Riddle me this: would you prefer your teen daughter dressed like she's a toddler or like she's legally allowed to drink? Believe it or not, I'm finding that question harder to answer than you'd think. Fashionable teen actress Elle Fanning sounded absolutely adorable when she told Teen Vogue recently that she'd rather look like she's 2 than 21.
I mean, let's hear it for teenage girls who understand they're not supposed to be out bar-hopping and hooking up with strangers, right? At 13, the teenage star of We Bought a Zoo already has a better handle on aging gracefully than women three times her age.
But there was something irking me about the screen queen's confession. So I took a look through old pictures of my own daughter when she was 2. Back then, she rocked pigtails and babydoll dresses. She wore overalls without t-shirts underneath, and she had no compunction about lifting up her little skirts to get a breeze on her knees.
In short, she was not a young lady.
And now here's where I begin to sound like my mother (God help me), but by the time my kid is Elle Fanning's age, I am hoping she's exactly that: not a little girl but a young lady, which is a step between the pure innocence of childhood and jaded adult. It's a demarcation that's very nearly been blurred off the map these days thanks to stores selling crotchless panties to tweens and trying to make little girls think they're ready to be Mrs. Justin Bieber.
I think I know what Elle meant by her statement. She doesn't want to look "too adult" when she's just 13. The photos in Teen Vogue, which Elle apparently styled herself, are not really toddler-appropriate. They are much more teenage girl.
But it's the parents who would grab onto her statement and try to put it to their teens "as is" that trouble me. Not wanting your 14-year-old to dress like she's old enough to buy a round at the bar is a no-brainer. But wanting her to put back the pigtails and throw on something totally shapeless isn't the answer.
In going backward, girls tend to lose touch with this important stage of adolescence just as easily. These girls are learning to deal with their hormones and their new curves. What better way to do it than under the constraints of some common sense fashion rules? A top that fits their form: OK. A top with a neckline that reveals almost all of their new boobs: No. And so on and so forth. They need to learn how to dress appropriately for their body type and for situations in society at some point.
The stores may be making it harder to find clothing that fits right into the sweet spot of young teen, but it is out there. How old do you want your daughter to dress?
Image via Teen Vogue