In a few days' time, my daughter turns eight. Unbeknown to her, she's about to enter a new consumer group: the tweenies. And buying presents for tweenies is a difficult business, particularly when your tweenie is actually, and quite happily, still a little girl.
M's dad and I agreed that new swimming togs would be good, and dad was duly despatched to the Warehouse. He came back complaining that only two styles were available in M's size - and one style had padded boobs! I was horrified by this. It's not that I can't cope with the idea my daughter will one day grow up and have sex. Rather, it's that there seems to be a dwindling social space in which little girls can be just that. There isn't much you can buy for a girl my daughter's age that is appropriate to her general developmental level, but isn't tweenie-orientated.
More than two decades ago, when I was a similar age to my daughter, I seem to remember girls doing traditional little-girl things until the age of, say, ten or eleven. My schoolfriends and I played with dolls, or pretended to keep house in a tree hut at school. We liked the idea of becoming grown ups, but that transition began later. As the teenage years crept closer, 'adult' activities like going to the movies became more appealing. (These were the days before the internet and mass-produced cheap toys ... it seems like a lifetime ago. And given how strongly traditional gender roles came through in the way my friends and I played, I can't be uncritically nostalgic about the 'good old days'.)
Then, some entrepreneurial individual noticed that girls aged around 8 to 12 were a potential consumer group. Plenty of M's peers are into cellphones, fashion or Bratz dolls, and adore Hannah Montana (even as the conservative portion of the US population tries desperately to prevent Miley Cyrus from becoming an adult, sexual woman). I honestly can't tell whether this tweenie stuff responds to a particular developmental phase, or it's just another example of manufactured need in a commodified society.
Whatever the case, lots of little girls love tweenie paraphernalia. Wanting to play at being grown up is a pretty normal impulse for kids, and so too is a growing interest in sexuality. But it's sad to see girls' curiosity in this area turned into a bunch of commercial enterprises, selling little girls clothing that cultivates the body-image anxiety often felt by teenage girls and older women. And the flood of tweenie commodities sends the message to little girls, like my own, that being grown up is all important - and that there's something wrong with the little girl who still likes ponies and fairies and hanging out with her family.