...But try telling that to a 'tween or teen girl today. A recent Wall Street Journal article, Fashion Bullies Attack - In Middle School, focused on a dimension of adolescent bullying that is becoming more widespread. I have heard of it, but didn't realize how serious and pervasive it is. The article describes a fashion-aware mother who purchased items from high-end designers Dolce & Gabanna, Juicy Couture and Seven for All Mankind for her sixth-grade daughter. Unfortunately, girls in her daughter's class informed her that she was not wearing the "right" clothes. So what is driving this new heightened awareness of designer labels in such a young crowd?
The Journal article cites designers targeting the child and teen market in the last few years, creating lines for kids and including more affordable pieces and accessories for this market. Teen magazines and TV have also increased designer-brand recognition. My teen niece regularly quotes Stacy London on the TV show What Not To Wear: when I was her age, it was Glamour magazine and their infamous fashion Dos and Don'ts. Both underscore the importance of getting it right and elevating a fashion misstep to a critical life decision.
Cheryl Dellasega, Ph.D., Professor of Humanities and Women's Studies at Penn State University wrote the ground-breaking book Surviving Ophelia, which explored issues of development in teen girls. Dellasega is credited with labeling girl bullying as "relational aggression" and her book, Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying targets this troubling trend. In November's issue of her e-zine, Club Ophelia, Dellasega addresses fashion bullying and includes a revealing story shared by teen who was both a participant and victim of fashion bullying. Here's an excerpt from her story:
At lunchtime, my friends would talk about where they shopped and what outfits they liked. They would make fun of girls who didn't wear the same clothing they did. I would join in the taunts and conversations even though, secretly, I was one of those girls. My parents didn't have much money, unlike my friends. My mom and dad could not afford to buy me expensive clothing and shoes.
Although I didn't witness acts of fashion bullying at the small high school where I worked, I often heard about it from girls who talked with me about stressful situations. I assured them they were not unique, that many other girls could not afford to dress in designer-wear. To see if you have been bullied, take the following quiz, Are You Being Bullied? Or take this quiz if you suspect you have bullied others, Are You a Bully?
I asked guidance counselor Tammy Breymaier (grades 4-6th) how girls might handle fashion bullying. She shared a recent conversation with a 'tween,
Today, I had a girl who was wearing her brother’s basketball shoes because
she couldn’t find her shoes this morning. When questioned about it, she
responded with the explanation and 'Is that a problem for you?' She
exhibited confidence and an attitude that would make someone think twice as to
whether they would place judgment on her again.
Back when I was a teen, I remember feeling so sorry for those girls in parochial school who had to wear school uniforms - the long, (below their knees!!) pleated, navy skirts and "boring" cardigans. Private school attendees today tell me they like the ease of the uniforms - no big struggle figuring out what to wear each day. Now, I can see the rationale - the uniformity of dress allows the person to shine through.