Susan Ryder says large fashions are now challenging small lives.
GOING TO THE MOVIES is one of my favourite things to do, so ‘Fashion Month’ seemed an appropriate time to see the acclaimed documentary The September Issue: Anna Wintour & the Making of Choice.
September is the most important month in northern hemisphere couture. The autumn/winter collections are presented with great fanfare in the fashion capitals of New York, London, Paris and Milan. Designers clamour to have their styles featured in the publications that matter – and with haute couture, there is little more important than Vogue and its legendary editor, Anna Wintour.
The September Issue captures the frenetic months that precede the release of September’s Vogue and the creative and marketing machine rolled out to sell it. Global fashion is a $300 billion industry, a world where supermodels are international celebrities, and celebrities from the ﬁelds of entertainment and sport vie with the supermodels to grace magazine covers. It is glamorous, expensive and exclusive.
It is an adult world however, that is impacting upon children and childhood.
Once upon a time there was a clear delineation between childhood and adulthood. A child was “a child” until the day she reached adulthood. The term “teenager” never evolved until the earlier 20th century, when greater wealth removed the majority of ”teens” from the workforce, and became more widely used from the late 1940s in connection with the invention of demographics by advertisers.
In little more than 30 years, New Zealand homes have advanced from accessing one state-owned television channel and a handful of radio stations to an unlimited range of global news, sport and entertainment via cable television and the internet. Access is cheap and plentiful, providing product to satisfy all tastes. It is an electronic wonderland.
Being neither a Luddite nor someone who is fearful of technology, I love the freedom it oﬀers the individual.
But not all of what is freely available is suitable for children. Children aren’t yet adults; they need parental protection until such time as they are – including parental protection from all the adult material that abounds in today’s entertainment and fashion worlds.
And what material! Music clips on television and the internet feature explicit material from wafer-thin, scantily-dressed young women targeting teen markets, and younger. A recent oﬀering from singer Britney Spears is entitled If You Seek Amy, the title of which you probably shouldn’t dwell upon for too long, but it’s not about looking for her. And there is now a newly created market to exploit: ‘Tweens’, a term to describe pre-pubescent kids between childhood and teenage years, i.e., ages 9-12. Nine, apparently, is now too old to just be playing with dolls and dominoes.
So what of the impact upon children? From a fashion perspective, the obsession with body image, particularly for girls, has been documented for decades. According to a 2008 Channel 4 production*, some 80% of UK 11-14 year olds routinely worry about their weight. But in the last couple of years,
British health professionals have noticed a shocking rise in the number of 8-10 year olds developing anorexia nervosa, with a staggering three-quarters of British seven-year-olds wanting to be thinner, and girls as young as ﬁve talking disparagingly of their bodies.
Rhodes Farm is a specialist treatment facility in England for eating disorders whose founder, Dr Dee Dawson, believes that children are increasingly being robbed of their childhood – and that fashion magazines contribute to the pressure for children to grow up years before their time. She is also critical of the nutritional promotion of low-fat diets and the advice to avoid “evil fats.”
It would seem that in their determination to battle obesity, health authorities are inadvertently creating other problems in the form of eating disorders. It is reasonable to assume similar outcomes in other western countries.
And then there’s technology, the sole television in the corner of the living room that once entertained the family en masse has been replaced by multiple televisions and personal computers rendering parental guidance a diﬃcult task. While there is technology available to limit child internet access, the worlds of television programming and advertising are largely run by young adults who enjoy pushing boundaries. Fair enough, but what can a parent do who doesn’t approve of material screened during children’s viewing hours?
The simple answer is to turn all the televisions and computers oﬀ , but that doesn’t solve the issue of patently irresponsible programming and advertising scheduling. If we were able to individually pick and choose our television programming as we pick and choose our reading material, family-friendly channels featuring appropriate advertising would evolve to meet the demand. Similarly, other channels would accommodate the adult market with neither dictating to the other, “self-censorship” always preferable to any imposed alternative. Unfortunately, the state’s one-size-ﬁts-all approach to broadcasting serves only to impose, at public expense, its programming and advertising standards upon everyone while being accountable to no-one and lowering the bar for all, as per the current situation.
The moral of the story is simple: The printed material in your home is there of your volition; you chose it. But when you don’t pay for something yourself -- when it’s foisted upon you, like it or not –then you lose the right to determine that personal choice.
Meanwhile your children remain vulnerable, exposed to material beyond their years, which is perhaps how a leading local kids’ clothing chain came to market minuscule bras for 8 year olds with nothing to put in them. I’ve seen bigger band-aids.
Best leave lingerie to its real market and allow little girls to worry about nothing more than their next spelling test, eh?
*Real Life episode: ‘Dana: Story of an 8 year old Anorexic.’
* * Read Susan Ryder’s regular column every Tuesday here at NOT PC * *
* * This column first appeared in the Franklin E-Local newspaper * *