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Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Tramp Isn't Just What She Wears

You know that CNN piece that has everyone up in arms? You know, the one that starts with the guy describing a delicious-looking eight-year-old girl and ends with him blaming the parents for wanting to be their kids' besties instead of their guardians?

LZ Granderson is shocked and appalled that young girls are being offered push-up bras and allowed to wear low-slung sexy sweats. His point is that young girls will suffer any multitude of adult problems from low self-esteem to eating disorders because they are allowed to dress in such a manner.

What Granderson completely overlooks is force of trends in fashion, the force of fashion in society, and the force of society on individuals young and old...but particularly young.  Now, I agree with Granderson that this trend toward "whore-chic" is disheartening, but, unlike him, I realize that this is because I'm a 28-year-old fuddy-duddy with toddler twin girls. My perception is skewed toward the upbringing I had, the good old days, as they were.  And even then, I remember clearly the senior talent show making fun of freshmen girls for trying to wear nothing to school.  This is not new.  It's no surprise as the societal view of clothing or lack of it becomes commonplace in the adult world, it would eventually pervade the youth as well. It's no surprise, and it's no shame.

Because shaming little girls at airports, or their parents, is not going to buck the trend. It's as logical to blame the parents as it is to blame yourself, Mr. Granderson, (and we all know with that leg-breaking thing how illogical that would be) because you, like the parents you are berating, cannot stop the swing and backswing of fashion. And that's all it is. Fashion.

It is a gigantic leap from low-cut jeans to eating disorders - one that I do not think you can make. Those that suffer from such afflictions would not take kindly to being told it was because their parents let them wear "whore panties" when they were little.  Probably because they didn't. And if they did, anyone with an eating disorder could tell you the two usually have nothing to do with one another. In fact, by using this particular cause and effect, you are minimalizing a  very real and very scary psychological terrain that many must walk through every day.  How dare you, sir?  But I don't want to go too far. Of course, it's not you who said that, but a study.

"In 2007, the American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls issued a report linking early sexualization with three of the most common mental-health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. ...There's nothing inherently wrong with parents wanting to appease their daughters by buying them the latest fashions. But is getting cool points today worth the harm dressing little girls like prostitutes could cause tomorrow?"

Now, if you read that link, here is what "sexualization" is defined as:
  • a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
  • a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
  • a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
  • sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.

So, really, you're making another leap here because nowhere do I see buying a 12-year-old girl a push-up bra on that list.  Is it the first step to those four bullet points?  Possibly. But I would argue that, to at least some, it's just fashion.  Let's not forget that sixty years ago it was considered risque to wear a skirt cut above the knee.  Today, we would laugh at such prudishness, wouldn't we? Oh, it's not the same, you say, this is different, this is us.  They thought something completely normal was whorish.  We reserve that judgment for only what's completely over the top. Or is it?  Another example of this would be tattoos.  They were once a mark of sailors, prisoners and the toughest of the tough. It was not fashionable nor socially acceptable to have a tattoo otherwise.  Do you have a tattoo?  I know I do.  Fashion changes. It does not necessarily mean that those going with the changes will be irrevocably marred.

 Read further in that link and you'll find this:

"Although extensive analyses documenting the sexualization of girls, in particular, have yet to be conducted, individual examples can easily be found. These include advertisements (e.g., the Skechers “naughty and nice” ad that featured Christina Aguilera dressed as a schoolgirl in pigtails, with her shirt unbuttoned, licking a lollipop), dolls (e.g., Bratz dolls dressed in sexualized clothing such as miniskirts, fishnet stockings, and feather boas), clothing (thongs sized for 7– to 10-year-olds, some printed with slogans such as “wink wink”), and television programs (e.g., a televised fashion show in which adult models in lingerie were presented as young girls). Research documenting the pervasiveness and influence of such products and portrayals is sorely needed."

While Granderson did a superior job pulling out the specific examples, he missed the point of studies and trends...the research part.  The paragraph above explicitly states that in the case of young girls the influence of these products is unknown. So, let's not put the bra before the breasts here, okay?  Let's do that research, or at minimum, let's call your specific opinion what it is, and not try to back it up with studies that don't actually back it up.

And it's not that Granderson's opinion isn't valid - it is. I agree with it. My heart sinks a little when I see sexy six year olds because I think sex shouldn't be important to them. In fact, in my eyes, fashion shouldn't be important to them.  (You've seen how I dress my toddlers.)

But my opinion of their priorities isn't reality. Fashion is important to them because fashion is important to our society as a whole. And anyone who thinks forcing their children to wear baggy tie-dyed t-shirts and balloon pants will save them from a lifetime of self-esteem issues has another thing coming. There's another facet to low self-esteem that Granderson fails to take into account and that is being made fun of.  Kids are cruel (and so are their parents) when it comes to being the odd man out. And fashions that were once considered whorish, have made their way into the trends with "whore-chic" and have trickled down into the youth, so that the child with the parents who force her to wear turtlenecks and corduroys may do just as much damage to her self-esteem as the parents who swing too far the other way and allow their child's thong to peek out from her ultra-low jeans.  Thankfully, the parents who would swing that far to the right are just as few as the parents who would swing that far to the left. Granderson speaks as if millions of young girls are being allowed to purchase and wear these items on the daily. That simply isn't the case. Just because an item is being marketed doesn't mean everyone is immediately wearing it.  Look at the Snuggie (oh, wait, bad example, but you know what I mean.)

But the biggest, most glaring, problem I see with Granderson's piece is that fashion and sex are not the same thing. He lacks an enormous insight into the psychology of an eight-year-old girl. Speaking in generalities here, I would put forth that girls do not dress up to impress boys or men. Girls, many times, dress up to impress other girls. Not in a sexual way. In a competitive way. Most eight year olds are not trying to get a rise, physically or otherwise, from a man in an airport. They are trying to show off to their friends. They are in it for the fashion, not for the sex.

Does the emphasis gradually change as they get older, and does the foundation laid by these fashions in the early years play a part in the way a woman grows up? It's possible, on an individual level, that yes, it does.  Would I feel comfortable letting my daughters wear sweatpants that say Juicy on the back with a cropped belly shirt? Absolutely not.  But that is me.  I'm not going to go around slamming every other parent out there for not thinking exactly like I do.  I'm not going to say with certainty that their daughters will have self-esteem problems and that it will stem from the parents' decision to let them dress the way they want to and the way their friends are dressing.  Because I don't think that's true.

Plus, (and probably most importantly), I don't for a second believe that my kids' backpacks won't have a change of clothes in them should I pull the fashion noose too tightly around their necks.

My thought process is, they're probably just going to wear it anyway.  But if I'm open enough and compromise with them enough, and explain to them the implications behind the fashions...if I talk to my kids instead of playing the break-your-legs card, maybe we can find a happy middle ground, and my kids won't feel forced to lie to me about what they're wearing when I'm not around.

And it's a triple win because I wouldn't have judged, blamed and shamed thousands of parents and children in the meantime.

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  1. "...I wouldn't have judged, blamed and shamed thousands of parents and children in the meantime."

    Well, that takes all of the fun out of it. ;)

    Sexualization aside, I would rather teach my kids not to bow to society's pressure to jump on every trend and bandwagon.

  2. I would argue that there's a difference between jumping on the bandwagon and remaining socially acceptable to your peers at any given age. It's slight, but it's there. Conforming to a certain degree is how society is able to function as a whole, after all, and if you educate and talk to your kids about their decisions, at least they still feel a bit in control and perhaps begin to understand the complexity behind the platitude "if everyone jumps off a bridge, would you do it, too?" It's that understanding that will buck an unsavory trend the quickest...I think. IDK, though.

  3. It really isn't that fashion is important to six-year-olds, but that fashion is important to their pubescent counterparts. Girls clothes usually run sizes 6-14. An older kid isn't going to wear "baby" fashions so they make the whole line geared to the oldest, and most fashion conscience kids. Simple economics is the reason first graders and middle schoolers have the same clothing choices.

  4. My kids can just hate me, as I hated my parents and my husband hated his, because I don't think that fashion trends need to be followed (and that society's expectations of that are ridiculous and expensive, especially since they change every 3 months), especially if that includes buying my hypothetical daughter sexualized outfits. In hindsight (and hindsight, for me, hit in high school) I was glad my parents wouldn't/couldn't afford to allow us to follow trends, because by then I realized that people who judged/picked on me because of my clothes weren't people I wanted to be friends with anyway.

  5. Thank you for writing this, defently going on my Sunday Surf list.
    I too have struggled with the news surrounding this. I dress my kids conservatively and my teen knows, and respects, our mandate that we cover our "business parts". Thankfully my older children have all taken a clue from good ol' mom (that would be me hee hee) and dress pretty conservatively. That being said the story is more complex than a lot of people are willing to admit. Good post.



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