“I’m not a baby anymore, Mommy!” proclaimed my seven year old a few months ago. My heart sank. I know she’s not a baby, but she will always be my baby. However much I revel in her accomplishments, a part of me will always want to keep her close and protected, and yes, small.
As it turns out, my daughter’s statement preceded a very benign request for tank tops for layering “like the big girls.” I sighed with relief. I can handle tank tops. I have no problem with the layered look. So, we headed off to the mall in search of a couple of white tank tops. Simple, right? The two of us trotted into one of our favorite children’s stores and quickly found an entire rack of tank tops in a rainbow of sherbet colors. I soon found her size, but since she is a big girl now, we thought it best to head to what my daughter refers to as the “trying on room.”
I followed her and watched the little angel wings of her shoulder blades flexing as she struggled out of her t-shirt. She pulled the tank top on easily and tugged it down over her enviably flat little belly. It fit. I smiled at her in the mirror over the top of her head. Her brows were drawn together in a scowl that exactly matched her Daddy’s. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “It looks good.”
“It’s crushing me,” she replied. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. In my defense, this is the child who once tried on sixteen pairs of sneakers in four different shoe stores before finding a pair that did not pinch her delicate toes.
I bent to adjust the armholes and that’s when I saw it—a tiny built-in shelf bra. What was that doing there? Had I wandered into the teenage section? I checked the tag—size 6X. No problem there. My little girl continued to tug at the tank top. “I can’t breathe,” she proclaimed melodramatically.
We peeled off the tank top and put the t-shirt back on. As I placed the rejected tank tops back on the rack, I flipped through the selections, looking at other sizes. Sure enough, tank tops for girls in sizes 4 and 5 also included built-in bras. What madness was this?
On our way out of the store, I spied a sales lady. She was a sweet, grandmotherly type with tight white curls and friendly blue eyes. Surely, she must not realize that she was selling brassieres for babies. I stopped to get the benefit of her wisdom. I held up the offending garment and simply asked, “Why?” She smiled indulgently and replied that many girls need them. “This comes in size five,” I protested. “Five year olds do not need that kind of support.” “Some do,” she insisted. Trust me, if my five year old needed a bra, I’d be paying a visit to an endocrinologist, not to Victoria’s Secret.
I was reminded of this incident last week when a friend informed me of a more shocking shopping display. She was at a department store in a neighboring town last week and discovered an entire rack of thong underwear for girls, sizes 5 and up. I’m not talking about slender teenagers. These were in the little girls department and were sized for elementary school girls. When my friend expressed her dismay at the customer service desk, she was patronized and smugly told that she was entitled to her opinion.
Every parent I know says they want to keep their kids innocent as long as possible. So how is it that these products sell? I regularly see pre-school girls sporting styles that most parents would cringe to see their sixteen year old wearing. When did we decide that clothing that is sexy on women is somehow “cute” on little girls?
Clearly, we cannot rely on the fashion or retail industries to make appropriate buying decisions for our daughters. It is up to us as parents to make responsible choices for them, so they can learn to make good choices for themselves when they are older. How can we expect our teenagers to understand what clothing choices are appropriate if we allow them to dress like tiny sex symbols in elementary school?
I think most parents agree that our society puts undue pressure on our daughters to look and dress sexy at an early age. Once they are teenagers, these choices are their own. Clearly, if we do not exercise our parental authority in the tween years, the teen years will reveal our shortcomings. Pun intended.