Skip to comments.Image Is Everything: Losing Identity at the Shopping Mall
Posted on 11/28/2003 2:57:06 PM PST by Mr. Silverback
Was shopping for school with your teenage daughter a challenge this year? If it was, you're not alone. The skimpy clothing popular among young girls has led some public schools to move to uniforms. Not a bad idea.
What's behind the push to dress provocatively? One fact that clues us in, observes Alissa Quart in her new book BRANDED: THE BUYING AND SELLING OF TEENAGERS, is that "youth is nothing less than a metaphor for change." That is, kids are trying to establish their identities.
Marketers cash in on this search for self by selling "image" to youth -- and increasingly, that image is sexual. We've seen this in Abercrombie and Fitch's thong underwear for 7-year-olds, as well as the company's depictions of bare- chested young males with provocative expressions in its advertising. And now Playboy sells clothing for teenagers.
But it's not just the sexual image that many of these companies push on teens; the idea that they can acquire an identity through brands is the real threat to impressionable youth. Quart quotes Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, who decries the increase in materialism in bar and bat mitzvahs: "Conspicuous consumption with these events teaches the children that spending and having [are] more important than being." For many young people today, spending and having are synonymous with being. And having brand names, in their minds, is what makes them become "cool."
"Cool is essential in establishing a brand identity," notes Ken Myers of MARS HILL AUDIO, "especially with teenagers, whose purchases tend to be more desperately linked with the establishment of an identity than are those of adults."
"The term brand," says Quart, "suggests both the ubiquity of logos in today's teen dreams and the extreme way these brands define teen identities." It's true -- it's hard to turn your head in public without seeing brand names on posters, billboards, or the sides of buses. And this affects young people profoundly.
"One thing that's so compelling and strange about the uptick in marketing to kids," says Quart, "is how much these practices have taken advantage of organic things that already exist in childhood and adolescence: the desire to communicate [opinions] . . . the sense of lack of identity, changing bodies and burgeoning sexuality, a desire to emulate adult culture."
Manufacturers and advertisers are participating in the phenomenon of "kids getting older younger." And in the process, imagination has been lost. Kids used to play with stuffed animals and other toys; now they take fashion cues from Britney Spears and play brand-name-laden video games. "The kind of imaginary world kids make up with their toys," said Myers, "is a zone in which they're really defining themselves." Now, they're being defined by marketers.
"As Lionel Trilling wrote thirty years ago, authenticity is an even more 'strenuous moral experience' than sincerity. [Brand-name products] aim to harness teens' desire for an ideal . . . world and give them a branded one instead," writes Quart. Our job, of course, is to teach our kids and grandkids to find their identity in themselves as God made them, rather than being swayed by brands and commercialized images -- because in allowing themselves to be "branded," they not only lose money, they lose their true identity.
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I've got a 10-year old daughter who's exceptionally difficult to find clothes for. My 13-year old son is pretty standard, but you don't see boys walking around with their belly buttons hanging out and their necklines cut down to the aforementioned navel.
I re-discovered Sears, who carries both Lands End clothes for kids in addition to a decent line of girls plus-size clothes. They can be expensive and hard to find, but I'm willing to shell out a few extra dollars for my daughter's benefit.
It all comes down to the kid feeling a need to have the attention drawn to him or her. If the parents were doing a half decent job of nurturing their kids, they wouldn't feel the insecurity they obviously feel and would not need to dress scantily to attract attention to themselves. And yes, I have a preteen daughter and a teenage son so I know of what I speak, lol.
The sad truth is that I see malls full of adults doing the same thing
its good for the economy I suppose, but very opportunist. I feel sorry for folks suckered by this stuff. then again thats life ...need I repeat PT Barnum?
Thats the price of freedom!
yes capitalism has an ugly side in as much as Fools will be Fooled
but it beats oppression...where Fools will be ruled.
At the very least capitalism leaves the matter of choice open to the individual.
Our older son is heading into middle school next year. He's still very innocent. I hate to think about the things we need to prepare him for before his time because of the environment he's about to enter. We want our boys to grow up treating girls with respect. It would be easier if we could count on the girls to act respectable.
"Thinking"! Wow, what a concept!
What the hell does that mean and why would anyone think that kind of thing would be amusing for a young girl to say, let alone wear on their chest. I don't know anymore, it's like I'm living in a parallel universe.
My mom said "no" a lot. Esprit and Guess were really in when I was 11-12 years old. Later, Express and Gap clothing was de rigeur at my high school (this was over ten years ago). My school adopted a draconian dress code when I was a junior in high school. Girls could have pierced ears, but boys couldn't. The only people allowed to keep their nose rings (not very common in 1991) were the kids who already had them before then. Boys' hair couldn't touch their shirt collars. If you were a girl, your skirt had to be at least one inch below your fingertips when you held your arms straight at your sides. Midriffs were not seen; our cheerleaders' uniforms were quite modest, and our drill team wore even more modest uniforms. Even jeans with frayed hems weren't allowed. You couldn't even wear sandals without socks. We complained a lot, but at least we looked respectable. Then again, slutty clothing was not nearly as trendy in the early 1990s as it is now; when I was in high school we went from late 1980s preppiness to grunge to 1970s revival, which extended to bellbottom pants but NOT miniskirts. I can't believe some of the crap girls nowadays wear.
I was shopping with a friend of mine yesterday. She has a four month-old son, so we went looking for baby clothes. The store we were in carried clothes for children up to ten years old and we lingered in the girl's section for some reason. We were absolutely shocked at some of the clothing we saw on the racks. Midriff-exposing tops in sizes down to 3-4 years old. Tight dresses from age 2 onwards. Padded bras and dress tops. Low-cut tops and dresses. T-shirts with messages like "Sexy Bitch" and "Spoiled Brat" on them for girls as young as eighteen months.
And this was a respectable national chain. I complained to one of the saleswomen on the floor, saying that I didn't feel that they should be carrying clothes like that for extremely young girls, but she just shrugged her shoulders in response and said, "That's what sells."
I weep for the future.
Some kids carry more revealing clothes in their backpacks and change on the way to school or at school. Some kids buy clothes like this with money earned from after-school jobs and hide it from their moms and dads. You're right for not giving in, though, and telling them no. I wish more parents did that. When I have kids, I plan to do the same.
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