Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sugar, spice, make-up and designer labels

An article in today's New York Times points to a growing trend of pre-tween girls getting into fashion and cosmetics:

"Premium jeans, for instance, an item coveted by Maisy Gellert, a third grader living in Westchester County, N.Y. “I’m very particular,” Maisy said. “Sevens are the only jeans I actually wear.”

Like many girls her age, her fashion antennae are finely tuned, her standards exacting, her desires well defined. “I like the stuff that’s in style, like leggings and shorts, tank tops and flip-flops,” she said, promptly adding to that list: “Gap camisoles that are white, because I can wear them with just anything. Puma sneakers, pink and gray — I’m on my third pair — and ballet slippers, but those are hard to find for my size foot.”

Not for long, if fashion has its say. Less than a decade ago the industry began courting middle-school girls, or tweens, offering clothing and accessories that seemed to have been conceived for a much older market. Today designers and retailers are training their sights on even younger consumers, girls roughly 4 to 9, diminutive in stature but with great big eyes for style. Indeed, to judge by the wares — miniaturized drainpipe jeans, footless hose, cashmere tunics and press-on nails — fashion and cosmetics makers are intent on capturing the hearts of pint-size fashionistas, and the purse strings of their parents."

Is it just me or do other people find this disturbing? I mean, okay, so I've always thought that people who obsessed about what brand of clothes they wear are brainwashed children, but it begins to worry me when they really ARE brainwashed children. Surely the last thing we want to do is send a bunch of 4-8 year old girls the message that style trumps substance, that appearances are all important (at least if you're a girl) and that what you should really be worrying about (and I mean really worrying about) is the way you look. I'd always hoped that we'd see Barbies going out of style, but I'd kind of thought it would be because children (and more importantly their parents) would move on to better things - like books for instance - not because 5 year old girls wouldn't need a doll to dress up because they could dress themselves up instead.

Whatever happened to the whole idea of breaking away from genderist stereotypes, from the tyranny of an overwhelming stress on appearance that goes hand in hand with the objectification of women? What does it mean for the future of gender relations when five year old girls are spending their time putting on make-up and trying to figure out what outfits to wear? Where's a feminist when you really need one?

Okay, okay, so people have the right to bring up their children any way they want, and it's one of the joys of capitalism that people can actually enjoy being suckered into buying the most outrageous rubbish and being charged the earth for it. But when the key values we're instilling in our six year olds are not the ability to distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong or (to be more topical) truth and spin, but rather the difference between DKNY and Baby Phat, it really gets me worried. What's next, I wonder? Pre-schooling nose jobs? Liposuction for babies? Perhaps some prenatal botox injections? Maybe we could start opening mothers up in their second trimester so that their children could wear Diesel jeans in their ultrasounds. Forget the abortion debate about when a foetus becomes human. The real question is: at what point does it acquire fashion sense?

P.S. I'm kind of hoping, of course, that this is one of those typical NY Times lifestyle articles where the fact that the writer knows two different people who've had the same experience is evidence of a 'social trend'. At any rate, it's fun to rant about.

P.P.S. A separate article in the NYT points to a glowing review of the new Paris Hilton single. "I, like, cry when I listen to it, it's so good" the reviewer says of the new CD, 'Paris'. Only hitch - the reviewere happens to be Ms. Hilton herself. Wannabe bimbettes from the Bombay Times - please take notes.

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Cheshire Cat said...

Good for them, that they're being taught to be discriminating at a young age. What difference does it make whether the subject is books or clothes?

Just Mohit said...

We were watching the pictures of someone's new born son the other day (dressed in pink) when someone said "Boys don't wear pink!" The implication somehow being they "shouldn't"...and this is in the western world which prides itself on it's inclusive non-discriminatory practices. I have also had supposedly educated, informed & rabidly feminist women tell me that my 6-year daughter shouldn't play too much with aeroplanes & cars!
Feminism, apparently, is a one-way street!

Szerelem said...

i read that article yesterday and it was scary! Perhaps its all about capturing new markets or that this trend is applicable only to the richie rich types....i mean seriously which normal family can afford to take their 4year kids for pedicures??!!
Or perhaps everyone is just becoming fashion conscious at a younger age. Everytime I visit my sisters school I get shocked at how kids push the envelope with regard to what is acceptable as uniform in the effort of being hip, hep, whatever.Sure, I remember we did that too, but it probably starts at an earlier age now. Not to say that they are not smart and intelligent. They're all of that with a fashion sense.
But at the age of 4, 5, 6 -its just ridiculous!

m. said...

Where's a feminist when you really need one?

owww!! really, that's so unfair! :))

but seriously, its terrific that youre not waiting for someone else to take it up. bully for you. and well-said.

km said...

They - the kids and their parents - should all go to hell in a beautiful, soft, alligator-skin handbasket. And they can carry their Bratz dolls (or is it American Girl?) with them too.

Vi said...

When I was in a summer program in college, there were also a camp of very young--and I mean, between the ages of six through nine--cheerleaders. As I walked past them, one girl raised her shirt and said, "Oh my gawd, I'm getting SO fat. I need to start a diet!" ...And, believe me, this girl was a stick.

Just skin and bones...

Falstaff said...

Cat: All the difference in the world. Think about it. When I'm 50 and have finally managed to get published and become a respected writer, do I need all the hot 20-somethings around me saying "You do what? Write BOOKS? What are those? Ooo! Look, a new shoe sale!" Bah!

mohit: so true. Though I'm not sure that it's 'feminism' that's at fault here. I think it's more that a lot of people who claim to be feminists don't actually live up to the principles they espouse in their personal lives. Just think of all the people who rage against patriarchy and then go have traditional weddings. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars.

szerelem: Yes, it's quite likely that this is limited to the very rich, but it's still scary. If the only reason more people aren't doing this is because they can't afford to, that's hardly encouraging.

m: My apologies. It wasn't really meant to be a serious comment, you know (this is a rant, after all, it's not supposed to be fair!). It's true that I hadn't read that post of yours, but I certainly wasn't suggesting that feminists aren't aware of or concerned about the issue. I was really just being flippant. Besides, I'd like to think of myself as being something of a feminist myself, weak though my claim to that distinction may be.

km: No, no - I'm going to hell, and I don't want these folks cluttering up the place.

vi: It's sad, isn't it. And then we wonder why so many teenage girls end up suffering from eating disorders and poor self-image.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

aH yes! Little girls in mini Uggs and ponchos. I was talking to a friend the other day (with children) who feels it's Mother's playing dress up with their kids. But then dolls don't grow up with serious issues about how they look do they? (P.s congratulations on your Asia Blog Award Nomination.)

Aishwarya said...

Aishwarya said...

Also, good post.:)

ggop said...

What's the world coming to! First saw a blurb on how parents are paying kids to get good grades. Now this piece of news.. :(
Shoefiend - Little Uggs?! As if the regular big Uggs weren't horrid enough..

thalassa_mikra said...

I first came across this when I visited the Beverly Center in LA, which is a fairly upscale shopping mall, and found little boys in mohawks, girls in replicas of adult clothing, and generally impossibly stylish kids with impossibly stylish parents.

The only reason I noticed this, and still do when I visit Beverly Hills is because the phenomenon is restricted to a very, very small demographic of the super wealthy leisure class. A majority of kids I see are mostly in decidedly non-stylish Gap kids or Osh Kosh.

And apart from the freaky third grader Maisy NYT quotes, kids wear designer clothes not because they demand it. It's because their parents only buy designer labels, and also that at a certain price point, all labels are designer.

To give an example, a wealthy mom who always wears high end labels, would not consider it out of the ordinary to dress the kids similarly.

Gawker calls the Thursday styles section "Thursgay" :), with good reason. Because there's just a lot of fluff and silly writing. They take something that is a niche phenomenon, and turn it into some sort of super trend.

Neela said...

"I don't want to design children's clothes. Let's leave kids, at least, far away from fashion. Leave kids alone until they decide they want to be interested in fashion. Fashion works best when it starts from desire"

- Miuccia Prada

Falstaff said...

shoe-fiend: I don't actually know what Uggs are, but the sound quite horrendous. Oh, and thanks.

Aishwarya: Thanks. And thanks for the link. Good stuff.

ggop: Yes.

TM: Yes, I suspected as much. Though I do worry about how self-fulfilling stuff like this is.

(but 'ThursGAY'?? What's that about? )

neela: Wait, you're telling me there's a fashion designer out there who agrees with me? You really are trying to get me to kill myself, aren't you?

thalassa_mikra said...

Gay, not as in sexual orientation, but gay as in happy, trippin', silly, giddy, etc. Just as there can be "queer" and "queer".

Dodo said...

I just happened to watch the movie 'Little Miss Sunshine', which brilliantly showed how people are screwing up kids in the name of looks and $hit like that. I feel sick when I see kids with 'make-up' and 'fashion' clothes. Why can't kids have some freaking freedom, without caring too much about illogical conformities.

Neela said...

Dahling, maybe you should just change your name to Falstaff Prada. Or Falsie Prada. Sounds gorgeous to me. And maybe, if you are sick of writing, you could design intellectual clothes. You know, Roth shorts or Schopenhauer lingerie or something..


NEOE said...

Equally horrifying, was this: I espied a little girl, not more than 8 years old, sporting a tiny black t-shirt with the following disturbing message: "I Kissed Ashton".

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