Clothing giants seem to be aiming their low-slung pants and belly-baring shirts at younger and younger audiences. “What's the rush?” I wonder to myself, knowing she'll be seventeen soon enough.
“Look at this dress, sweetie,” I say, holding up a gingerbread man appliquéd pinafore, and wondering if anyone even knows what a pinafore is anymore.
My daughter scrunches her face, then raises her eyebrows like I've lost my mind somewhere in the toddler section, and says bluntly, “Wouldn't wear it.”
I try again, offering up pant suits, empire-waist Christmas dresses, pretty pink cardigans.
“Mom, I want cool stuff,” she says, reminding me how uncool I must be.
I peruse the little girls' section in search of a compromise and silently curse the merchandisers who have created an entire generation of young girls declaring themselves “Bratz” and “Cosmo Girls.” Somewhere between the colorfully matched sets we buy for our preschoolers and the Sex and the City-inspired clothing lines for teens is this vast wasteland of clothes for young girls who designers don't know what to do with.
I see t-shirts proclaiming, “You Can Have My Brother,” and a wall full of panties that read “I Hate Boys,” and “Boys are Stupid.” My mind flashes to my own beautiful sons and to my wonderful husband. I deftly steer my daughter away from them pondering what on earth we are teaching our girls. Has it really come to this? Merchandisers and marketers are going to tell our kids what to value (fashion, sex, disrespect) and what not to (family, relationships)?
Rushing our kids into adulthood is a national pastime, it seems. Nine-year-old boys are playing video games depicting gang shootings and bloody murders. Twelve-year-olds surf the Internet with abandon. Fourteen-year-olds girls are reading Cosmopolitan magazine in order to glean such indispensable information as “How to Be a Better Kisser” and “The Spot That Really Drives Him Wild.”
Kids beg and plead for games and toys and clothes that are wildly inappropriate, yet are marketed directly to them with a barrage of commercials and advertising. Just like the sugary cereal ads geared to grab the attention of a four-year-old, advertisers know who to target.
But it's not the marketing that's at fault. It's parents.
At the slightest whine, the first whimper, the initial, “But, Mom, everyone has it,” we cave. And in our caving, we hand over our power both to our kids and to the marketers who want them.
Still, I know there must be a solution to my daughter's need for a few new blouses and the department store's need to provide me with an outlandishly unfortunate selection. Surely there is a compromise here somewhere, lost between the shirts that affirm the wearer is “Hot Stuff” and, well… the gingerbread man pinafore. If nothing else, it all makes for some great discussion between mother and daughter.
We finally find a few things that are cool to both of us and make our way to the checkout line, past the mannequins in black lipstick with spiked, pink-streaked hair.
As we head to the parking lot my daughter reaches up to hold my hand and asks, “Can we go get ice cream?”
“Sure,” I say.
I'm in no rush.
Charla Belinski is the author of the column “Are We There Yet?” in the Glenwood (Colorado) Post Independent where she shares her common-sense style and humorous world view on parenting each week. Charla has recently completed her first novel, It Came a Fine Rain. She lives with her husband, Tim, and three children near Aspen, Colorado. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.