Friday, April 8, 2011

The Case Against Justice

One-shouldered tank tops, sequined bikinis and push-up bras have no place in the closet of a six-year-old.
Yet all three items are marketed--and sized--to young children at "Justice," a strip-mall staple.
The store, which also offers strawberry-scented pajamas, glittery plush animals and key chains for kids who are years away from driving--was initially designed as a gateway to "The Limited" and "Limited Express." These two moderately-priced dress shops seem to be geared for 20-somethings who work in polyester blazers then party in pleather.
It is unclear to me whether the girls who shop at Justice end up at the aforementioned stores, but one thing's certain: Justice clothing has become important in my first grader's daily culture.
"Mom," said my six-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, one day after school, "I know where Justice is."
Mind you, I had never spoken a word about the store. Yet somehow, Elizabeth knew inherently there was something slightly dangerous about it.
And it became cool--fast.
Thus, Elizabeth began building her case.
"Trisha wears things from Justice," Elizabeth pointed out. "So do Tabby and McKenzie."
"Yes," I wanted to tell her, "And such clothing has turned nice children into the likes of pole dancers."
(Of course, then I'd have to explain what a pole dancer is and that would make shopping at Justice look like Disney World, so I simply shut my trap.)
"Mmmm?" I mustered, in what I hoped was a neutral tone.
Mind you, I have--and have always had--a love for a little bling.
My own closet includes hot pink patent leather loafers, a fake 4-carat yellow diamond, dalmation flares. And since I live in Texas, these accessorites are trotted out routinely for daytime wear.
Still, my style can best be described as "polished preppy." My hemlines are modest. My jewelry most days includes my wedding set and small diamond studs. I wear tankinis poolside.
All this means that I have enduldged Elizabeth with a bottle of blue nailpolish. I have agreed to zebra-striped headbands. And when she finally remembers to water the plants consistently, I will take her to get her ears pierced so long as she wears discreet small gold earrings.
I am not foolish enough to think that I can stop Elizabeth and her sister Charlotte from fashion mistakes. There will probably be plunging necklines, ugly shoes, too-sprayed hair. But if these are the only mistakes they make as teenagers, I'll be one happy mom.
But I do draw the line at the sexualization of little girls.
They do not have breasts, therefore, they do not need push-up bras.
Hopefully, no men are glancing at their bottoms, therefore, they do not need low-rise undies to keep from peeking out of low-rise jeans.
They should be strong swimmers, therefore, they should wear full-bodied suits with two straps that hold up under madcap freestyle stokes.
While mothers and daughters have long had disagreements about what's appropriate, I think we've taken a more dangerous step in 2011: We've intentionally taken away sweet innoncence before Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy have even been unmasked.
Instead of allowing our little girls to occassionally try on the concept of being "big" through healthy play in the costume box, we're pushing them into full-time roles that are not developmentally appropriate.
It is an aside that we're taking away part of the fun of being a grown-up: If I had dalmation flares at age six, would I want revel in them at 37?
I can, of course, choose not to shop with or for my child at Justice.
Regardless, my daughter will still be submerged in a culture where such clothing and the roles it perpetuates is both tolerated and encouraged.
I will have to do my best then, to remind my little girl that she's little.
Because you're only six for 12 short months.

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