Educating Our Daughters Through Fashion Choices

 

photo courtesy of tsuacctnt

What has felt like the most interminable of winters is finally, begrudgingly coming to an end, and with that, a mother’s mind turns toward spring. With spring come new activities for the kids, more outings with the family, and the seasonal chore of changing out the kids’ closets. Time to pack up the parkas and the snow boots, the sweaters and the flannel pajamas. Time to get out the t-shirts, shorts and flip flops, and for some, the short-shorts, teeny bikinis and the thong underwear. Wait…what?

Photo courtesy of Samantha Marx

Last week, a letter written by a father to the powers-that-be at Victoria’s Secret went viral on Facebook and Twitter. A few days later I found a piece on the same topic over at Huffington Post. What’s the big deal? Recently, Victoria’s Secret announced a new line called “Bright Young Things”. This line, aimed at tweens and middle schoolers, contains the following items: black lace cheeksters with the word “Wild” printed on them, green-and-white-polka-dot hipsters with the phrase “Feeling Lucky?” printed on them, another pair of panties emblazoned with “Dare You”, and a lace-trimmed thong with the words, “Call Me” printed across the front. Are these really the panties we want our young daughters wearing? (I would argue that we don’t want our older daughters wearing them either, but that’s a topic for another time.)

This is not the first time retailers have targeted sexualized products at young girls. Two years ago, Abercrombie & Fitch came under fire for marketing a padded push-up bikini to little girls in their Abercrombie & Fitch: Kids line. Around that same time, Wal-Mart announced the launch of a new line of cosmetics, GeoGirl, designed for girls 8-12 years old. Now, plenty of little girls love playing dress-up and putting makeup on at home, for fun–my daughter included. However, the Wal-Mart line was not meant as a dress-up accessory akin to princess dresses and plastic tiaras; it was designed for girls to wear on a daily basis, to school or other activities.

As the Reverend Evan Dolive (dad and author of the letter to Victoria’s Secret) said, “I believe that this sends the wrong message to not only my daughter but to all young girls. I don’t want my daughter to ever think that her self-worth and acceptance by others is based on the choice of her undergarments. I don’t want my daughter to ever think that to be popular or even attractive she has to have emblazoned words on her bottom…I want my daughter to know that she is perfect the way she is; I want my daughter to know that no matter what underwear she is wearing it does not define her.”

 

Photo courtesy of "Picture Youth"

I agree wholeheartedly. This issue is bigger than a few retailers like Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch. For years, designers have been putting words across the bottoms of girl’s pants and shorts. I have never bought a pair for my six-year-old, and don’t intend to start. As my friend Jacque said, “Why are we trying to draw attention to our little girls’ bottoms?” My 13-year-old niece asked for VS Pink yoga pants for Christmas. I went into the store for the first time in years, and was able to find two pair that didn’t have words across the butt. Those are the ones I chose–as her aunt I could not in good conscience buy my niece pants designed to make others stare at her behind. Of course that’s just one challenge we encounter when shopping for our girls. As the weather warms and we look for shorts for our daughters, it can be nearly impossible to find some that hit mid-thigh. Even for my own daughter who was in a child’s size 5T last summer, I encountered dozens of pairs of shorts with roughly a  ½” inseam. However, with some determination and intentional choices, I was able to get things that worked and were child-appropriate.

That’s the point, really. Retailers will continue to stock shelves with clothing that sexualizes our daughters at a young age, and, motivated by what they see older girls (and some moms) wearing and by the desire to fit in with the trends, our daughters will often feel that they must have those kinds of clothes. However, there is an important point to be made here: children 6-14 are not likely to have jobs or disposable income beyond a modest allowance, and they cannot drive anywhere on their own. That means someone else has to take them shopping and pay for their choices–and in most cases, mothers are the ones who take their children shopping for clothes.


Image by monkeybar buddies

It’s easy to point the finger at retailers and at the culture and to blame them for legions of young girls running around in crop tops and short-shorts with words plastered across their bottoms. However, it is up to parents to talk with their daughters, to have conversations about clothing and why they wear what they wear: Is it because they like it or is it because they want to fit in? When mothers take their daughters shopping, they can show them the alternatives and talk about why they may want to wear more modest clothing. Ultimately, parents hold the purse strings and should remember they have the final say in what they buy for their children. Parents can set the parameters: call them rules, call them guidelines, call them whatever you want, but you should have them for your children. Simply shrugging and saying, “I know it’s a little grown-up for her age, but she just had to have it” doesn’t cut it. In my case, I buy my daughter Bermuda-length shorts instead of short-shorts, or athletic shorts that have a built-in brief. As for skirts, she either gets ones with built-in shorts underneath, or she wears them with leggings or playground shorts. The designer monkeybar buddies has a great line of playground shorts so girls can run around all summer in skirts and sundresses and still have fun jumping, climbing and being kids while not worrying about their panties showing.

Having a six-year-old, I know my battle has just begun, and it may be an uphill battle at that. I can’t help but think that if moms band together and agree that we won’t rush our children to grow up, that we will dress our little girls as LITTLE girls, there won’t be such a fuss to try and fit in. It doesn’t have to be ankle-length dresses. It can be sporty clothing like workout shorts and tops, girly clothing like sparkly tops and cute skirts with playground shorts or leggings underneath, or something casual, like a top paired with capris and Bermudas. When it comes to shopping we have plenty of options, and those options include refusing to dress our girls in clothing that is inappropriate for their age.