Mom and Daughter Question the Gendered Difference In Boys’ and Girls’ Clothing Sizes

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?

 

Comments

  1. Amy Doering says:

    Absolutely!
    I wasn’t aware of this for a long time, because I have four boys. I also have boys that are genetically very skinny. So I was shocked when I bought my son a t-shirt from the girl’s section and it was very long and exactly form fitting, tight against his rail – thin frame. (And don’t even get me started about the fact that the show he loves is marketed and merchandised only to girls.)
    It creeped me out this was what was sold to six-year-olds. It’s bad enough that young women are bombarded with ads pressuring them to be sexy. But who thinks a six-year-old is sexy? No one I want around my kid.
    Because of his small frame, we also tried getting jeans from the girls section. Same story–precisely form fitting. Which is kind of okay comparatively, if you are used to dealing with pants that keep falling off your kid. But what does this say about the expectations we are setting, both for girls to be super-thin and expectations that boys need to be broad and “bulk up”?

    • I have a 6-year-old daughter with an athletic build. It’s frustrating to have to size up to get her clothing that isn’t super-snug. I also find it really troubling that “girls'” sizes are so slim-cut not only from a “body shaming” perspective but also from a “these are little kids for heaven’s sake!” perspective.

      She also has a wide foot, so we often have to shop “boys'” sneakers to get a proper fit. She runs, plays, jumps, and does everything she does just fine in those shoes! (Right now, she’s sporting light-up Star Wars JEDI ones. Before these, she had a shocking pink pair of New Balance. Whatever makes her happy & supports her foot, I’m on board.)

      She wore a green Yoda t-shirt, blue capris, and Rainbow Dash socks to summer school this morning. That’s my girl!

      We choose what she likes and remind people when they comment on what her perceived sex is that there are a lot of different ways to be girly – this is her way.

  2. I think about this all the time. My son is also 9 years old and, because of the general lack of colour on the boys’ side of the aisle, I have looked to the girls’ side to find him clothes in colours he likes (or at least I did until he decided to go all Toronto Blue Jays all the time). I was shocked at the size difference. Shouldn’t a size 6 be the same regardless of which side of the store it comes from? And, as Sparky noted, why assign gender to sizes? There is no logical reason why girls’ clothes should be made so much smaller and boys’ so much bigger. There are girls and boys of all sizes–case in point, my son would be swimming in the boys’ shirt shown above. No girl should feel shame for being bigger than what clothing companies decide is “average”, nor should any boy feel shame for being smaller than “average.”

  3. Honestly, I have the exact opposite complaint when it comes to adults. They often make “unisex” shirts which are just men’s shirts that they sell to ladies. Anyone who’s ever worked at a large company and gotten a promotional t-shirt knows what I mean. The basic premise is the same though – people, regardless of gender, should be able to find a shirt in their size and fit.

  4. My son loves pink and purple and the glittery “girls” shirts. He’s a 5/6 and has to wear anything between a 6x and an 8 in the girls sizes. I feel like we are teaching very small children that girls should be displaying their figures, while boys should be able to play comfortably.

  5. It’s ironic that this is posted on a blog with a logo including a girl in a fitted top and boys in loose tops…

    • Rosie,
      You are correct, it is ironic. As a small business trying to change concepts in the children’s marketplace, sometimes I had to do as the Romans…..

      Of course, if you were to take a broader look at my company you’d see boys in fitted tops and girls in loose tops. A good example of this is the cover photo to our Facebook page, where all the children are wearing loose, unisex tops in an assortment of colors.

  6. Yes! I also find this so weird. In children, boys and girls bodies are more similar than different. Different clothing sizes and shapes make no sense! For my eldest girl (almost 10), in fact, the girls in her class are on average bigger than the boys because they are starting to develop. Clothing never fits properly! My daughter usually buys from the boys’ section because she wants bright colours and not too tight. Don’t get me started! I loved hearing the perspective of a kid here – my daughter gets so frustrated and sounds similar. Her brother? No dramas – clothes fit. For girls, thinking your body is wrong in some way starts young!

  7. John Barr Jr. says:

    Hi Melissa! Love your blogs! Keep up the good work!

  8. Yes, there is a large size difference, but here are my thoughts. My daughter wears tshirts with skirts and boys tshirts are made too “boxy” (if that makes sense). They don’t look right with skirts or even jeans half the time. I like the girls style tshirts, but I agree, it makes me SO ANGRY that even cool logos like Xmen or dinosaurs will have stupid glitter on them. Why can’t we just have a happy medium. Fits that both sexes like with designs that both sexes like. It’s so frustrating. Plus my daughter is about to move up to big girl clothes and there is NOTHING in those sizes that don’t look like cheap pop star outfits.

    • I shop at OshKosh, Boden (spendy, I know), Hanna Andersson (also spendy and not always worth it these days), Gymboree (sometimes spendy; I’ve learned how to combine sales & coupons), Crazy8 (what Old Navy is to Gap, Crazy8 is to Gymboree), and now Target’s “Cat & Jack” line (intro’d 7/17 and supposed to take over their clothing coverage) with a LOT of pickiness.

      My daughter mostly wears shorts in summer, but she’d live in dresses if she could the rest of the year!

  9. Elzbieta says:

    My almost nine year old daughter shops frequently in the “boy” aisle at Target for tshirts with her favorite characters from Star Wars, Minecraft, TMNT etc. She doesn’t like glitter and ruffled sleeves so even though Target is now putting things that my daughter would call cool stuff on “girl” clothes, she still doesn’t even consider them as things she could feel comfortable wearing. And the sizes for boys are really baggy so we usually get the small. She commented on that one time saying that there are plenty of boys in her class that are shorter and thinner than her so why the boy size is so huge.
    Two or three years back she asked me if it’s wrong that she doesn’t like all the pink sparkly stuff… she doesn’t ask me about that anymore, there’s no doubt in her mind she’s awesome the way she is and I feel so grateful for that

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