not the Disney Company owns the Disney Store, they certainly maintain iron-fisted control over all products sold with Disney branding, so the Disney Company is certainly to blame if the Disney Store sells Disney-branded products that are offensive.

    Finally, your comments about what I think about the Aladdin and The Lion King are wrong, but even if they were true, they’re nothing more than bogus reductio ad absurdum arguments which have no place in civilized debate.

  7. brooke

    Okay, first of all…the word sassy is not overtly sexual in nature. Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to sass you, or get sassy with you, or anything of that nature? 1. Rude and disrespectful; impudent.
    2. Lively and spirited; jaunty.
    3. Stylish; chic: a sassy little hat.

    You’re probably one of those people that think that the Genie tells Aladdin to “take off her clothes” in Aladdin or that the flowers spell “sex” in Lion King. Second-why didn’t you take them back while you were there??? And 3-The Walt Disney Company no longer owns The Disney Store, so the fact that The Disney Store is selling Tinkerbell underwear means nothing.

  8. Julie

    Dear “jik”,
    I am in total agreement with you concerning this matter. I would feel the same way. It’s time we start standing up for what is right. I read once that if you put a frog in a pot of water and slowly heat it until boiling, the frog will not jump out and will boil to death. Our society is doing that to us. Slowly, but surely, adding things into our culture and we don’t even know they are there because it’s been such a gradual change. Thanks for your integrity.

  9. jik Post author

    She and her sisters will see it, and at least one of her sisters is old enough to start getting the implications of words like “sassy”.

    Furthermore, it isn’t so much a question of whether she gets the particular meaning of the particular word, but rather of all the little things like this that are creeping into our culture and inuring people to the sexualization of young children.

    I know that Disney is just ridimg the trend, but they really don’t have to — they’re big enough to set the trends rather than following them.

  10. noname

    I understand what you’re saying about “sassy” being on the underwear, but seriously… who is going to see them on your daughter when she is wearing clothes? it’s not like she runs around everywhere, every day in her underwear right? and second of all, the only people that would see them are you (the parents) and if you are so worried about it, make it so that the only time she wears them is at bed time, i know you’re probably going too tell me that i’m missing the point, and i’m not… yes disney should have thought things through better, but if you haven’t noticed? fashion is changing at a spectacular rate, and you can’t change that… well that’s my 2 cents, i’m sorry if i upset you, but there is truth to what i have said.

  11. jik Post author

    Got this letter back from Disney at the end of June:

    Your letter has been received in our office.

    We apologize if you feel the toddler’s underwear is inappropriate. You may rest assured we will bring your comments and concerns to the attention of the appropriate product developers.

    We do not have any other Tinkerbell underwear available, hence I am not able to offer a substitute. If you will fax (407-828-2000) or mail your receipt to my attention, I will be happy to issue a credit or refund for this merchandise. It is not necessary to return the remaining two pairs.

    Thank you for taking the time to write and express your feelings in this matter.

    So, we’ve got the classic non-apology apology (“we apologize if…”); an untrue statement (the Disney Store is offering Tinkerbell underwear for sale right now as I type this); and a useless offer (if grandfather bought the gift, then why would we have the receipt?).

    In short, on the scale of corporate apologies, this one is ranked zero stars. Sometimes you get credit just for responding, but not if you lie to the consumer and offer a solution which makes it clear that you didn’t actually pay attention to the consumer’s complaint.

  12. jik Post author

    I’m sure you’re not the only person who doesn’t see anything inappropriate about putting the word “sassy” on the back of a four-year-old girl’s underpants. I think that’s a sad commentary on just how ubiquitous the sexualization of young girls has become in our society.

    There are three definitions of “sassy” in the dictionary I looked at:

    3. distinctively smart and stylish

    When someone writes “sassy” on the back of a pair of underpants, they’re not thinking about the second or third definition, they’re thinking about the first one. That’s just not appropriate.

    It is worth mentioning that the Tinkerbell character in both Disney’s Peter Pan and the original novel is herself a bit “sassy,” and there is veiled sexuality in her sassiness, which is primarily demonstrated by her competition with Wendy for Peter’s favor. Four-year-olds don’t get the sexual undercurrents, so it’s harmless to them while giving the grown-ups something to appreciate. But scrawling “sassy” across a four-year-old’s butt is a lot more overt, and in my opinion totally inappropriate.

  13. Darren

    I am definitely with you on the packaging not adequately describing the contents but I have to disagree with you on the word “sassy” having a sexually-laden message. Maybe there is some colloquial meaning I don’t know but I looked. Moreover the word “ass” is in there but I thought the double meaning humourous more than anything. Good luck with that refund.


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