In last Sunday’s New York Times I came across an interesting article, A Line Between Sweet and Skimpy, by Bruce Feiler, the subject of which concerns the sexualization of children’s clothing. He writes, after his 8 year-old daughter comes into a room to show off a new outfit, “My eyes bulged. The dresses drooped provocatively off the shoulder and offered other peekaboos of their bodies.” Clearly Bruce was somewhat shocked to see his innocent little girl in a somewhat sexually charged ensemble. Bruce goes on to say, ”As a father, I find these conversations (with his daughters regarding clothing choices) particularly challenging. On the one hand, I’ve internalized all the messages that I should not criticize my dughters’ bodies, compliment them merely for their looks, or in any way stifle their emerging sexuality. On the other hand I do not want them to leave the house looking like pole dancers.” On the same weekend that I read this article I visited my niece, who is 13, to give her a sewing lesson. Before my niece and I began our session of designing, cutting and sewing, her mother raised some concerns with me regarding the type of clothing that is available for girls her age. She mentioned inappropriate verbiage on t-shirts, leggings and underwear that is marketed to young girls. In particular she mentioned a t-shirt with the message, “Who Needs Credit Cards?” on a pair of girls underwear. That bothered me too.
With a little digging I found that sexualizing clothing for girls has become a huge trend and a boon to the fashion industry. This trend is so huge. In fact, that it is reported 30% of clothing manufactured for this age group is sexualized in some way. How do parents temper the requests to wear sexually provocative clothing by their 13 year-old daughter? When they say that their friends all wear push-up bras, do you cave or say, ”No”? According to Joyce McFadden, a psychoanalyst, and author of, “Your Daughter’s Bedroom “. . . girls today are unprepared to withstand sophisticated efforts by corporations to prey on girls’ desire to be popular.” Further, sociologists monitoring this trend say fashion for young girls has never been more provocative.
My niece and I discussed this too as we sewed her strapless sundress.
It was clear she wants her skirts short and her jeans tight but it was also clear she knew there was a line in the sand she could not cross; there were rules. She spoke about a mother-daughter luncheon she attended where the skirts worn by her contemporaries were so short that when they sat down you could see their “Friday” underwear. When they balanced on their very high heels they had one hand on the back of their skirt hem to pull it down. At that point my niece’s mother popped her head in and lamented, “It’s crazy! I can’t believe their mothers would let them out like this!” Ergo, part of the problem. If Sally, the most popular girl in school, is allowed to wear crotch grazing skirts, push-up bras and t-shirts that say, “kiss me because I know how” then that becomes the blueprint for other girls to emulate because for a lot of young girls being liked, feeling pretty and being popular is very important.
Back at the sewing machine we talked about music, summer vacation and her friends while completing her new favorite dress. She happily modeled her creation with her father (a good man but a man who needs a stylist). As I looked through the view finder I couldn’t help but notice the emerging woman in her but it was the young girl who was smiling standing next to her dad that showed through the picture.
On my way out her mother and I spoke again and she asked if I would be willing to come by and speak to a group of her daughter’s friends about fashion and what is appropriate dress for teenagers as they might be more receptive to listen to a snappy dresser who is not their mother.