What (not) to wear

Feeling good!

Peter is a single father of two children, one boy and one girl.  He  recently took them clothes shopping and, although finding good value clothing for his 5 year old boy was a relatively simple task, he is finding it much more difficult for his 8 year old daughter. As she is growing up and becoming more independent, he is very happy to encourage her to make her own decisions and choices. He wants her to grow up as a confident, empowered young women but suddenly she is making choices about clothing he isn’t always comfortable with. He describes going shopping together and how she is drawn to a certain type of clothing often because she wants to look like a member of her favourite girl band.

We pondered on this discussion and also asked some colleagues who had daughters what they thought.  We googled together some of the music artists young girls seem to be drawn to and decided that, yes, although they might look fantastic, we wouldn’t really want our young daughters to look like that. We then discussed further some of the role models we would be happy for them to adopt.

It’s difficult, isn’t it?  We do want out children to have a voice and be confident to make their own decisions but if these decisions encourage them to adopt ways of portraying women that doesn’t align with our personal belief and value system how can we encourage them  to critique more the images that they see around them? The Good Childhood Report (2016) produced by York University in conjunction with the Childhood Society highlights how girls in particular have anxiety about their appearance.  No wonder if they are bombarded by images of what a female should look like when they are still deciding who they want to be.

Slater and Tiggemann (2016), in a research paper called ‘Little girls in a grown up world’, discuss how girls are impacted by sexualised images in the media and how this in turn impacts on their satisfaction with their own body image. They suggest that ‘by age 6 girls have already begun to internalise contemporary socio-cultural beauty ideas’ (p. 22) and they make links between this internalisation and later eating disorders and self-esteem issues. They encourage parents and schools to look for ways to show girls that they are much more than the sum of their appearance to try to counter the very strong messages they are receiving from the media.

We would love to hear your thoughts, particularly if you are a parent of young girls. How do you support them in making decisions about how to dress and the sort of image they want to portray to the world?  Do please leave your comments below!


5 thoughts on “What (not) to wear

  1. Carina Pettet

    I am a mum of two boys. They are my babies, they will always be my babies. I grew them and I will be responsible for them until the day I leave this earth. I have an idea of how I want them to be as they grow up. I have an idea of how I’d like them to be as adults.
    The media has a massive influence on our children. I have come across other parents, like myself, who do not want their children influenced by certain television programmes and games that are so readily available. I never watch the news when they are up, I don’t watch music channels, I don’t leave ‘trashy’ magazines around, my husband and I are always so careful not to use inappropriate language or jokes. I thought that being a good role model for my children was enough to protect them. But no matter how hard we try, they always pick up ideas from their friends and in my case family members who have been looking after them, or adverts on buses and bus stops and wherever else there is a blank space whether it be about fashion or play fighting. The truth is, I am not going to be there to shield them everyday! My battle with my eldest is about anything stereotypically ‘boy’. He wants to be spiderman. He wants to crash his cars. He makes guns out of his toast in the mornings (very creative, but no thank you). I don’t want my boys to grow up and think that fighting and guns are ok or acceptable. I want them to know that if someone is trying to fight them, it is not ok. So I simply do not allow it. He has no spiderman toys, he has no clothes with marvel characters on, he has no images available to him at home with anything aggressive on it because I don’t want him to be desensitized into thinking that these ways of behaving are acceptable. I watched the little mermaid with him the other day (Disney films have been hard to sensor) and there is a bit where the king, smashes all of Ariel’s treasures that she has found that used to belong to the humans. Ariel is very upset, the king is very angry, it’s an emotional scene. My son turned to me and said “Mummy, sometimes does the king make bad choices?” this was the perfect opportunity for me to explain that because the king loves Ariel so so much, he doesn’t want the humans to hurt her so he stops her from seeing them and takes away anything that used to belong to them. Has it been difficult not to give in to the media and give my son what he ‘so desperately needs’ to play with? Yes it has. Did he think that me turning Milkshake off when there were batman adverts was a bad choice? Probably. But ultimately, I am Mummy. I say what goes and what doesn’t. I refuse to give in or be manipulated by any one or anything because they are my babies. I know it’s hard, I know we want our children to be happy, yes they are individuals we want to empower them. But not in a way that makes parents uncomfortable and might – now or in ten years time – influence children in a way where there is no going back.
    My son does understand, he tells me when something we see is not good. I know I’ve done what I can for now. I would like to think that he will find himself and be confident without having violence as a ‘game’. I can’t speak for music videos and how you address clothing for little girls, there are ‘family entertainment’ shows with ladies dressed in very inappropriate clothing – and good for them – but it doesn’t send a good message to our children. My son might not always like me for it. In the same way he doesn’t like it when I tell him he needs to eat most of his dinner before he can have pudding. My point is, there is no harm in saying “no” to our children. Our children will always be our babies.


    1. Carina – your comment has really made us think. It’s really interesting how you consider other ways in which the media influences young children. You are spot on when you acknowledge that it is impossible to shield young children from everything but it is possible to try and support them in developing their understanding and beliefs around the material that they are going to come across. Thank you very much for you thoughts. You should think about writing a whole blog entry for us!


  2. Paula Stone

    This is a really interesting article – thank you Contemplating Childhoods for providing a forum for this type of discussion. Carina’s response is insightful and presents the challenges that parents face today; it reminded me of an article on the BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/magazine-40936719/gender-specific-toys-do-you-stereotype-children in which it is easy to see how infants can develop stereotypical identities from a very young age. It is up to us as educators and parents,as Carina points out, to do what we can to challenge all of these stereotypical identity formations.


  3. Pingback: If you are happy and you know it… – Contemplating Childhoods

  4. Pingback: Thinking about gender… – Contemplating Childhoods

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