I know my memory is failing, but I don't remember things being quite that bad when I was that age. Yep, we’re going to reminisce about the good old days! For me it was the 1960s.
We might not have liked the clothes our parents chose for us, but most of the kids I knew were in the same boat. We had our choice of Montgomery Wards, J.C. Penneys, and Sears. When we got the big catalogs in the mail, I would page through the toys first, and then the clothes for juniors. I always wanted more grownup outfits for school. One year I remember being obsessed with a pink miniskirt and matching coat, which would have looked perfect with white vinyl boots, which I also did not have. Further, I wanted my stringy dark blond hair to magically transform into a perky brunette pageboy, and I wanted blue eyeshadow and white lipstick. My mother was having none of that. I had to dress appropriately, which meant stiff and uncomfortable little-girl fashions from the little girl fashion pages.
Now I realize how lucky I was to be born decades before sexed-up teen rock stars, preteen cosmetics, and beauty pageants for 5-year-olds. How do today’s little gals ever learn how to be real women?
My dear niece is not even 10 years old, yet she’s already bombarded with pressure from peers, media, and family to look or act this way or that. Put aside for a moment the inflammatory topics of the Pretty Baby-esque theme happening in French Vogue, and the tendency of young pop singers to dress like… I don’t know. This is just the regular, middle-class, mall-shopping American elementary school children of today, viewing one another’s logo tee shirts with a viciously critical eye.
This girl lives far away and I don’t get many opportunities to see her. But we talk, and I pick up tidbits of information here and there about her life at home and at school. There’s so much conflicting information, she doesn’t even know what she herself likes anymore. She can only try to conform to the strongest influence. One minute that’s her parents, the next it’s her school "friends." And as we all know things are probably just going to get more difficult for her, at least on that front, for another 10 years or so.
During my high school years, I was never close to the “in” crowd, and so I didn’t even try to keep up with the latest makeup and clothes. I had a choice of blending in with the brainiacs or the parking lot crowd. Although I’d never be able to completely shake my geek image, I chose the parking lot, which made getting dressed in the morning especially easy: the uniform was baggy jeans and plaid flannel shirts (we were so ahead of our time!). Conformity was easy; competition was nonexistent. I kept my interest in hairstyles, makeup, and colorful matching outfits to myself, and although I was sewing at the time, I never wore any self-sewn creations to school. And in college we were all just too busy, uh, studying, to think about what anyone was wearing.
But my niece is growing up in the age of designer fashions, celebrity obsessions, and constant, instantaneous access to the latest must-have item. Mean girls have always been around, but cyberbullying is a relatively new and dangerous phenomenon. Body weight, social connections, and money used to be the concerns of adults, and now children obsess about these things they barely understand.
I know these are huge, complex issues for parents and children everywhere. I’m not a parent and so my understanding is very superficial. I don’t have any answers, although I wish I did. I don’t know what parents can do to counteract all the confusion and conflict their children are subjected to every day. Many books have been written on the topic, but I’m not sure any one of them has the answer, either.
But I really identify with my niece and her struggles. It’s hard to be a female of any age, but I think the pre-teen and teenage years just keep getting more difficult with each generation. My fervent hope is that my niece and her contemporaries can find some inner strength to push back against all the influences, find individual styles of their own, and feel comfortable with themselves.
How have you helped your daughter/granddaughter/niece/sister or other young woman with self confidence and self image? Any tips for me?