I’m sitting on a giant pink ottoman just outside of a row of dressing rooms in Justice. Inside the dressing room, Elena is putting together yet another outfit of her own making. We’ve come here for one shirt, but that didn’t stop her from filling her arms with bedazzled frocks and pleading for a chance to “just see.”
We have time to spare, so I indulge her. While I wait for the next installment of this mini fashion show, I gaze around the store. At the girls and their mothers perusing the racks. At the clothing and accessories on display.
I feel something I can’t quite wrap my head around – a mixture of dread and melancholy and annoyance.
I dread what is coming – the years of shopping in these kinds of stores, of saying no to clothing I’m not ready to see on my daughter’s too-young body, of the battles yet unwaged, of the overdramatic sighs and eye-rolling these shopping trips will provoke.
I’m sad and a bit wistful for the the days spent shopping in stores where cartoons played instead of bubblegum pop. Where dresses came in bright, happy colors. Where shirts were decorated with embroidered rainbows and bore cute phrases like “Flowers Make Me Smile,” not airbrushed with such nuggets as “I’m a Math Whiz: Chill + Relax = Chillax.”
I’m annoyed that this is where we are in this day and age: a place where it is no longer expected that a child act (and dress) in a manner that is actually age-appropriate. As our girls outgrow Gymboree, Dora and Amelia Bedelia, what is waiting for them? I find few choices that allow for Elena to stretch herself a little and yet still remain the child that she actually is. Instead it’s a barrage of things better suited for a teenager: stores that peddle make-up, bikinis and skinny jeans, shows that talk about dating and kissing, magazines plastered with Justin Beiber and Ke$ha.
Every where I turn, it feels as if we’re encouraging our girls to try on things, whether they be clothing, make-up, images, lyrics or words, that they just aren’t ready for. It’s as if we’re asking them to drive a car before they can fully reach the pedals – they can manage for a bit, swerving this way and that, before they come to a halting crash. And so they manage for a bit with the sexualized and mature things they’re showered with, but somewhere, somehow it’s going to damage them.
If 8 is the new 13 and 50 is the new 40, how long until we’re all just dying to be 21?
Elena comes out of the dressing room modeling jeggings (jean leggings for the rest of us), and a v-neck shirt with a lace-trimmed cami underneath. She tells me that she’s been getting fashion lessons, and that camis are very cool and isn’t the color of this cami just beautiful? She throws around the word cami with the ease of an adult stylist. I’m pretty sure I didn’t know what a cami was or own one until after I was married.
As I help her get things back on their proper hangers, I remind her that we are here for one shirt, and one shirt only. We go through the pile one by one, and settle on an acceptable striped shirt. She is denied the cami, but she’s fine with it.
As if to remind me that maybe I should slow down with my “The End of Childhood As We Know It!” hysteria, I see her for what she is right now: an 8-year-old girl who is too old for playdresses with leggings, but not far enough gone to warrant a fight over mini skirts and lacy tank tops.
But I feel as if the only thing that keeps us from crossing that fine line is the vigilance with which we monitor what she sees, hears and wears. What about the girls who don’t have someone to look after their girlhood with the same fervor?
I don’t have the answers. I only know that it bothers me, deeply. I wonder what difference it might make if we collectively agreed to stop pushing the adult stuff on our teenagers, the teen stuff on our pre-teens and the elementary stuff on our preschoolers. What if we just let them be? I don’t know, but I would certainly like to.
So what do you think? Am I getting all prudish and Chicken Little-esque here? Or do you feel it, too? Those of you with older girls, what things do you recommend (to wear, read, see or do) that can help them feel bigger without compromising their girlhood?
If you’re interested in reading further, I suggest this article in Redbook (Little Girls Gone Wild: Why Daughters are Acting Too Sexy, Too Soon) and this interview with author Peggy Orenstein on NPR (Saving Our Daughters From an Army of Princesses). I read them both within days of our visit to Justice, and the combo of all three opened up this proverbial can of worms for me.