When I was nine years old, me and three of my best friends dressed up in the bright plaid mid 90s duds the Limited Too offered and strutted around our local store for two hours. We were “models,” part of an “in-store” program. I think we got to take home one piece of clothing, or maybe our parents got a discount at the store. Either way, I loved doing it. I loved the outfit I picked out all on my own and I loved hanging out with my friends. I felt pretty and important. It was a good feeling.
No one took my picture.
It wasn’t really about what we were wearing. It was about the experience. No one took pictures of us mugging in our tights worn over shorts with oversized flannel shirts. Because, no one really cared. Sadly, I’m about 99% percent sure that no child today could have a fun, no-pressure “modeling” day like the one I had in 1995. Why? Duh, it’s the internet’s fault! Well, the internet and the scourge of image-conscious parents that clothe their offspring in sequins and skinny jeans and blazers and iridescent sneakers and put them online for the world to see.
Pinterest boards, Fashion Kids of Instagram, Tumblrs (like Ladys and Gents, Mini Hipster and Children With Swag), mommyblogs, even the way Rachel Zoe dresses her son, Skyler: the internet is awash with miniature fashion plates dolled up in expensive clothing meant to make a statement about individual parents, not their children. And these kids are often photographed in clothes that mimic adult fashions, in ways that are clearly supposed to emulate adult photo shoots.
Kids are not mini adults. They are kids! I’m not saying you should dress your child in head-to-toe Garanimals or Gymboree, if that’s not your taste, but are baby aviators and baby ponchos and baby pencil skirts really necessary on a daily basis? Let’s not forget that ish cannot be comfortable for little bodies, especially for running, playing, jumping, sliding, swinging getting messy, doing art projects…any of the things children do on a regular basis.
I attribute much of this trend to the rise of personal blogging and the ubiquitousness of Instagram. These days, everyone is “curating” their life through what they share on the internet. The conflation of material possessions with a happy, fulfilling existence is real; We see it every single day on our phones. So it makes sense that there would be more parents wanting to show off the things they buy for their children, to have a “branded” life full of black-and-white Scandinavian prints, clean lines, and ironic t-shirts.
But I really wonder what effect this is ultimately going to have on the children who are dressed so their parents can rack up the “likes.” Of course, parents dressing their children for validation is not necessarily new; My mom took extra care to dress my sister and I up for special occasions, at Halloween, or even just for going to our grandparents’ house. She favored smocked dresses, elaborate braids and big hair bows, but I remember how it felt to be dressed in something my mom had picked out versus something I’d picked out myself. Most of the time, from about age three on, I hated it, because I’ve always used clothing as a way to assert my own identity.
Now, I’m sure many of these tiny fashionistas choose their own clothing, like Alonso Mateo, the five-year-old Instagram sensation. I know lots of little kids that are adamant about the outfits they wear, whether it’s a princess dress or a Batman cape or a pair of froggy pajamas. And of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with choosing clothes for your kids, putting them in a a t-shirt with the recycling symbol because your family recycles, or a Cowboys jersey because you love America’s Team. I don’t take issue with that. What I do take issue with is using your children’s wardrobe as a way to assert and express your own individuality against other adults, as a way to show off your particular lifestyle. Your kid is not you. Your kid is not an extension of your preferences.
I find that kiddie fashion blogs, in particular, are problematic because they force us, the viewers, to look at the child with a disturbingly adult gaze. Whether we mean to or not, we’re using children’s bodies to sell clothing and accessory items, using them as vehicles for commercial products. On these blogs, especially when the children are photographed in a more “fashion”-y way (aka not at a playground or in another location where children would naturally be, but scowling in front of a white wall or something) we’re evaluating them. Not just their outfit, but their looks, their pose, their pout. There’s something really skeevy and wrong about that to me.
Most kiddie blogs say they’re just about sharing parents’ and kids’ love for fashionable clothes. I get that, I really do. I love clothes myself! But I think photographing your kid in adult-looking outfits so he or she can have their photo featured on the internet encourages competition, vanity, and hyper-consumerism. It teaches children to value material things and to worry about the way they look. In a society that’s already image obsessed, it seems so sad to be teaching two, three and four-year-olds that perfectly put together outfits is a way to garner public approval and appreciation.
And what about all the babies and toddlers that can’t say yes or no to a Misfits t-shirt or a fur vest? They also can’t consent to having their picture taken, or to having it posted on the internet for thousands of people to see.
I originally meant this manifesto to be funny and cheeky. It’s ended up trying to be all serious about BIQ QUESTIONS, so color me surprised. I know there’s a difference between purposely dressing your kid to be photographed for the internet, and putting them in clothes you think are cool for preschool or the playground. I’m not necessarily equating all the yuppie hipster moms who have personal blogs and dig organic cotton with the weird parents who vie for their children to be featured on Fashion Kids of Instagram (where all of the photos for this post came from, including the tiny little girl above wearing LEATHER LEGGINGS). Still, there’s a clear strain of materialism and parental vanity that’s emerged in conjunction with a tendency to sexualize children, whether the intention is for them to be sexualized or not. It’s time that image-obsessed parents put away the cameras, stopped refreshing Pinterest and just let kids be kids—not little vehicles for personal branding.
Photos: Fashion Kids Of Instagram