Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Of princesses and nasty clothes

Where do I start with this... Macleans Magazine, Canada's weekly newsmagazine, ran an article this week on the current state of young girls' immodest dress. Actually two articles; one, an interview with Celia Rivenbark (author of Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like A Sk---), is online. The other is by Lianne George and is titled "Why are we dressing our daughters like this?"

The articles are so full of language and other non-family-friendly imagery that I wouldn't even let The Apprentice read them.

However, there were a few things that jumped out there that are worth commenting on.

One of the biggest objections to little girls being dressed as if they were standing on street corners is the question of who's watching them and why. It is very, very hard to explain this problem to children, especially if we've raised them to say "Look at me!" Especially if we are constantly taking videos or pictures of them, teaching them to pose, encouraging them to be the center of attention while they're still at their cutest. How then can they understand the danger of someone looking at them with evil intentions? Besides that, there's the basic problem of "me!" Clothing historian Anne Hollander is quoted in the Macleans article: "You can learn a whole lot of very serious narcissim by being brought up to be looked at constantly," she says, citing Marie Antoinette, who was "scheduled to be the queen of France since she was born."
"Nevertheless, Esmeralda was not the most fortunate Princess in the world and it was on account of her one lack that the whole kingdom mourned.

"For Esmeralda was plain.

"There weren't two ways about it--the girl had no beauty, and in a royal Princess that is a serious flaw."--Phyllis McGinley, "The Plain Princess"
Are we raising our daughters merely to be looked at?

To be sexy? Susan Linn, co-founder of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, is quoted in George's article: "Girls themselves don't necessarily understand the clothing as sexual, she says, but 'what they do comprehend is that they get a lot of attention by dressing in a particular way.'"

To be shoppers? A quote from the article: "In fact, the most important identity of all for girls to cultivate is their identity as shoppers." It describes toys such as plastic purses filled with toy wallets and debit cards, and a Barbie bank with ATM machine. Toy purses are nothing new, but the article suggests that these toys aren't just playthings: for this generation of children, they represent the real thing; they are "practice" rather than just "play."

To be invited places? The authors of Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes are quoted: "Will she be popular? Will she be invited somewhere? With what group does she belong?" I think those questions sum up the article even more than the details of the terrible clothing do. They sound like the stuff of old teenage novels (Will Poindexter ask me to the prom?); but now it's little girls who worry about those things.

To be servants? Wait a minute, where did that come from? (Thanks to for posting the link.)
"Dame Goodwit gave her a tiny plot of ground for her to plant and she grew reasonably adept at coaxing the seeds to climb up into the sunlight. She burned her thumbs trying to make cookies, she scratched her knees blackberrying, she made up stories for Echo which had nothing to do with how important she had been at the castle."--Phyllis McGinley, "The Plain Princess"
At what age do you worry about those things? Are homeschoolers immune to the marketing-our-girls disease, even if they don't watch commercials? Do those attitudes creep in at church, in dance classes, in the ways they play with their dolls? And even, if we're not being very careful, in their clothes? As the article points out, the streetcorner syndrome can be hard to get away from when even the Giant Tiger (discount store) fliers advertise "clothes with bling."

On my last shopping trip with Ponytails, I didn't so much mind the Brady Bunch orange and pink flowers and stripes for little girls (at least they're cheerful), but there was one top she looked at that I did not like at all, and not because it had bad words on it or exposed her midriff. It was clearly designed for someone much older: it was black, stretchy, and tucked in all the wrong places. The ironic thing was that they had only one of these tops, and it was (luckily) a size too SMALL for my fourth-grader. In other words, it was meant for maybe a second or third grader.

I don't usually go on this long, and I'm trying to wind up with one main point to this. If there is one, it's that we can't afford to raise Marie Antoinettes or Esmeraldas, much as we might like to have little princesses with everything they could ever want. And we need more Dame Goodwits who are smart enough to break through the spell our culture tries to cast on our daughters.

"'The magic,' she said softly. 'It is complete. I am no longer plain.'

"Then she turned to Dame Goodwit.

"'My father the king will reward you well. You are a powerful enchantress.'

"'That is as may be,' said the Dame placidly. 'Perhaps your eyes glow because for the first time in your life you have done an unselfish thing. I am well pleased with you, Esmeralda."--Phyllis McGinley, "The Plain Princess"


coffeemamma said...

All I have to add is, "Me too".

Mother Auma said...


It is so hard.

It does have a lot to do with the cameras and the videocameras, and also with the idea that we have to praise every single little thing they do or else they won't have good "self-esteem." Then even when they are serving others, they do it with one eye on Mom to see if she notices.

I have finally told my daughters that if I see their bellies again, it is overalls and jumpers. But that doesn't take care of the "look at me" attitude. I don't want them to dress properly only because they have to, but because they are honoring their own inner convictions about the way they dress.

How to inspire that "want to"?

HopewellMomSchool said...

EXCELLENT post! My daughter has come home from school beaming that someone called her a "cute little thing"--her smile and pride sent shivers down my spine. Of course she should feel good about how she looks, but for weeks she kept dressing as grown up as she could to try to get more compliments. Clothes shopping is the nightmare of being mom to a young girl.

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