Moms of America, you have no one to blame but yourselves.
When my daughter was in preschool, I naively signed her up for ballet lessons without inquiring what kind of end-of-year show the place put on. We ended up with an $80 costume covered in red sequins and a flyer informing us that rouge and lipstick were mandatory.
At age 5, my daughter was invited to a fashion-show birthday party held at a place that does only that. The entire hour and a half was spent putting together outfits, doing hair, and, yes, applying makeup. Oh, and of course putting on a runway show in which the girls were encouraged to pose. Many hips were "angled just so."
At 8, my daugher attended another birthday party held in a nail salon. The celebration consisted entirely of mani-pedis for all. Of the some 15 little girls there, only one besides my daughter had never had one before.
Which brings me to my next point: It's not just birthday parties and special occasions. Let's talk shoes. Shoes with heels. Shoes with heels for little girls. Two-inch heels. Like these. I once went to a family gathering where one 8-year-old girl was sitting inside, watching the other kids running around in the yard. I asked why she didn't go join them. She just pointed to her high- heeled shoes.
And make no mistake: These kids' mothers are the same ones complaining about those risque halloween costumes and the teeny tank tops the middle schoolers wear.
So here's what it is: Too many parents train their girls to crave attention based on appearance. Their mistake is that they think it's okay, as long as too much flesh isn't being revealed. But kids are not stupid, and they recognize the hypocrisy in that right away. Raised in a "Look at me! Admire me!" culture, it doesn't take long for girls to realize that its all about sex appeal. Mom draws a line between the sex appeal of catwalk poses and reddened lips and nails, and the showing of actual skin. But it's a distinction without a difference. You can't blame a girl who's been taught that her value is in her appearance; who's been encouraged to put fashion above comfort; who's learned to see clothes, makeup, and shopping as forms of entertainment -- you can't blame her for internalizing the message, for believing it, and for acting on it again and again throughout her life.
Because the root of the problem isn't early sexualization (though that's a symptom). The root of the problem is plain old vanity. If you teach a girl that clothes and makeup are the ultimate fun, and then tell her her skirt is too short, you're doomed to fail.
But I confess -- when I hear other mothers complaining about what their girls want to wear, I never speak my mind. I don't say, "Gee, wasn't it at your daughter's party where the girls spent half an hour picking lipstick shades?" I just shrug and keep my mouth shut in the interest of maintaining good relations and not turning my daughter into a social pariah. So am I just as much a part of the problem? I tell myself no -- nothing I say would change their values. But I still don't exactly feel good about my part in the whole thing.
So do I let my daughter wear ultra-miniskirts and belly shirts, on Halloween or otherwise? No. She's nine. I also don't take her for manicures or let her wear makeup (unless it's someone's birthday party, that is). But when she's old enough to make those choices for herself -- a teenager -- I don't plan to kick up a fuss about it. Flunk a class, however, and there will be hell to pay. I'd much rather have her wear a teeny tank top to the debating team than to the fashion club.