It’s Not about the Costumes

2 Nov

It’s not just about the costumes – although they may be the starkest examples of what we’re doing to girls.

No, for me, it’s about everyday clothes. It’s about pink and blue and gender coding – sure – but it’s deeper, more insidious, too. We are sexualizing girls from an early age – so early, in fact, that there’s hardly any language to communicate why our (ancient, strict, impossibly out-of-touch) boundaries as parents are where they are.

“Mom, can I wear a binkini?” No. “When can I wear a bikini?” I don’t know. “Everybody I know is wearing a bikini.” Jessie and Meena wear tankinis, I tell her. “Rae and Talia wear bikinis.” I should know better, right? Does she really need a conversation for every rule? It always comes down to this:

“I’m not Talia’s mom.”

And I can rarely find the words to explain WHY. Why I am who I am, why I stand where I stand.

Because it’s not so much about bikinis either. I love little girls in bikinis. Bikinis are a great way to get sun on your belly. It’s fun to go out in the summer with hardly anything on – it’s body fun. I love the feel of sun on my own skin. And I love the simplicity of bikinis on little girls. I have an awesome picture of my daughter wearing a vintage bikini in front of the Chicago skyline. (Thank you, Uncle Joel and Uncle Danny.) But she has reached the age now where girls compare their bellies in bikinis – their skin tone, their muscle, their fat. Whose tummy is flat? And bronze?

I just say “No” to bikinis from the get-go. Save myself some trouble.

It is, however, about black lace. And short skirts. Drop-neck blouses and sweaters. High-heeled boots in her size. Every kind of sexy vampire you can imagine stuck to the front of every young girl’s shirt. Shirts for kids who are 7 and 8 and 9.

These are my daughter’s choices in the aisle of every store.

And she wants these things. Like every girl her age, my daughter is curious. She wants to be pretty. She wants the power and the intrigue these clothes evoke – and she knows they do, because her friends strut proudly through the hallways wearing them (is “proudly” the right word?) and her moms speak about them in angry or hushed tones.

I challenge myself to re-think where I draw the line, to see things from her point of view. I don’t want to hold her back. I want to encourage her growing sense of self. But…

She. Is. Nine. I always reach the same conclusion: We as a culture have gone too far.

I had a lot of time on my own last weekend (a rare experience – thank you to my girl’s tremendous aunties for taking her on a kite-flying, beach-hiking overnight adventure!) and I chose to spend some of my delicious free time shopping for my daughter’s winter clothes.

Without her.

I pulled the sparkly shirts into my cart, and the pants that didn’t say “skinny jeans” on their tags. I pulled the edgy sweat pants embroidered with peace signs and hearts that weren’t stitched to the bum. I pulled a practical winter coat that was fashionable, too, made in colors she likes (black and pink) and when I got home with all this awesome loot? She was ecstatic.

She loves the turquoise sweats.

She’s out of her head for sparkles.

And the sequined star that you can change with one brush of your hand from silver to hot pink? Blew her mind.

Each shirt, each pair of pants, even her new winter coat was a treasure.

And for me? The best part? Not a single moment of our experience with this dazzling new wardrobe involved whining or begging or aisles and aisles and aisles of “No.”

Halloween 2013_BAnd I did not have to try to explain a thing.

“Thank you, Mami,” she exclaimed, hurling her arms around my neck. “You’re the BEST!”

I love this kid. Truly, madly, deeply. And this winter, I promise you, she’s gonna look good.

I relaxed my rules and let her be a Barbie vampire for Halloween. (Draculaura from Monster High.) It’s not about the costumes, after all. She wore leggings to keep warm. And she didn’t fight me at all.


12 Responses to “It’s Not about the Costumes”

  1. goodfamiliesdo November 2, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    I’m right there with you on the ridiculous way our kids are being sexualized by clothes. It’s not as big of an issue with boys but I don’t have anything with writing on the butt or shirts that say “my mom is hotter than your mom.”

    • RoiAnn November 8, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

      I’m sure boys get it, too – we just don’t call it “sexualizing” – but they have strict codes – no pink, no fairy wands, no tears EVER – maybe not evident in the costumes or tween clothing aisles at Target, but still a challenge – I’m just not as familiar with boy mom challenges, so I haven’t worked up a rant on that! Maybe you will 🙂

      • goodfamiliesdo November 8, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

        Oh you better believe I will! I thankfully have parents who support me on raising him without those stereotypes so I don’t have to waste energy on arguing with them on it. I know I wrote a little on this subject a really long time ago, one of my first posts maybe. It’s hard to outright dress him in “girl” clothes at this stage but there is purple in his baby afghan and I will let him pick his own clothes whenever he is ready.

      • RoiAnn November 8, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

        You go!

  2. Shannon November 2, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    I have the “No” problem when we walk down the aisles at a store, but it is not me that says it. It’s my eleven year old. She doesn’t like anything. No pink. No sparkles or glitter or sequins. No boot cut. No skinny jeans. Just No. We are left with sweat pants and t shirts and hoodies. I am actually bribing her this weekend to go out and get new shoes. Her toes are about to come out of hers, but she says they are comfortable and why get something new. I guess maybe I should be grateful, but she wears the same several things all of the time.

    • RoiAnn November 8, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

      I hear you. She sounds like me. And I STILL wear pretty much jeans and hoodies (and bare feet) whenever I have the chance. I hope your shoe excursion was successful.

  3. Tracey November 2, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

    Corinne is 8 and is fairly easy to explain “why not” to when it comes to inappropriate clothing. She does have a few things that I wouldn’t have normally chosen for her, but they were given as gifts, and that’s really hard to say “no” to when they aren’t wildly inappropriate. One thing she owns that I changed my mind about once I saw them on her were the knee high boots with a little heel (like she needs to be TALLER?). She looks really cute in them and loves them. I just don’t let her wear them with short skirts!

    • RoiAnn November 8, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

      I get you with the boots – I really do. For me, it’s not any one item of clothing – it’s this overall girl-aspiration to be sexy. And I get so dern complicated in my attempts to explain why I’ve said “No” to the style choices she wants to make. Finding that sweet spot where I’ve said enough but not TOO much? I have a feeling you’ve got that down – but it’s not my strength. Not yet, anyway. I expect I have many years of practice in front of me.

  4. DeCaf November 2, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

    Remember when kids clothing used to just be something comfortable that fit? Maybe I’m misremembering my youth, but I don’t remember there being any black lace.

    • RoiAnn November 8, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

      Awww – maybe your family just steered you away from the black lace. 😉

  5. debweeks November 3, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    Naomi wore that same wig on Halloween!!!

    I will avoid getting on my soapbox and just say that the combination of clothing designs for children and the media (specifically shows geared toward the pre-teen crowd) can making parenting even more challenging.

    So far I have one that isn’t too picky about her clothing and one who has a strong opinion about what she wears, but not into the fashion trends that make me cringe. At least not yet.

    • RoiAnn November 8, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

      LOVE that wig. She almost convinced me to let her get a streak in her hair because I loved her so much in that wig.

      And thank you for joining me in the fashion rant. ❤ Apparently, I'm feeling shaky about my parental boundaries and needed to hear from other adults that I'm not totally up a tree.

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