(Title courtesy of friend Jonathan Bradlow.)
Before I get on a roll here, let me preface this with: I'm not conservative or even particularly religious. So, when somebody like *me* starts to criticize what parents let their kids wear, you know there's a chance that the proverbial line really HAS been crossed.
All three of my kids had graduations yesterday -- younger son from kindergarten, older son from fifth grade, daughter from eighth. Yes, I now have a kid in HIGH SCHOOL.
I'm still looking for my bifocals and my cane. I'm not sure how it's possible that my baby is that old. But she is. And she's looking forward to getting her learner's permit in six months too. God help me. I'm so not ready for that.
Back to the topic: kids' clothing.
I can't complain about what the kindergarten crowd was wearing; I wasn't there because both boys' ceremonies were at the exact same time (and in different schools), so my husband went to the Kindergartner's one and I went to the fifth grader's. From the pics I saw, the kindergarten girls wore appropriate little-girl dresses. No complaints. The parents apparently understand that their girls are barely out of toddler hood.
By fifth grade, however, a lot of parents appear to think their girls are a whole lot older than they really are.
When the fifth grade kids came into the auditorium, I was struck by the number of the girls wearing strapless dresses AND high heels. Some even had professionally styled hair (either that, or their moms or dads are way better at hair styling than I am). Even more common were spaghetti-strap dresses, baby doll style dresses (think lingerie style) and very short skirts.
They are TEN YEARS OLD, eleven at most.
The boys, in contrast, were either dressed in nothing particularly special at all, or wore button-down or polo-style shirts with dress slacks. I saw a few ties as well as one kid dressed completely in white with a matching hat. In any case, the boys looked like boys. A little awkward. A little immature. A whole lot bored.
The girls looked like somebody had decided to make them grow up real fast.
It is true that many fifth grade girls are well into puberty and so already look older than their male peers. I get that. But that is not a sufficient excuse for much of the clothing I saw, which was simply too mature and far too "sexy" to be appropriate for 10- and 11-year-old girls, particularly at a school event.
If I thought that I'd feel better at the eighth grade graduation, I was wrong.
Kids (and parents) REALLY went all out for this one. (What is left to do in high school?) Several girls were wearing strapless black mini dresses with (fake, I hope) diamond jewelry, fancy up-dos for their hair, and high-heeled glittery sandals with what looked like professional pedicures. One girl had on the strappy, four-inch heeled silver sandals with a skin-tight, floor-length, beaded, spaghetti-strap gown with a back that stopped just above her butt. No exaggeration.
I looked around. Was I really in line for the Emmys? Nope, just standing in line with parents waiting to get into a hot gym to watch 180 eighth graders make the ceremonial transition to high school.
What's appropriate? My definition of "appropriate" differs on the age of the kid. What is appropriate for a fifth grade girl (knee-length skirt, blouse or tank top, lightweight sweater as necessary) is different from what is right for an eighth grade one (I, for instance, would -- and did -- allow a sleeveless dress, but with only minimal heels and no professional hairstyle and only light makeup). By the time they are eighteen, they can wear whatever inappropriate and low-class thing they want. It's their body, their life. Etc. But until then...
I'm sympathetic to the argument that "it's so hard to find appropriate clothing for girls these days". It IS hard to find appropriate clothing for girls. While boys' clothing is boring (and, for instance, their shorts keep getting LONGER and BAGGIER), girls' clothing changes, it seems, monthly, and their shorts and skirts keep getting shorter and tighter.
We'll leave out the entire discussion of what percentage of the American population (at any age) can even wear such clothing and look good in it. Another disturbing trend was the percentage of muffin tops and flab on display.
Go into a store and try to look for cute -- but not "slutty" -- clothes for girls say, over size 10 (which for a lot of kids, is age EIGHT). You'll find rack after rack of skin-tight, cheaply-made, low-cut, sleeveless, short clothes for girls. Or clothes that just blatantly advertise sex: "I'm sexy" "I'm cute" "Hot" etc. There was recently an article about padded bras for little girls. Try to find something that you and your kid can agree on and that doesn't make your kid look too mature or like a tramp.
Go home and take an Excedrin; you'll need it.
It's not an easy job. My daughter has gone to school on more days than I like to admit wearing clothes that I'm not 100% comfortable with (a lightweight sweater over her tops is our usual compromise; the shortness of her skirts gives me a heart attack, but fortunately, she only owns two of them). Having arguments over clothing is somewhat of a rite of passage (for both boys and girls -- I heard two fathers complaining yesterday that they couldn't convince their sons to "clean up a little more" for the ceremony). Remembering you're the parent and that certain compromises will not be made is part of a parent's job; in other words my sons had to wear their polo shirts and my daughter could not wear a spaghetti strap dress to eighth grade graduation. She could wear a sleeveless dress and she could wear light makeup.
It's tough to fight the trend of slut wear, but it's not impossible. And it doesn't have to break the budget, either. I bought my daughter's 8th grade dress for $49 from Delias.com (a site that, in general, I actually highly criticize for its slutty clothing). She wore flats she already had (we'd bought them before Thanksgiving). The flats were not only cute, but practical (she didn't have to take off her shoes at the dance, like nearly all the other girls did). Her necklace, which I have worn on occasion to my lectures, came from Target.
As the fifth (and eighth) grade girls tripped across the stages in their heels, tugging at their strapless gowns to make sure they didn't fall off, I heard a few parents whispering, "I'm so glad I have boys". That comment made me sad. I LOVE having a girl. The problem isn't the girls; it's a market that tells girls from the earliest of ages that their value is their (sexy) appearance.
And the way we could change that market would be not to buy baby slut wear and to give our girls the message that they can be beautiful and confident -- and even look like American kids -- without showing quite so much of their skin. They don't need to dress in burkas, but a little more left to the imagination, particularly for those under the age of 18, would be a refreshing change.
After all, if the trend continues, all they'll have left to model for high school graduation is lingerie itself.
- My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.