Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tween Girl Style

So far I've been more of a gentle blogger than an angry blogger... but tonight I am feeling the rage.  While on facebook, I noticed a new ad to the side of the page. It was for Tween Girl Style Magazine. A little curious and a little apprehensive... I clicked. After all, I am the mother of a so-called "tween". Although, this is a term I have always refused to use because it was created by marketing companies in order to identify a new and lucrative market for advertising. A "tween" is generally used to refer to a girl who marketers are no longer trying to sell childhood toys to and who they don't yet consider to be part of the teen market. 

I don't mind referring to my daughter as a "pre-teen" sometimes, now that she is eleven years old and four inches taller than I am. But until recently I held firmly on to "child" as a perfectly appropriate and reasonable descriptor for this developing person who had only been on the planet a decade and still had a whole lot of emotional, physical and psychological growing to do. Incidentally "tween" is neither a psychological or physical developmental term. Marketers may use it to describe a 6 year old or a 12 year old depending on what they are out to sell. 

In this case, they are selling fashion, celebrity and "cool". From the looks of it they are also selling the modelling industry and promoting specific agents. The target market of the Tween Girl Style Magazine is ages 7-13. The tag line is "they are too old for Dora but too young for 'Days of Our Lives'." These are the choices? So this magazine has seen fit to fill the years between learning to read and getting her first period - with modelling contests, celebrity news and fashion advice. They refer to this span of six critical years in girls' development as a time that they are "left in limbo... searching for a style of their own". 

I think many girls in this age bracket are very much left in limbo and searching... but what they are searching for is not "style" but rather identity and a sense of safety in their own skin as they attempt to negotiate an increasingly sexualized world that depletes their self-esteem and confidence while distorting their body image long before they reach their teen years. As psychologists Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown discuss in their 2006 book, Packaging Girlhoodthat "girls are being sold a version of girlhood that will feel satisfying to them when they conform to it but will limit their possibilities in the future."  The script for North American girlhood is reinforced through TV shows, books, movies and clothing lines and now a special tween girl fashion magazine. The message to girls is that they must love to shop - especially for jewelry and accessories; they must yearn to be models, brides, princesses and fashionistas and they must work hard to be hot, sexy and cool. This cultural script for girlhood literally shapes the development of our daughters. 

healthy "tweens" having a real childhood

What are we doing about that? I think it is increasingly challenging for parents to navigate the culture as well. When we go to the mall and see thongs and padded bras for 10 year olds, when the most frequently available choice for a little girl's swim suit is a string bikini and when we turn on the news and learn that the "latest trend" is for pre teen girls to get their brand new leg, underarm and pubic hair waxed off before summer camp... how are we as parents to know where to draw the line? It can be overwhelming and often it is parents who take the blame for poor choices. 

 I'd like to have a dialogue here -- please tell me how YOU navigate the cultural pitfalls while trying to raise healthy daughters. 

 And while we are talking - I'd like to know - how did you spend those important years? You know, that apparently empty wasteland that we used to call childhood?  I remember that I wrote plays and stories.  My best friend and I made up an endless game called "Bank" in which we took turns (for years, I might add) of creating new and diverse and sometimes completely crazy characters who came in to do their banking. I swam and played tag and played with my dog. I sunk a bazillion baskets with my brother behind the garage. I chatted with my grandma in the garden. I watched my grandpa fix stuff. My mom taught me to cook and my sister took me to a few protest marches while teaching me some critical thinking. I took skating lessons and went to camp and once I took square dancing lessons with my step dad after my mom broke her ankle. Sometimes I was coerced into practising the piano. I went to school and I tried to imagine who I would be when I grew up. And for sure there were times I did wish that I was prettier and wonder what it was like to be the girl in the magazine that Shaun Cassidy had his arm around... but mostly I just got to grow up and find my way without string bikinis and padded bras and body waxings... without the pressure to look cool and be hot.  Wow. Does it get more complicated than THAT for an 9 year old?!

Life got hard for me too... adolescence was painfully complicated for a while but I made it to high school before I was faced with the onslaught of pressure that our girls are facing today, sometimes before they make it out of first grade. What are you doing with your girls to help mitigate the mental and emotional land mines that are around every corner and to help her enjoy a healthy childhood? Let's generate some positive ideas here so that we, as parents, can help each other to resist and create safer spaces in which our girls can grow. 


  1. I wish I could write a whole paragraph about how I'm helping my 11 yr old daughter but I often feel I fail miserably. I do hang on to child things like tucking her in, lying in bed with her as we scratch each other's backs giggle. I buy most of her clothes from Justice because they're cool and stylish but age-appropriate- the half shirts specifically say "Layer me!" and the camis are nearby :). I do remember pressure as a tween but it wasn't nearly in the same league as what today's kids have. Keep blogging, Lisa, I always appreciate your perspective and use your insight to help raise my wonderful daughter.

  2. How do I navigate these cultural pitfalls in my house with my l1 year old daughter....

    I realized that kids need plenty of positive alternatives so they don't end up with nothing better to do then get dolled up to walk the mall or to take foxy pictures to post them to FB. So instead she has developed a keen interest in bunnies, we built a bunny paradise in the backyard where they can roam around and her and her friend videotape them and make and watch how to videos and post them to youtube (surprisingly this is very popular on youtube). They make forts, they spend a lot of time planning things like business ideas, babysitting business card design, they climb trees, make up skits, dances, songs, and sing their hearts out. Latest, trying to find a farm that will hire them for a Saturday of farm chores (these are city kids). They are full of ideas sometimes they just need the parents help to make their little dreams come true (like buying chicken wire and bales of hay, Dad supplying them stuff they need for forts etc,) We don't buy fashion mags and hang out at the mall or watch a lot of tv, as the mom I love my own strong healthy body, and keep very busy doing fun things too (I am in touch with my own inner 11 year old girl!).

  3. Anonymous... that is a sad story when you are working so hard to raise a healthy daughter and still feel like you are failing. We need to work together as women and moms (men too!!) to change the culture so that it is not an individual challenge for each parent! I believe that those cuddles and back scratches and giggles truly matter!! thank you for sharing

  4. Jenny Moore!! Thanks for sharing your fabulous story - bunnies! What a creative endeavor for your girl and her friends. You and I both know from years of working with teen girls that those who had real interests and were supported in them by their family and encouraged to pursue a passion... those are the girls who are more likely to survive the worst challenges of being an adolescent girl!

  5. Love the post Lisa! I try to remember that it's not always easy to see when we ARE succeeding - when we as moms/women walk around with a positive body image and high self esteem, it gets internalized with a girl, even if we don't say "do this" or "do that"! My 11 year old daughter still has her own style - it's kid-friendly/polka dots with stripes/rain boots with a skirt, etc. It is who she is and I encourage it. I'm hoping that supporting her uniqueness will enable her to make it through the bumpy ride that is the teen years of conformity!

  6. Thank you for your post! I can so relate: I have an 8 year old daughter and find it difficult to shield her from the onslaught of "sexy" clothes, tv images, magazines, etc that seemed to be directed to her. I grew up with a mother who battled her weight and made many disparaging comments about her body in front of me. I think that made me hypercritical and self conscious of my own body from a very young age. I try so hard to never say things negative about my own body and to focus on what our bodies can do rather than their appearance. I say things to her like "wow, what strong arms you have that you can go all the way across the monkey bars" or "what great balance and strength you have to do your cartwheels". I try to encourage being active to be heathy and feel good and model that for my daughter. I joined a soccer team this year despite being WAY out of my comfort zone and the effect it had on my daughter was amazing. She was so excited to come and watch and it really encouraged her on her own soccer team. I talk with her about the images we see and try to teach her to think critically about them. I try to focus on the person she is and the things that she does, rather than the way she looks. I want her self esteem to come from her actions, accomplishments and the person she is rather than whether or not she has beautiful hair or a sexy outfit or great skin. I want her to find that within herself and not be reliant on what other people think of her. I say things like "you must be so proud of yourself that you got great marks on your report card" instead of just "I am so proud". It is an uphill battle and it is shocking to me sometimes how early it all starts. What is especially sad to me is how early girls start being critical and mean to other girls.


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