Want to Raise Strong, Confident Girls? Be One!

It seems that the Kardashian celebrity machine has been designing kids clothes recently. This of course has caused outrage and horror among certain sets of people, especially the crowd who wants to raise “strong, confident girls”. Start with some moaning about the over-sexualization of teen girls, throw in a lot of hand-wringing and pearl-clutching, and you basically have the entire conversation.

I understand the power of the modern media machine. I sotry of know who the Kardashians are even though I don’t watch any TV that isn’t carefully curated through Hulu and Netflix. I don’t read any celebrity magazines or blogs. Still, it seeps into my awareness.  Even living in my cocoon of media ennui, I had expectations of what “Kardashian” branded children’s clothing might look like.

These clothes are unlikely to cause
the fall of civilization

I’m eternally curious, so of course dear readers, I did a quick internet search– and found clothes that I would have happily put on my infant and toddler daughter without a second thought. Sure, I would have passed on the leopard print, but much of the collection is just the sort of thing I loved. Cotton print, looks comfortable, easy to wash. Lots of matchy-matchy stuff to eliminate any need for thinking. Or matching. What’s not to love? I’d even buy the faux fur cape if I were making a little Victorian girl costume for a “Dickens on the Strand” event. At least it looks like it’s real faux fur instead of Raccoon Dog from China passed of as “faux”. In this case, we can give the Kardashians a pass. They’re not super-mutants whose mere brand will convert your child to the dark side. OTOH, if you don’t want to give them your money, there’s no reason why you should.

The “strong girls” conversation always includes the “it’s all your fault, mom!” contingency, who shrilly insist that Kardashians and other media evils have nothing to do with the problems of modern girls. It’s all the fault of “home life” and not enough “family values”. Of course this is ludicrous. There are strong, strong forces at work in our consumer culture that penetrate, as I said before, even carefully curated bubbles of media ennui. It’s there when we go shopping. Don’t get me started on the time not so long ago when I needed to take my teen bra shopping and it was a multi-day, multi-store death march to find a young teen bra that wasn’t full of push up padding. It’s there on our billboards, our TV, magazine, internet ads, everywhere. And everyone says: “I know this is a problem, but I don’t know what the answer is!” I do, but I expect some people aren’t going to like it.

Be a Strong Girl

You want to raise a strong girl? Be a strong girl. Throw away your scale. Go to the grocery store with no makeup on. Take your daughter camping, just you girls. Go do something fun with her that gets you sweaty and filthy, and don’t say a word about your appearance. Talk about the modern dating scene and ways to navigate boy/girl relationships with dignity. Talk to your daughter about the news (the real news, not celebrity gossip). Turn off the cable television subscription. (I have cable internet with no television, so don’t tell me it can’t be done.) Read about cool advances in the sciences and share the excitement with your daughter. Cancel your women’s magazine subscriptions and replace them with Smithsonian, Discover, Sky and Telescope, Bon Appetit, Weekend Projects, Dwell. Be the girl you want your daughters to grow up to be.

Don’t Panic

Someone commented that once your daughter turns 11 or 12, she won’t care about your opinion or aesthetics. This is not true. Don’t mistake her attempts to find her own opinions and aesthetics as a full rejection of you. Sure, you’re going to argue. Sure, there’s going to be push back. Every teen needs to rebel a little. If you embrace her and her self-expression, even if it’s not what you’d do/wear/say, she’ll still trust you when she’s an older teen. If you didn’t slam the door in her face with some kind of “my way or the highway” b.s., she’ll come back around to wanting to know your opinion. Give her some privacy to figure herself out, but don’t abandon her to be raised by the media, her friends, and school.

Show Up

If your girl suddenly wants to be a goth (or whatever), go help her buy goth clothes. Don’t throw a wad of cash at her, drop her off at the mall, and then spend the next six months complaining about her wardrobe (true story!). I know you’re busy. I know she might say “but I want to go with my friends!” Go anyway. Be happy and supportive and you’ll be able to gently steer her away from the too short mini to the more acceptable alternative. This won’t happen if you don’t show up.

Showing up might also require that you attend concerts and other events that bore you. You might be there as the lone person over 20. Suck it up and go anyway.  You’ll keep your kid (and by extension, her friends) out of trouble, morph into the coolest mom ever, and have excellent leverage next time you want her to go listen to Bach. Plus you’ll learn about what she likes and be able to talk to her about it like a civilized person.

It’s Hard Work Being A Girl

Look, I’m not perfect and I surely need to take some of my own advice sometimes. We all need to go easy on each other, not only mother to daughter, but woman to woman.  I’m not judging you for your secret addiction to Grey’s Anatomy or whatever is popular right now.  If you’re like every other woman I know, you do enough self-judging; you don’t need me for that. It’s hard work being a female in our culture. It often feels like everyone’s eyes are on us, judging everything about us. Of course you’re not going to be the perfect role model for your girl. But you can be a role model for your girl. Pick your battles, do what you can. You owe it to yourself to be the best girl that you can be, never mind your daughter. Keep that in mind, and you’ll both turn out just fine.

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