Raising Women Girls
Puberty and womanhood are distinctly different states of development, but today the two are being merged in the name of consumerism
Teenage girls wanting to break out of being perceived as children and therefore dressing older is not new, but the age of social media has made this occurrence more marketable than ever before. High street fashion brands can sell women’s clothes to women as well as teenagers for the production price of one. Whereas a decade ago, teenage girls would strive to wear Abercrombie & Fitch, American Apparel, and other former must-have teen brands, the shift in mainstream beauty ideals accessible on social media has provided girls with a shortcut to achieving their peers’ recognition and overall desirability. What may come as a surprise to some, is the change in behaviour as a result of the change in clothing.
When I was 12 and growing into my teen years, there was no Instagram. Your coolness was not measured by your online follower count, but rather by your outfits or resistance towards authority. To get your classmates’ approval you had to wear Abercrombie and for further approval you wore Aeropostale or Roxy that you bought on your family vacation to America, because they weren’t available in Germany. Preteen conformity was materialistic, much like now, but in a more innocent frame of mind. We didn’t try to look sexy, in fact we were still embarrassed to even say the word ‘sexy’.
Ten years ago, a comment like “Your ass looks big in those jeans!” might have been hurtful, embarrassing, and reason enough to immediately change into something else; today, the same phrase will likely elicit joy, pride, and perhaps a little happy-twerk. Fashion Nova, a California based retailer which successfully used Instagram influencers to gain eight million followers in just three years, has been a sponsor of countless influencer posts. The brand’s explosion in popularity is mostly due to their catering to women with curves, an enormous, at the time almost untapped market of women who, after Kim Kardashian and her Klan brought with them a new era of bosoms and bottoms, found a new pride in their voluptuous bodies and demanded clothes with a better fit. Fashion Nova is ultimately aimed at the Kims and Kylies of everyday life, hourglass and full-figured women dressing sexy-chic, revealing but with a hint of sophistication, party girls who will drop it to the floor but only in the VIP section.
Above: Example of a "14 now vs 14 then" meme
Below: Danielle Bregoli sponsoring Fashion Nova on her Instagram
Above: Screenshots of Bregoli's Snapchat stories that are available for anyone to watch
Below: Screenshot of one of Bregoli's Instagram Live sessions, where she is being encouraged to twerk for her millions of followers
Danielle Bregoli, also known by her Instagram and now rapper alias Bhad Bhabie is no stranger to Fashion Nova sponsored Instagram posts. Now, Bregoli is a 14-year-old teenage girl who gained fame after appearing on a Dr Phil episode because of her outrageous behaviour, which left the world in shock. Bregoli went viral, autotune remixes of her catchphrase “Cash me outside!” appeared on YouTube, and the followers started pouring in. Among other things, the notorious flat tummy tea, gold grillz, or clothing brands like Fashion Nova are promoted to her twelve million followers on a regular basis. How well 14-year-old girls can represent brands known for their flirtatious designs could prove to be debatable.
Bregoli is known to host Instagram Live sessions where the teen will roll around her bed, drawing attention to her cleavage or bottom. There is no point in pretending that all teenagers are still the innocent, nonsexual children they once were, and Bregoli may think of this as an empowering medium to explore her fledgling sexuality, but as anyone can view her feed, the likelihood of attracting predators amid her millions of followers is extremely high. Bregoli declined to comment on the issue.
No longer a girl, not yet a woman. This ambiguous stage in femininity, between the years of innocence and its first manifestations of sexual attraction, has inspired Vladimir Nabokov to write a book in 1955, Britney Spears to write a song in 2001, and fashion brands to reuse as a concept and source of inspiration for collections over and over again. Nabokov’s Lolita is a 12-year-old "nymphet", whose body has not even reached maturity when she is being exploited by the much older Humbert Humbert, who portrays the situation as though he is helpless against the mighty powers of her seduction. The character of Lolita recorded a coming of age phase where puberty’s first cues are experienced and explored, demanding an understanding for a preteen mind and body more complex than assumed.
In 1963, Mary Quant popularised mini skirts, highlighting the slender legs of a generation’s adolescent girls strutting into a new kind of freedom. Jeremy Scott designed an entire collection based on childhood star Barbie for Moschino’s Spring/Summer 2015. Meadham Kirchhoff Spring/Summer 2012 ‘A Wolf in Lamb’s Clothing’ was a parody of both themselves, and the reoccurring image of the child-woman in media and fashion, a sugary sweetness so over the top it left a bad taste in your mouth. It's interesting that we like adult clothing that is inspired by preteens, but we react outraged when teens start to wear mature adult clothing.
The captivating usage of underage femininity in the interest of corporate financial gain is not new, in fact, it feels standard and expected. What does feel new is the surge of teenagers born in this millennium, who choose to act and look much older than they are for Internet fame. Girls are photoshopping themselves to have curves that haven’t grown yet, wear more mature clothes, and pose provocatively for the world. This phenomenon of teens presenting themselves to look older than teens ten years ago has gained enough attention to have generated its own popular meme. Two girls are compared with the caption “14-year-olds now vs 14-year-old me”. Every comment section of such a meme will have a majority of people shaming the girls for over-sexualising themselves before they can even fully understand what it means. The “14-year-old me” will be praised for adhering to an unwritten law of looking the way a teen is supposed to, whereas the “14-year-olds now” are slandered and slut-shamed. It isn’t that they don’t want to look their age, the problem is, there no longer is a look for that age group like there was in the past.
The ambiguous appeal of brands, like Fashion Nova, geared towards teenage girls is that these companies are investing in the next generation of consumers. They are not concerned with championing asexuality in developing teens as seen in the memes. Unisex clothing is a popular euphemism for curbing these adult stereotypes, but this non-gendered approach does not sell makeup, launch titan social media accounts or appeal to the spirit of youth. Brands would far rather hook future, long-term customers than allow time for young people to make up their own minds.
“Where are their parents?” One might ask, but pinning the fault for the over-sexualisation of teenagers onto the parents or even the children themselves won’t help anyone because it isn’t a matter of individuals, it’s a system. A system built to glorify celebrity teens, It girls, and as a convenient byproduct it benefits a vast amount of companies and organisations. Advertisements of the fashion and beauty industries play a role, the pornography industry with its most popular category “teens” plays a role, school dress codes only focused on monitoring female students play a role, and unconvicted sexual predators of high status play a role in not only normalising the objectification and sexualisation of young women and teenagers, but in the creation of a system where girls grow up thinking of their own bodies as sexual before they think of them as biological. These girls are raised in a world where the most influential teenage apparel brands of the last decade have all gone bankrupt, and instead of continuing to wear children’s clothes they move onto adult clothing. They grow up in a world where porn has become an available and accessible extension of sex ed. A world where they can aspire to be an international model at 15, just like their beloved Lily Rose Depp. These girls enter a society that still focuses on women’s looks before their skills, and teaches the value of men’s approval before self-worth.
Every generation looks at the next one nostalgically and has a need to feel superior. Whether it’s grandmas ridiculing millennials’ inability to live without the internet, or their grandmas ridiculing the silent generation’s inability to live without electricity. Society has a way of moving and developing much faster than it appears and suddenly people feel disconnected, not up to date. To understand the behaviour of the next generations, we have to remember to include factors beyond the individual and realise how deep capitalism has trickled into the infrastructure of our society and soaked the essence of goals, conformities and interpersonal relationships. After all the new generations can’t be held accountable for being who they are and doing what they do, when everything they exemplify is a reflection of the world society has created for them.
Below: More examples of "14 now vs 14 then" memes