Hey, tween girls – want people to think you’re smarter? Watch what you wear! Several new studies show that young girls who wear sexy, revealing clothes are not just at higher risk for body image problems, low self-esteem, and eating disorders. They’re also perceived as less competent, less intelligent, and less moral than girls who wear less-revealing clothing. That’s important to know, because a study of retailer websites found that one-third of the clothes marketed to tween girls are sexualized, including t-shirts with suggestive slogans, leopard-print bikinis, and clothes designed to emphasize body parts - like shorts that barely cover the rear end. Clothing websites are packed with descriptions like: “Cute butt sweatpants.” Or “fitted with a little stretch for a sexy look.” Remember – we’re talking kids 8 to 12-years-old, here.

Dr. Linda Smolak is a psychologist who focuses on body image and eating disorders in young people. She says that the overwhelming number of skimpy fashions marketed to tweens is training young girls to believe that appearance is everything – and they’re only worthwhile if they look sexy. In fact, experts say that when young girls wear revealing clothing, it sends the message that they’re sexually available, way before they should even be interested in boys. Experts also say that the more young girls are exposed to sexualized clothing, the more likely they are to put themselves into risky situations.

What’s the fix here? According to one study, the stores that carry the least sexualized clothing for tweens are Children’s Place and Gymboree. So, consider shopping there. Parents: What can you do if your 8-year-old insists on wearing the “cool” clothes that everyone is wearing? Say something like, “I think this outfit sends the wrong message,” and, “You’ll have to wait to grow up before you can wear this.” Remind her that people will think she’s smarter if she chooses something less revealing.