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.
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.”
“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.