09 September 2013

Underpants and Social Progress

Part of our back to school effort was getting the girls new knickers.  Doesn't seem like a big deal. Until it was a big deal.  Who knew that picking out panties and undershirts would be a such a drama.

On our quest to find undershirts, I am amazed (yeah, lets go with "amazed") at what is now available in little girls underclothes.  As my 6 year-old hold ups a neon-leopard-print padded bra in her size, I start to feel the need to put my head between my knees.  Really?  Padded bras that will, for all intents and purposes, fit my not-quite-4-year-old?  

Now, I see how we get here.  You need to make some kind of top that matches the low-rise booty-short panties.  You clearly need those for your low-rise-super short jean shorts.  Because our elementary school kids should all be going to school looking like Ke$ha after a night of binge drinking.  I am now clutching my pearls and screaming for kids to get off my lawn.  I am too old for this shit to be marketed to my kids when they are too young.  Have we all lost our collective minds?  Tank undershirts and cotton hipsters for us thank you very much.

However....where does over-sexualization of girls run smack up against institutionalized suppression of female sexuality.  Sure this may not be the best choice for a first grader who has yet to fully develop an idea of personal sexuality. She should not be forced into that mature decision by underwear sales and marketing. But what about a 6th grader, or a high schooler?   At some point in time girls are able to make their own choices about what they want to express as their personalities/sexuality.  Then telling someone that they can't look like Ke$ha after a bender because of some arbitrary rules regarding patriarchy and female expression? That is just the worst kind of misogyny.

**Side note: I needed a bra in like 4th grade, the time in my life where I also, suddenly reached my full adult height.   To say I had an awkward phase would grossly understating the situation.  At the time the only choices for undergarments were ridiculous "training bras" that quickly were not a viable option and then "real" bras that did not come small enough to fit a girl of 10.  This always made me feel vaguely aware that there was something wrong with me.  The fact that there was no underwear designed for me clearly meant that my body was wrong and has somehow betrayed me. My body routinely betrays me, is betraying me even as we speak.  Just now I am older, wiser, and prepared to cope. Not so true when I was 11 and way ahead of all my peers on the puberty train.   Had there been bras available to meet my needs, like say a 28A underwire, the body shaming could have been mitigated.  Not to imply that bras are the answer all our teen problems, but on some level, maybe I should be glad that these items exist for girls who need them  After all, not providing for kids whose bodies have out lapped their sexual development is just as bad as forcing little kids into rigid gender/sex roles. **

Of course there is no winning here for women.  If you are a woman who doesn't wish to conform to standard beauty ideals, then you are in the wrong.  Don't you know that your body is for public consumption and you are required to have it look a certain way? After all, it is your responsibility to cater to the ways men want you to look.  This is like Being a Girl 101, amirite?  BUT, if you are too pretty, too "sexy"  or too happy with your role as sexual being, then we also have bad news for you.  Now we can slut-shame you for looking the way we demand, we can victim blame you if you fall prey to the fragile male-sexuality and we can imply that your choice to be conventionally attractive is at the expense of your brains and skill.  So which it is then, padded bras for all because male gaze or burkas for all because, you know, skanks.

So what is a mom of girls to do?  I don't want my kids to rush too fast into the hyper-sexualized tropes that our culture offers women.  I want them to find out who they really are, not just what acceptable box they think they can squeeze into.  However, if that independently chosen personality happens to "manic pixie" or "vintage pin-up" then I want them to embrace and enjoy that to the fullest because everyone should get to be who they are, no holds barred, no questions asked.  I don''t care if my girls adopt tropes, I just want them to adopt those personas because it is the right fit for them, not because society tells them it is their only way to have redeeming human value.  Somehow, I am unsure where 28AAAA bras fit in this plan.