Mom & Pop Culture: Drowning in the Fountain Of Youth

Despite never identifying as a true “girly girl,” I can still remember the thrill of being five years old and rummaging through my mother’s shoes until I found her super fancy high-heeled ones. I would toddle down the hallway in them (probably leaving scuff marks all over the wooden floors in my wake), a few strands of pearls, a hat, and a faux-fur wrap completing the ensemble.

There was something simultaneously comforting and exciting about playing dress up, pretending to be an adult for a bit, especially in my mother’s clothes. My son has followed in my footsteps, eagerly donning my husband’s ties or my own high-heeled shoes. He parades around the house, eerily mimicking us to perfection while we all laugh.

Dressing up and pretending to be an adult is a natural part of childhood. Adults (just like fairies, kings, or queens) hold a bit of allure and enticement for young kids, making it a treat to pretend to be them for a while.

Yet, in today’s consumer-driven culture, the notion of “aging up” kids is happening in a way that has taken all the fun and pretend out of it. Clothing that is marketed towards kids, especially girls, looks less “girly” and more like smaller versions of outfits found in the tween and teen sections of stores.

Clothing ensemble from the Gap including a pair of sequined shorts for young girls

(From The Gap. “Sequins Are A Hoot.”)

Shorter shorts, tighter shirts, questionable slogans, and more are pushed on young girls. A “Kids N Teen” store in Colorado was even selling crotchless underwear for young girls.

As I’ve written about here before, even cartoons aimed at young kids, like Dora the Explorer or Strawberry Shortcake are growing up, trading in kittens for cell phones. While playing pretend every once in a while might be fun and healthy, it’s gone beyond that point, where companies and advertisers are (not so) subtly pushing kids to look and act like adults.

While I don’t have a daughter myself, I know many others who do. They complain that society is in a race to end girlhood—that the notion of just letting little girls be kids is slowly slipping away. They refer to the change in media, clothing, toys and more as examples of how girlhood is being usurped. It only takes one quick glance at Halloween costumes to really drive this point home.

At the same time, adult women are bombarded with the opposite message. Anyone over 21 is reminded on a daily basis (in TV Shows, movies, advertisements, magazines, etc…) that they can capture the beauty (and implied thinness) of youth. We have bras that perk up sagging breasts creams that promise they’ll make you look years younger, makeup that ensures a “simply ageless” look, and more.

Maybelline "Instant Age Rewind" foundation

The juxtaposition of these warring messages is enough to give anyone a headache: Stay youthful! (But not too youthful!) Grow up! (But don’t get too old!)

Boys and men are rarely inundated with similar messages. While boys contend with the “Be a Man!” mantra, it’s not as prevalent as the daily messages of growing up out of girlhood are. And yes, while adult men can feel self conscious over aging issues like hair loss or erectile disfunction, they are not targeted with anti-aging messages to the same degree that women are.

However, boys and men take in the same messages about girls and women that we all do. My son is still capable of seeing the clothes and toys marketed toward young girls, and everything else foisted upon women to “stay young.” He absorbs these messages of aging and youth and beauty. Hopefully, he’ll take them all in with a grain of salt—aided by my own opposing messages at home. Hopefully he won’t buy into these ideas as he grows up, but with the billion dollar advertising business standing in the way, I can admit it makes me nervous, knowing the battle he’s up against.

As I watch my son and his friends scamper around the house, pretending to be grown ups (“who live in a house, but sometimes with their parents still,” according to my son) I hope they can somehow revel in their play without translating it into reality just yet. I want them to savor their youth, not because they’ll be clamoring for it when they’re older, but because it’s slowly being pulled away from them.

Previously: Beyond Pink & Blue Toys, Cataloged Stereotypes

by Avital Norman Nathman
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Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer and fulltime feminist killjoy. Find her tweeting @TheMamafesto

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5 Comments Have Been Posted

Great article! I agree I am

Great article!

I agree I am weary about all the exposure boys and men have to anti-aging advertisements to women but for a different reason. There was a commercial on for some anti-aging skin care product and my boyfriend (jokingly of course) looked at me like "Yep, you'd better watch out!" (I'm 28 so near the age when those products will start to be marketed towards me. I shot back with "Hey you're gonna get old too buddy!" but he laughed and said Yeah but wrinkles on men are considered handsome!

My boyfriend is not a D bag. But I think the impression he takes away from the lack of anti-aging commercials geared towards men is that men can age and it's ok. They don't have to spend money, time, energy fighting the aging process because at the end of the day their worth and sense of self and value willl not be tied to that like it will for a woman. And I think it gives men license to hold women to a higher standard and encourages them to put youth on a pedestal. That pressure, in turn, leads more women to buying anti-aging products and worrying about aging instead of embracing growing old and all the wrinkles and experience that go with it.


I know what you mean- my

I know what you mean- my boyfriend has jokingly said those things to me too- he is the least douchey man I've ever met. But he doesn't realize that although he's joking, there is still this standard being impressed upon all of us- and that it's so interwoven into society that no one ever looks up and says- "Hey, this is a problem." Sometimes I point this out to him- and sometimes I just ignore him so as not to encourage or acknowledge that kind of attitude. Even if its a joke, I feel like giving it attention is sometimes the wrong move.
I'm glad you wrote this article. I remember when I was a kid,the clothes I wore differed greatly from the clothes sold in stores today (I'm 25). I work in the mall, and everyday I walk by a children's clothing store that I used to shop at as a kid. The mannequins actually have tiny breasts now!! They never had breasts when I shopped there- they were a children's clothing store! Target now sells padded training bras, in smaller and smaller sizes- sending the message to young girls that its never too early to have the shape of a woman- even if you are 8 years old. It really makes me sick. I'm really worried that children are being pushed into sexuality too early in our society. Not only will they miss out on girlhood, but they won't be emotionally equipped to understand their sexuality at such an early age.

The push towards young

The push towards young sexuality are having results. I'm only 14 and I know plenty of girls who have done some things people double our age refuse to do. My mom refused to get me a bra with any padding on it or wire when I was younger even thou I was coming in quickly.

This short short and tight short thing also have girls assuming and worrying more about their bodies. If they can't fit in size 4, are they ugly? Little girls shouldn't be forced from such a young age to conform to one view of beauty. Stuff like this plant seeds of self doubt that will grow as the go into the teenhood and become young adults.

This crap for kids is

This crap for kids is outragous. They are not allow to be kids anymore.

Not to mention the crap that "keeps you ageless" Getting older should be a badge that you are proud of. Wrinkles mean expirenece, knowledge and wisdom.

The big issue is how the world view the eldery. It starts there. Everywhere you look the eldery are stupid dumb and annoying. Where did the respect for your elders go??

My two little ones will know to respect their elders not mock and push them aside like all of those stupid videos on youtube. They are filled with a wealth of knowledge and respect for life. They have amazing stories to tell.

It's true. Have you ever

It's true. Have you ever noticed that you will never see a female news anchor with gray hair, but it's quite common to see male news anchors with gray? For a man, gray means experience and wisdom, but for a woman...? I'm not sure what it means for a woman, but the fact that you never see it means it can't have a positive connotation. (It probably means you can't get a media job with gray hair)

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