Back to School: Brands, Labels, and the Pressure Girls Feel to Have the “Right” Look
The school year is quickly approaching (just writing those words gives me flashbacks to my own stomach knots), so here’s a post dedicated to some of the back-to-school themes in You’re Amazing!
Let’s start with shopping. Not the spiral notebooks and No. 2 pencils kind of shopping. No, I’m talking about those August trips to the mall that leave so many girls feeling stressed about the possibility of not fitting in, and just as many parents agonizing over how to calm their daughters’ fears without spending a fortune on the overpriced “must-haves.”
According to the Girls Inc. Supergirl Dilemma report, 84% of all girls say it’s true that girls are under a lot of pressure to dress the right way; that’s up from 75% of girls who said they felt that pressure when surveyed in 2000. What accounts for the increase? A recent poll conducted by the British Association of Teachers and Lecturers has some answers. Of the teachers who participated, 70% said that advertising’s influence on students is much more significant today than it was ten years ago.
I was subjected to some of that advertising this weekend, in the form of two Wal-Mart commercials. Has anyone else seen these? There is one for moms of boys and another for moms of girls.
Boy version with Mom voiceover: “I can’t go to class with him. I can’t do his history report for him, or show the teachers how curious he is. That’s his job. My job is to give him everything he needs to succeed while staying within a budget…I love my job.” Cut to boy with his new affordable laptop. He’s getting applause from his teacher and the students in the class as he delivers a report.
Girl version with Mom voiceover:“I can’t go to school with her. I can’t introduce her to new friends.” Cut to girl nervously asking “Can I sit here?” to a group of girls sitting together at lunch. “Sure, I like your top!” one of them answers. “Or tell everyone how amazing she is. But I can give her what she needs to feel good about herself without breaking my budget. All she has to do is be herself.” Cut to smiling girls walking arm-in-arm down the hallway.
Hmmm, so boys get to be curious and successful while girls are left to “be themselves” by seeking other girls’ approval of their cute tops? The message here is that girls are amazing, but sadly no one at school will be able to appreciate how amazing they are unless they are wearing the right clothes? And just to be clear, this ad is targeted to mothers. It’s bad enough that girls are caught up in brand mania, but it’s even worse when advertisers are able to effectively market to parents by highlighting this pressure.
I know parents want the best for their children. It’s hard to say no when girls truly believe that their happiness depends on having that one specific item of clothing that everyone else is wearing (I tortured my parents for Guess? jeans for no less than six months until we found a pair on a discount rack somewhere). But as adults, isn’t it our job to help kids understand that being amazing has nothing to do with having the “right” brands? And because I know that talking about inner beauty is guaranteed to elicit the dreaded eye roll, here are a few other tips:
1. Talk to girls about style. There’s a big difference between decking yourself out in designer labels and having a unique style that gets noticed. Ask a girl whose style she admires and why. Chances are, the reasons will have nothing to do with brand names.
2. Help girls understand that not every style works for every body type. Too often, girls try to fit in by wearing clothes that don’t fit them. Point out that when you’re constantly tugging or adjusting an outfit, that makes you feel less comfortable–and less confident.
3. Use shopping as a lesson in money management. Before you go shopping, make a clothing budget together. Even if a girl can’t have every item she wants, she will appreciate being involved in making decisions about spending.
Do you remember this pressure from your back-to-school days? What are some other ways we can we help girls cope?
A version of this post originally appeared on clairemysko.com.