By Jessica Kerr
I have always enjoyed dressing my daughter. From the moment the ultrasound tech said “girl,” visions of darling smocked dresses, big hair bows and precious ensembles flashed in my head. Like any good, self-respecting southern mama, I overindulged. I’m talking enough outfits to change seven times a day and a plethora of coordinating, themed outfits for every occasion. Presidents Day? Check! Arbor Day? Done. National Doughnut Day? I had an outfit for that. My daughter relished in her dressing, often choosing a matching hair bow and set of sandals without prompt. She delighted in looking sweet and put together.
And then she turned 7.
She decided that the smocked dresses and precious ensembles that adorned her closet would only be church and holiday appropriate from that point on. (I actually negotiated that last part; she was ready to ditch them all together.) I may or may not have cried.
Enter the end of smocking and our introduction to the “tween section” of our local favorite shopping spot. Cue some sort of scary music, because holy moly.
Short shorts, crop tops, suggestive bathing suits and graphic tees with phrases like “Totally Not Impressed” and “Cute After Coffee” filled my vision and made me dizzy. Meanwhile, as I was spiraling down a tunnel of denial and despair, my girl’s eyes lit up like fireworks on the Fourth of July. She wanted it all. The denim cutoffs with the lace detail up the side, the animal print one-piece bathing suit with the sides and stomach cut out, the “I’m Fluent in Emojis” (“Mama, what are emojis? Can I have some?!”) graphic tee, and the sleeveless sundress that came with a mesh cardigan, complete with rhinestone button closure, all caught her eye.
I was in complete shock. I vividly remember tracking down a sales associate just to verify that the little girl’s section definitely ended in 6X. I already knew the answer, but I had to double check. I wasn’t ready for this stage. And then I realized that neither was she. She was 7. (Side note: Is 7 even “tween” age? I am honestly not sure.)
What I am sure of is that it appeared clothing designers and the stores that bought their clothes for resale were trying to sexualize my daughter right before my eyes. She was being actively taught that she should abandon the innocence of her size 6, appropriate length, ruffle shorts because the size 7 that she had graduated to warranted shorter, sexier, curvier shorts with frayed edges and lace detail. What? Why? And distracting her away with the promise of jetting over to another store was no better, with their aptly named “short shorts” in the Girls section.
Why are these our options? Why are we being essentially forced, through lack of choice, into doing this to our daughters? Mainstream clothing options teach them that they should highlight their non-existent breasts with tops and bathing suits sewed to do so and flaunt their thighs with shorts that would be more appropriately sized for a toddler. I swear my daughter looked like Daisy Duke herself, walking out of the dressing room. She was thrilled. And it was not OK.
I am still new to this new world of tween dressing. I am still navigating the unsteady waters of teaching my 7-yearold daughter why the shorts she wants so desperately are not appropriate and why the half-tee that reads “But First a #selfie” will not be happening. I have found that simple cotton tees are still out there, interspersed throughout the patterns and graphics that so readily catch her eye, and that there are actually some stores that carry non-super duper short shorts. Score! This is not to say that we do not own some of the lesser of evil options that I have referred to here; it is inevitable. And I still frequent our favorite stores. But, I will continue to teach her that strong, not sultry, is beautiful. And I will pray that she holds fast to those words as she navigates the aisles of clothes, and life.