If you’ve shopped for children’s clothing in the past few years you understand not all things are created equal. Despite parents loudly supporting moves to get away from gender stereotypes in the children’s marketplace and a new bunch of small businesses popping up to offer more gender neutral (we prefer “gender inclusive”) children’s apparel, when shopping mainstream it is very difficult to find clothing that is not segregated by color, theme, and even fit. From infants to youth, the problem persists with very troubling messaging behind it about what size girls’ bodies should be and what things they should like.
In the guest post below, Gabrielle New and her daughter Sparky, 9, unpack all of this following a recent shopping trip for youth t-shirts.
I have a nine-year-old daughter whom I refer to online as “Sparky”. She’s barely 4’ tall and weighs about 47 lbs, so she’s usually in the 1% on the growth charts and wears a size 6. She’s also a geek and a Disney fan, like her mama, so she enjoys t-shirts with her favorite characters on them. Recently, we went on a shopping trip to our local Target, and saw that character tees were marked down, so we glanced through them. Sparky found a shirt from the girls’ 6-16 aisle that she liked with Mal from Disney’s Descendants, and then we checked the corresponding boys’ rack, as they often have characters there that she likes (Target is getting somewhat better at including super heroes on the girls’ aisle, but there is often an overabundance of glitter and pink, and we both get tired of that.) We found a cute Star Wars shirt on the boys’ rack, and decided to get both shirts. We chose a size Small for both shirts, knowing the boys’ shirt would be sized a little differently. Then we got home and compared them.
We were both shocked at the extreme size difference between the two shirts. A size Small should fit the average 6-7 year old child. I can’t image there is usually such a huge dichotomy in the bodies of children of different sexes at that age. It struck such a note with my daughter that she decided to write down her thoughts,
Why do some places, for example, Target, have different sized shirts for boys and girls? Well, I think it’s unfair. Why can’t they just have different sized kids shirts? Here are some reasons I think we should just have different sized kids shirts.
Here is my first reason. I found a “boys” shirt I liked. My mom bought it for me and it was big around the waist. The shirt probably won’t be found in the “girls” side and we couldn’t find it in a smaller size. That is my first reason.
My second reason goes something like this. The “boys” and “girls” shirts might not fit the boys or/and girls. The shirts might be too slim or too wide for both genders. They could also be too small or too big. That is my second reason.
These are the reasons I have for why “boys” and “girls” shirts should not be different sizes.
Her teacher might be pleased with her paragraph structure but I am very proud that my daughter is aware of two kinds of sexism at play here. First, the assumption that Star Wars would be uninteresting to girls. While Disney is doing better with Rey, we are still seeing most geeky merchandise reserved for boys. And when it is marketed to girls, it’s often pastel or pink, glittery, and missing all the cool jokes or mash-ups.
Second, there is a measure of body-shaming inherent in only selling “long and lean” overly fitted shirts for girls and huge, square-ish shirts for boys. My daughter may enjoy a fitted shirt sometimes because she is so petite, but her friends come in all sizes. So, she argues that all shirts should be available to all children, in a variety of sizes, so everyone can enjoy whichever shirts they like.
Once you see it, you can’t unsee it, and you may even speak up about it. I hope my daughter continues to speak up when she sees something she thinks is wrong, and I thank this community for helping me teach her.
Gabrielle New is actively raising awareness for gender equality while working and raising her family in California. Sparky is a fourth grader, a junior red belt in Tae Kwon Do, a geekling, and a world-changer in the making.
Have you experienced this with your family? What do your kids think about marketers telling kids what their bodies should look like, and what characters they should love?