Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The reluctant tweenie

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.


Lindsay said...

I come over and read here infrequently. Every time I do, I am reminded why I don't. Go find a swimming costume somewhere else. I've never had a problem fitting an undersize ten-year-old. Your neuroses will be much worse for your daughter than real or imagined capitalist conspiracies. They figure stuff out for themselves. If encouraged to.

stargazer said...

ooh, anna you've dared to criticise capitalism, and lindsay thinks that a neurosis. didn't you know, sexualisation of young girls doesn't matter, nothing matters, as long as you shut up and keep buying stuff. that's the only way to prove your neurosis-free status, apparently.

on a sort of related issue, check out paul's post on drug companies failing to find cures for neuroses that they themselves have defined. never mind, i'm sure they'll get there eventually. then we can go out and buy more stuff, yet again serving to keep ourselves free of neuroses.

Opinionated Mummy said...

Stargazer and Anna, your leap of logic has lost me. So The Warehouse didn't have "appropriate" togs for your daughter. Get them from somewhere else then. You are lucky enough to live in an evil capitalist society where this is still possible.

Your daughter is only going to pick up the neurosis from you if you make it an issue. Which you already have, I concede.

Boganette said...

Oh so it's bullshit that there's an obvious 'tween' market aimed at sexualising young girls Lindsay and Opinionated Mummy?

Come on! I don't even have kids and I've seen it everywhere. I'm only 24 and I've seen the obvious changes in the way clothes are marketed to children now to when I was the same age. Particularly young girls.

But of course keep your head in the sand and label anyone who dares acknowledge it as neurotic.


Anonymous said...

Anna, awesome post - always love to read what you have to say - sexualising young girls is criminal - come on, being a grown up is full of grown up business, stress and confusion - surely the best gift we can give kids is a childhood - and long may it last. Lindsay and Opininated Mother - I fear to think of what attitudes your daughters have about themselves.

Lindsay said...

At my daughter's recent birthday party (a sleepover with 4 friends) they ran the show themselves. They bobbed for apples, played old-fashioned party games and hide and seek. They were 11 year-old children having a great time.

When I was 11, way back in 1971, we had skimpy tops, mini skirts, barbie dolls, tweeny magazines full of suggestive messages about the latest teen idol. Some girls wanted to grow up fast, others didn't.

I just don't get what you get all het up about. If you want to protect your daughters from tweenie paraphernalia that's your prerogative and I sympathise, to a point. But don't tell me it's some sort of new phenomenon.

Anna said...

Opinionated Mummy & Lindsay, the global economy has changed hugely over the last three decades, and the internet has increased information availability and changed commerce. Production has changed hugely, and the reduction of protectionism (amongst other things) has lead to a proliferation of products and establishment of new markets. If this sounds like a conspiracy theory, read the large amount of research the OECD has done on it, or any of the other millions of pages of writing. I sigh in your general direction.

Anonymous said...

While I agree than many of the clothes and toys marketed to pre-teens are not what I would consider appropriate for that age group, I have no trouble buying suitable items for my 9 year old. Re the togs, my daughter has two reasonably conservative one piece suits, one bikini and one tankini that covers her midriff. None of them have padding, and none were difficult to find in the shops. They were purchased at Farmers and Postie Plus. She has outgrown Littlest Pet Shop (but will not let me pass them on to younger cousins) and now is desperate to build up her collection of Sylvanian Families (because you can never have too many of these apparently). Also books, DVDs (eg Charlotte's Web), clothing, hair ties, pink glittery stationery, kids cookbooks (with recipes for meals, not just cakes!), craft activities, puzzle books, plants for her garden... My problem is deciding what things on my list I will buy her because I am not going to buy everything.

Keely said...

Lindsay and Opinionated Mummy - I don't think the point is that there aren't other styles available at other stores; it's the fact that there are sexualised styles for young girls at all.
Yes, when we were younger we wore some 'skimpy' styles and had access to then tween-style products. However, in the last decade or so, clothing for young girls has become more sexualised. eg. When we were 'tweens' we got bras when they became necessary. When I went shopping a few years ago for my then 8yo, we found bras for 5 year olds. Hardly necessary.

Lindsay said...

So don't buy them. Ignore them. I do. If we all did there wouldn't be a market. But I suppose you want to ban them?

Anna said...

We managed to get the daughter a non-padded-boob swimsuit (and she's also getting Abba Gold, which I think is a fantastic present at any age). The thing that surprised me was not that the Warehouse had padded togs, but that they only had two pairs. Normally, we're spoilt for consumer choice, but not this time.

Our key difficulties are with books and clothes (not togs particularly, because we don't buy those often). My daughter has read every book about fairies and mermaids ever published, and they're well below her reading age. The next step up in terms of reading age is Bratz-style stuff, which she doesn't see the point of yet. (She is an avid non-fiction reader too, thankfully.) She also still likes wee girl dresses. Her Dutch cousins have given her beautiful pinafores from the Netherlands in the past, but she has since had to adapt to older-kid stuff against her will. You can buy pinafores and such stuff in NZ, but it tends to be quite expensive. It's times like these I wish I had the ability to sew.

I think it's worth pondering how kids' consumer preferences are shaped by what's around them and what's marketed to them. No five year olds need a bra, but a good many have them (my daughter has been given them as hand-me-downs). Once a certain critical mass of kids own a particular product, it becomes normative - those kids who don't have it feel left out. My daughter asked for a cellphone - and when I asked her why she wanted one, she had absolutely no reason except that one of her friends owns one. Consumerism and peer pressure can mix to give kids quite powerful social messages, and in the case of sexualised children's clothing, I don't think the message is a good one.

Anna said...

That's a fairly petulant comment, Lindsay, but I'll humour you. As you say, if we all ignored these things, there wouldn't be a market. To collectively ignore an item, consumers have to discuss it (as we are now, in fact). Such information flows are vital to the functioning of a free market, as you must know from reading your Chicago school economists. But you seem to interpret any discussion on the merits of a consumer item as an attempt to ban it, which sounds suspiciously like the reaction of someone who doesn't really have an argument.

George said...

Lindsy, can you appreciate that people do not exist in a vacuum? You've completely lost the point of this post - which was that there are very strong social pressures on this young girl now, because all her peers are part of this culture, because they are marketed to very heavily, and it has now become generalised and pervasive, to the extent that it is difficult for Anna to find appropriate swimwear.

That is what she is talking about. It is not a "conspiracy" that companies exist to maximise their profit for their owners, and that in order to do that market to children. It is not a "conspiracy" that some of that marketing might not be what is best for society as a whole.Quite frankly, I find you coming over here and saying that Anna has mental issues because she is uncomfortable with the sexualisation of her young daughter highly insulting.

A Nonny Moose said...

"So don't buy them. Ignore them. I do. If we all did there wouldn't be a market. But I suppose you want to ban them?"

Look, it's not just one extreme or the other. Ignoring a problem sends the silent message that it's ok. Banning the problem takes away the choice. You're over simplifying the problem.

It's about engaging in a societal conversation about what's normal, so that the parent/child understands their choices.

It's a typical no win situation for a young lady. They're given the push (mental and capitalistic) to grow up as quickly as possible, but once they hit their teens and are exploring what it's like to be a sexual/adult being, you want to strip them of the sexuality and adultness you were so eager to push on them in the first place!

No wonder our young girls are so damned confused.

Christopher said...

Sigh. I was talking to someone at a conference the other day and he said "NZ has a really nasty streak of right-wing neo-liberalism, hasn't it?", prompting many to nod their heads, including National party voters.

EVERYTHING is comodified now, including Lindsay's and Opinionated Mummy's opinions, of which they are aware, or as much as possible it is to be aware within a capitalist system that means such behaviour is rewarded.

The pleasures of capitalism are somewhat fleeting, and are more neurotic than people like Lindsay could ever imagine.