By Marah Gubar

About Marah Gubar

Marah Gubar is Associate Professor of Literature at MIT and the author of Artful Dodgers: Reconceiving the Golden Age of Children’s Literature (2009). Her essays on youth literature and culture have appeared in journals such as PMLAAmerican Quarterly, and Children’s Literature and in venues such as Public Books and the Los Angeles Review of Books.


A little girl stares at us from an advertisement in a 1970s American magazine. Her spotless white dress and cuddly teddy bear mark her as an appropriately childlike spokesperson for a line of perfume products scented with baby powder. But her artfully styled hair, heavy makeup, and come-hither gaze carry an erotic charge, as indicated by the ad’s tagline: “Love’s Baby Soft. Because innocence is sexier than you think” (Caputi 2004; Collins 2013). While yoking purity with eroticism might seem bizarre, this tendency stretches back to a transatlantic, nineteenth-century “cult of the child” (Kincaid 1992; Gubar 2016a) and forward to our present moment (Mohr [1996] 2004; Walkerdine 1997; Giroux 2000). From television programs that capitalize on our desire to see tarted-up tiny girls perform in beauty contests to fashion models whose waif-like slightness exalts early youth as the epitome of attractiveness, contemporary Western society furnishes disturbing proof for cultural historian

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