Guest Column

PRETEEN TEMPTRESSES

Fashion ís abandoning the vixen; with luck our daughters will too

March 8 2004
Guest Column

PRETEEN TEMPTRESSES

Fashion ís abandoning the vixen; with luck our daughters will too

March 8 2004

PRETEEN TEMPTRESSES

Guest Column

PATRICIA PEARSON

Fashion ís abandoning the vixen; with luck our daughters will too

YOU WILL be glad to learn that a backlash is impending in the fashion industry against absurdly revealing clothes. The trashy sexpot look—obediently adopted by 12-year-old girls everywhere, much to their parents’ dismay—is suddenly tout fini. The spring fashion shows this year feature blouses that are actually buttoned up, how shocking, and skirts that are longer than the wearer’s underpants. Some even hang to the knees.

Amy Astley, the editor of Teen Vogue, trumpets this new look in the March issue of her magazine. “Are you sick of watching nearly naked girls grinding next to fully dressed guys on MTV?” she asks in a letter from the editor. “Of movie stars and singers dressed as if they moonlight as strippers? Me, too! The vixen look has become so mainstream that it’s passé.”

Ironically, given the production cycle of magazines, Astley would have written this letter before Janet Jackson got into such trouble for her flashing antics at the Super Bowl. This hints at why Jackson and Justin Timberlake fell afoul: everyone was already getting sick of sex. Mind you, as far as I was concerned the problem wasn’t that the vixen look was too trendily mainstream; to me, it was that such garb was a tasteless throwback to a time when women got jobs if they had big hooters. Put another way, I have never looked at Pamela Anderson and thought: “Wow! What a style maven!” On the other hand, I have tried to puzzle out why anyone would want their principal accomplishment to be that they’d called the entire world’s attention to their breasts.

There is something spectacularly aimless about the state of undress of younger celebrities like Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, given that their supposed vocation is to sing rather than swing. And what’s going on with their pseudo-lesbian French kissing and their hyper-sexual dance moves? Are they celebrating their sexual freedom after years of oppression? No. That happened several decades ago. Are they celebrating their fashion freedom after years of footbinding and corsetry? No. Try the century before last. Did somebody spike their Evian with Spanish fly?

The sexual revolution had politics to it, whether you agreed with them or not. But those politics were played out. The statements were made. By the time we got to The Vagina Monologues, wherein audience members were asked questions like, “If your vagina was a celebrity, who would it be?” the revolution had run out of steam.

The mavens of the vixen look aren’t postfeminist. They’re a weird, disconcerting combination of pre-feminist/post-sexual revolution. They have no idea what to do with freely displayed sexuality beyond getting the attention of boys. And the deeply irksome part is, they are acting as role models for our daughters. Every now and then, my seven-year-old brings up Britney, and I act like I’ve been poked with a hot stick. “I think Britney Spears is good,” my daughter might say, and I rant, “She is ?tot good, she is an idiot! There’s nothing between her ears but insecurity and air!” I feel like a mom from the fifties sounding off about Elvis.

If Teen Vogue tells its readers they will look cool in pretty paisley dresses and belted cardigans, that sounds good to me. A more demure trend would certainly have improved the costumes I saw at my daughter’s elementary school talent show in Toronto a few weeks ago. Up on the stage, in a gymnasium packed with proud parents, were children in halter tops and hiphugging jeans, in groups of twos and threes, lip-synching to pop songs. These kids pretending to be music celebrities were interspersed with more conventional, and vastly more age-appropriate, acts performed by earnest little violinists and poets and tap dancers, their ponytails bouncing as they soft-shoed in black patent leather. It was as if there were a generation gap playing out right there on the stage, split down the middle of one peer group.

The casualness of sexual innuendo, so innocently adopted by these children, is leading them straight into a trend that has surfaced in headlines of late, that of 13-year-old girls giving oral sex to boys, and then shrugging it off as no big deal. A newspaper article detailed the phenomenon in middle schools, where so-called tweens, between 12 and 14, have somehow decided that it’s cool, and risk-free, to offer sexual service to boys. As I write this column, I note that seven middle-schoolers in Pensacola, Fla., have just been suspended: a staff member stumbled across the two girls and five boys having oral sex in the school bathroom.

Five years ago, the PBS program Frontline aired a documentary in which an outbreak of syphilis was traced by puzzled public health officials to a group of middleschoolers in suburban Atlanta. The girls who had contracted this vile STD were interviewed as they sat on their frilly beds, still covered with stuffed animals and dolls.

That juxtaposition says it all. Thanks to fashion and pop culture, sex has colonized childhood, ensnared children. We need to set them free. IÄ1

Patricia Pearson is a Toronto writer pearsonspost@sympatico.ca