Second Generation Mean Girl

By Tracee Sioux

Just who is running the school clothes fashion show?

A reader’s (Janet) comment on my column Kindergarten Fashion Show really provided some clarity about who is driving the fashion show in elementary school. Mommy, obviously.

Mean Girls are driving the whole thing. But, it’s Second Generation Mean Girls now. It’s the Mean Girls in our memory actually. Now that we’ve become mothers we’re trying to heal our own fashion wounds through our daughters. Or if you were the Mean Girl, perhaps you’re afraid your own Karma will work itself out on your kid. Perhaps you’ve developed a new empathy, or you just want to make sure your kid becomes a Mean Girl versus a picked-on Dork.

Mothers are really the only ones in the family ecosystem with enough power to drive the whole thing. Little girls can have a sense of taste and style of their own, my daughter certainly does. Yet, they don’t have jobs and therefore no money to make any actual decisions about what they wear. Dads couldn’t care less. Nor could they be trusted with something so important. It is also the mother who will be judged if her children look sloppy, unclean or trampy. Duh, all mothers know this. We take this seriously.

All perspective about the importance of a child’s clothing is lost by Kindergarten. Which is why I feel like I’m sending my daughter into some hot bed of fashionistas in September. But, I now realize it’s not those innocent little five-year-olds. It’s their mothers.

I have had many in-depth conversations about the issue of kids clothes with women and every single conversation goes back to the mother’s empathy for her child. She remembers what it felt like to be wrong, out of place, not cool enough, not pretty enough, not stylish enough.

I have yet to meet a woman, whether she had been a Mean Girl herself or not, who hasn’t considered the issue in depth. It would seem parentally irresponsible not to consider the feelings of our children when it comes to clothing.

Wouldn’t it? Wait, what? Is the assumption that our parents just didn’t give a crap? Or that they didn’t understand? Or that they didn’t even know we were tortured at school for not having the Guess Jeans or the Swatch Watch? Were they that oblivious to our reality? Is it even possible they didn’t know Gloria Vanderbilt jeans could make or break us?

I think the answer is in disposable income. Our grandmothers had none and went to school in dresses made of feed sacks and dealt with it. Our parents had some, but the importance of school clothes never took the place of a retirement plan. My parents, I called and asked, said they had a budget and weren’t going to put the overall picture in jeopardy by paying twice the jeans budget. My dad then recalled that he bought his own clothes in junior high because he had a job by then. I probably should have been grateful that I didn’t have to ride my bike three miles to wash dishes in a Chinese restaurant like he did. But, I just didn’t have that kind of perspective yet.

Today I know a ton of parents who willy nilly charge school clothes on credit cards. The importance of the fashion show has taken on an emotional significance in their memories. It trumps a retirement plan. I can think of quite a few families who talk about being in precarious financial positions with big things like their mortgage or the failure of a business, but their 12-year-old daughters carry THE Dooney and Burke Purse. That’s just wrong.

I don’t really know the answer to this dilemma yet myself. I do know this: if we try to heal our fashion wounds through our children then we will create wounds were there were none. A Second Generation Mean Girl is, I imagine, about 1,000 times meaner with more electronic weapons than the Mean Girl of my day. First Generation Mean Girl passed a note calling me a “slut,” her daughters are snapping pictures of girls in the gym locker room with their cell phone, posting them on My Space with the words, “Porn Star” and an ugly guy photoshopped in.

Am I the only mother who worries that my own daughter has the potential to become a Mean Girl? Am I the only mother who wants to keep her daughter out of Mean Girl status and out of picked-on Dork status, without blending into the wallpaper? Not a single one of those are empowering places to be for a girl.

School uniforms would be one solution and lots of public schools are going that way. Myself, I would like to see all the mommies step back and rein it in. Maybe a national school clothes boycott would be my fantasy. But, that could have unforeseen repercussions, like economic backlash or even more viciousness from those who refuse to participate. If not a boycott of fashion all together, I would at least like to generate a discussion.

What do you think is the answer?

6 replies
  1. Rebecca says:

    I’m not sure what the answer is. I’m positive tho that I’m going to be shopping at really inexpensive stores for kids clothes. They will get several items of mix and match clothing for school. I suppose they will be trendy to a certain extent.

    But long ago Bret and I had a discussion about teenagers (much less little girls) and designer stuff. It’s perfectly fine for anybody earning money, whether it’s a teenager or adult, to splurge on designer things if they can afford it. I personally love coach bags. But Bret and I agree that it would be wrong for US to just *give* designer things to our teenage girl. First, they don’t need them. Second, we want her to know that designer things whether they are a coach bag or a diane von furstenberg dress are a luxury. They are luxurious items that cost hard-earned money. I think depending on what your profession is you may need to step it up a notch in terms of clothing, shoes, and accessories, but then you can budget for that. School certainly does not apply. School doesn’t require designer anything. I mean, people in law school mostly wear sweats. It’s ridiculous for school to be a fashion show.

    I watched about five minutes of a show on MTV about some princess-type rich girl who was getting a huge sweet 16 party. Naturally, when I turned it on, she was in the middle of throwing a huge fit and accusing her mom of ruining her life. Why, you say? B/c her mom gave her a new Lexus or some such SUV the day BEFORE the party… somehow that ruined the party b/c then the big surprise of the party was ruined. She was actually SOBBING and shouting that she didn’t even want the party anymore. Naturally, the mom was totally apologizing to the man who delivered the car for her daughter’s behavior. It was so disgusting I couldn’t keep watching it.

  2. So Sioux Me says:

    I can’t believe this is the first time you’ve ever seen that show. My Super-Sweet 16 is seriously THE show about what NOT to do as a wealthy parent. Every single girl or boy that I have ever seen on that show is being raised to be a terrible human being.

    Not just a spoiled child – but, a terrible human being, with such a sense of entitlement and such a lack of basic gratitude it confounds my paternal senses. What the hell are their parents thinking? If they have a “budget” for their parties it’s a ludacris number like $150,000 – no kidding. Other kids don’t have a budget at all and their parents pay REAL celebrities to come be the band.

    And all of those children are so ungrateful it makes me sad that they will go into the world as adults so vapidly stuffed with things and not a single characteristic of virtue. Spoiling children like that is child abuse. Though, it might be a more fun child abuse than say, extreme poverty and neglect.

    I sneak and watch the emotional massacre of these kids, but Ainsley is strictly forebidden from viewing that crap.


  3. ms. whatsit says:

    You’re right about Americans having too much disposible income. Money is power and how some people spend it is their way of saying, no shouting out to everyone that they are more powerful than you.

    But what saddens me most about your observations is that these mommies are also teaching their daughters that integrity, character,compassion, education, etc., are only secondary to the materialistic need to trump other little girls in the scramble to be like . . . oh Paris Hilton comes to mind right now.

    I suspect that you will do a fine job of communicating to your daughters effective way to ignore all that nonsense.

  4. Christine says:

    I came across this as I was looking for some advice on how to handle some mean girls my 5 year old daughter is dealing with. She is a bright, beautiful and sweet little girl, but unfortunately, she has been singled out at her before/after school care. The ring leader said that she couldn’t sit with them or play with them, because she wasn’t “stylish” enough. That comment has been branded into her mind and has completely shattered her self-esteem. I can’t imagine where a 5 year old would come up with that sentence, unless she overheard it somewhere. I refuse to spend every free moment we have in the mall, although it is a popular pastime in this area. I just wish I knew what to do to help her.

  5. Tracee says:

    My method has been to tell my daughter the truth about mean girls. So far it’s working pretty well.

    That’s a “mean girl.” We don’t like to hang out with mean girls because mean girls are mean. When they are not being mean to us they are being mean to someone else, which is also bad. We hang out with people who are kind and nice to us. People that make us feel good about ourselves – that’s the definition of “friend.”

    Let me know if this works for you Christine.

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