Saturday, 1 October 2011

What we allow is what we approve*

In the quiet of a rainy Sunday morning before the troops arise, I’m enjoying time with my Mac trawling the net for nothing in particular (as you do).

But I’m stopped dead by a photo. Suri Cruise, running on the beach with Katie, in “her signature high heels”.  No, not Katie in heels, her daughter, Suri. How old is this child, 5? Maybe she just came from a special birthday party…but her mum’s in shorts and a T? What is this? I read further and find this part of her shoe collection worth “$150,000”.

So should I be surprised, they’re celebs, of course? And little girls have always wanted to wear heels (usually their mother’s) but on the beach? So then I threw the whole dilemma into Google, and guess what? This is not just a one off; she’s been doing it for years – Suri in golden high heels in 2009, aged 3 on slippery New York pavements etc etc. Yes I know the heels are ‘only” a few inches…..

So then to the debates on various sites. If we put aside the argument that this is a one-off, and in fact it is regular garb, lets see what the comments are. “Child abuse“ rant some, “get a life, what’s wrong with girls being princesses”, “if they like them, why shouldn’t they wear them” say others. The risk of injury and later orthopaedic problems is pointed out.

But the question I have, is - why are tiny shoes made with high-heels for everyday wear?  How come you can buy them? A bit like the infamous padded bras in (children’s) size 6 so little girls could have breasts like Mummy. HUH? Why can retailers manufacture and market these things?

So girls, why do we grown-ups wear high heels (though I confess I do not because they kill my feet and I fall over)?  In principle, I guess it’s to feel confident and sexy and to enhance height, leg shape and physical appeal to others (based on an ideal of….?). So why are we allowing this to be applied to little girls?  Surely this approach is at best foolish and at worst exploitative. Julie Gale, founder of Kids Free 2 B Kids clearly describes the problem here .
Collective Shout asks the question, “will we let children be children in Australia?” and cites a British six-month independent review into the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood, commissioned by PM David Cameron. This review called for, amongst other things, retailers to offer age-appropriate clothes for children. The British Retail consortium has published good practice guidelines as a way forward for industry. 
Australia had a senate enquiry in 2008, which released recommendations to the media and marketing/retail industry, but a promised 18 month review has not happened. Do have a look at the above organisations and sign up to their good work if you agree. Novelactivist has a dissenting view, interesting to ponder, though there’s a few too many big words in there for me.

Little girls have so many expectations to conform to, let’s at least let them develop a rudimentary sense of their child-self (and I acknowledge that “dress-ups” in imaginative play is part of this) before they normalise adult sexual dress and behaviour. And before anyone says it, no, I'm not telling anyone what to do, just asking for a little thought.

* Dr Glen Cupit, Senior Lecturer in Child
Development, University of South Australia. Quoted here


  1. As a mother of 3 daughters, I couldn't agree more.Suri Cruise is playing dress ups as 'princess', she's being dressed as an adult. How can she possibly run free and uninhibited in high heels? I'm sure her therapist will help her answer that in years to come.

  2. As a mother of 4 boys, I am breathing a sigh of relief. But it doesn't stop me from looking at those Bratz dolls and thinking to myself 'never, ever, in a 100 years would I buy one of those if I had a little girl.' Barbie is one thing, looking like a teenage prostitute is another thing altogether!

  3. My brother in law posted a pic of Suri online today - her hair was a little tousled and she had giant sunglasses on...I can't really talk about appropriate dress for little girls as I have a little one who has very clear ideas about what she will and wont wear but shoes and clothes that are actually made for little girls is a non negotiable point. I'm conscious of how much I tell my daughter that she is beautiful or pretty yet I don't speak to my nephew like this who is the same age...there are subtle messages and not so subtle messages we send but at least clothing can be controlled and little girls protected from growing up too soon???


Please leave me comments so I can develop my writing!