And yet, the Finucane and Orenstein critique does resonate with many familiar with modern American girlhood as "hot" replaces pretty in pink, and getting the prince takes on a more ominous tone. Parents and educators regularly tell re-searchers that they are unable to control the growing onslaught of social messages shaping their daughters and students.
"Parents are having a really hard time dealing with it," says Diane Levin, an early childhood specialist at Wheelock College in Boston who recently co-wrote the book "So Sexy So Soon." "They say that things they used to do aren't working; they say they're losing control of what happens to their girls at younger and younger ages."
It only takes a glance at some recent studies to understand why parents are uneasy:
•A University of Central Florida poll found that 50 percent of 3-to-6-year-old girls worry that they are fat.
•The marketing group NPD Fashionworld reported in 2003 that more than $1.6 million is spent annually on thong underwear for 7-to-12-year-olds.