Friday, February 18, 2011

A training bra made me cry.

Hopefully it is just a hormone thing, but I felt the tell-tale itchiness around my eyes this morning at Walmart. It took me by surprise and was, well, embarrassing. Fortunately, no one actually saw me on the verge of tears in front of the girls’ training bras, but it happened, and I’m going to get it all off my chest.

You’re probably thinking that this all goes back to being sentimental about my daughters growing up – which, in all honesty, I am – but that was not the reason for this morning’s weak moment. This has been building up since my first venture into the girls’ section, when my “110th percentile for height and weight” toddler needed to start wearing 4/5’s at not quite three years old. Up until then, I’d noticed that there were platform go-go boots and camouflaged mini-skirts in the baby section, but was able to ignore them. There were still plenty of jumpers and Mary Jane’s to choose from. When I had to move out of the toddler section prematurely, is when I starting feeling strong discomfort with the fashion trends for young girls. I had to navigate aisles of low-slung jeans, and slim-fit t-shirts with sassy sayings; it was very discouraging to shop there for a three year old. I could have dressed my preschooler for a night out at the dance club as easily as for a day at the park.

I’ve read that marketers found decades ago that the cheapest way to add new buyers was to employ a technique called “compression.” Whatever you have successfully marketed to a particular age demographic, you then market to the next youngest age. They are usually primed to desire these styles and items, because they’ve been seeing them in use and associate them with the next stage of maturity. First they started marketing college stuff to high school girls, then once that was maxed out, they kept moving down. I think platform shoes on children who are just learning to walk pretty much illustrates how far beyond reason compression has pushed us.

I’ve tried to set a fashion standard for our family where modesty does not require fashion blindness, but little girls must look like little girls. Still, my daughters can both recite my typical response to their requests for high heels or mature clothing styles, especially when they try to invoke their friends’ fashion choices to support their cause. “[Insert friend’s name] is not my daughter, she can wear what her mom says is OK. You are my daughter, so you can wear what I say is OK.” I’ve been able to live with that, and overall, I think the girls have been comfortable living with that, too.

This morning, my “I can dress my children appropriately without judging other moms” mantra came crashing down, and it honestly smarts. As I walked past the training bras, one in particular caught my eye. It was so tiny. I think it was a 30A, or possibly a 28A. Put it this way, this bra might have fit a six year old. Now, especially the way weight and nutrition have hastened puberty in young girls, I don’t deny there might be a six year old out there that needs a training bra. But this bra, tiny as it was, had an underwire and a good ¼ inch of padding in the cup. This bra was not designed to help an awkwardly blooming little girl achieve modesty under her t-shirts. This bra was designed to make a very young girl look womanly.

My first thought was, “Fine, let some other mom buy this thing for her kid. My kids don’t need to be attracting that kind of attention – ever.” Then I thought about that other little girl. My girls are going to be in school with her. As the physical changes and self-criticism of adolescence set in, my girls are going to be comparing themselves to those little girls. The other kids are going to be comparing them to those little girls. What kind of a body ideal are our girls going to have by Sixth Grade, if they start wearing padded underwire bras in Second?

Kids are notoriously foolish. They won’t realize that it’s that girl's ridiculous undergarment that makes her look like a teenager or that my daughters’ shape is natural and real. Whether anyone says hurtful things or not, how can I shelter my girls from the warped perceptions that will inevitably arise from our cultural obsession with dressing little girls like miniature grown-ups? If I compromise my ideals, I contribute to the trend; if I uphold my ideals, my daughters may end up feeling awkward or inadequate next to their over-developed looking peers. There is no way to win; whether I buy padded underwire bras for my sweet, little girls, or not.

I thought adolescence was hard back when I went through it, but that was a cake walk. Raising these three girls to be confident and secure – able to show humility, yet feel certain of their beauty and value – feels like a bigger challenge this afternoon than it did when I woke up this morning. And it makes me want to cry a little.

Let's pray that our young sons will grow like strong plants and that our daughters will be as lovely as columns in the corner of a palace. Psalm 144:12

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