Out of the Mouth of Babes

Burlington, MA Mall Advertisement

Ben and I went to the local mall yesterday to pick up some summer clothes for our almost 8 year old daughter: shorts, t-shirts, etc. Thankfully she could really care less about most clothing so long as it is cotton, has an elastic waist, and preferably contains an image of a dog somewhere on it. That said, it should have been remarkably easy. It wasn’t.

Because she is considerably taller than your average second grader, she wears a bigger size than most of her peers. She also likes her clothes on the looser side. But most of all she just wants to be comfortable, which I don’t think is asking too much of a garment.

The usual stores we shop at had slim pickings on a rainy Memorial Day weekend. Other than a t-shirt or two there wasn’t much in her size or that fit the rest of the bill. A third and consistent fall-back store, we discovered, only carried her new size online and not in the actual store. It was time to spread out and look at what was available for girls that wear a child’s size 10 or 12. And it was sad and disturbing and embarrassing and uncomfortable.

When did inseams on shorts get so small? When did t-shirts get cut off mid-section and become so translucent? When did summer dresses get exposed backs and nauseating amounts of fringe and glitter? And whose idea was it to embed 2-inch heels inside of hightop sneakers as we saw on one sign that pretty much described my entire shopping experience?

I can’t even begin to understand why these stores are still in business if their audience is really as young as some of the sizes would suggest. Are there parents out there that don’t have a problem hyper-sexualizing their elementary-aged daughters or defining them by their physical attributes? Is it really what kid’s want and if so, why? Or is it just all that is offered?

My daughter still plays with doll houses, plastic animals, and a toy kitchen. She watches cable TV, is exposed regularly to popular culture, and is free to make her own choices within reason (she is still 7 after all). But despite all that exposure, she’s just not interested in clothing like this and calls it “teenage fashion diva stuff.” If I came home with any of it she would hold up her nose and say, “No.”

I probably am particularly sensitive to this because of what happened to her last week at school. After receiving a phone call from the elementary school principal telling me two boys had been particularly cruel to her, I went to the school to pick up my daughter. She was in tears. What had they said to upset her so much, so much that she was too embarrassed to tell any of the adults? Two second grade boys called a second grade girl, my second grade girl, “fat.”

My daughter is in no way fat. But that’s not even the point because even if she was the word wasn’t being used as a medical classification, it was used to be mean. Someone please explain to me how children so young know to target a girl’s appearance to bring her down. And someone please explain to me how giving girls clothing that shows off their legs, backs, and stomachs is supposed to make them feel good about themselves, particularly if they don’t happen to look like the girls of Daddy’s Money.

Like my daughter, I was called fat when I was her age even though I wasn’t. I was also called ugly, weird, smart, and too tall. By the age of 10 suicidal thoughts were not a stranger to me and remained a constant presence well into my late teens, sometimes even acted upon.

I’m happy we are in a school that takes a strong stand against bullying. The teachers, administration, and psychologist were on it and fast. The boys were punished and their parents called. That certainly didn’t happen when I was her age and I’m glad people seem to understand how words can impact kids and their development. I wouldn’t tolerate anything less.

I’m just so glad I didn’t take her shopping with us. She has a lifetime to experience body image issues like almost every woman I know. In the meantime I’m trying to teach her critical thinking skills, media awareness, and give her the self-confidence to counter what surely is to come if the trip to the mall is any indicator.

I would just like her to not be 7 before she is crushed by advertising and warped cultural norms, ingested and spewed back out by 8 year old creetens.

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