A recent New York Times piece pointed to a new trend amongst the 11-and-younger set: High heels. Now, I haven't been 11 for quite some time, and, admittedly, when I was I didn't have the coolest taste in shoes. While other girls were wearing Pumas (the shoe of choice in Mrs. Zimmerman's 5th grade class), I was still rocking light-up velcro shoes. Take that, conformity! I was an individual!
The Times article notes that high heels for kids are part of a bigger trend, the "so-called 'mini-me' craze in the childrenswear market." Whereas adult clothing used to be reserved for dressing up and Halloween, kids are now interested in wearing more mature trends in their day-to-day life, even though it's entirely impractical. For one thing, children grow (shock!). One day they are not children. To reiterate: The size that they are now is not they size they will always be. So, it doesn't really make much sense to buy pricy, trendy items for them when it's pretty much guaranteed that their legs will be longer than that maxi dress within the year.
Fiscal reasons aside, high heels and handbags aren't very practical for your kid-centric activities. You can't run around the playground in heels. You can't ride a bike in heels. You can't climb a tree in heels. Trust me. I tried to do so freshman year of college, and have a scar on my left shoulder to prove it.
There's something unsettling about seeing a small child dressed up in the same trends that adults are wearing. It's not merely that it's an anachronism, although that does play a large part. Flipping through J.Crew's Crewcuts catalog or looking at the ads for Burberry's childrenswear line is disconcerting because these images seem to point to an entirely different kind of youth. The central conceit of this new childhood isn't having fun, but rather looking good and waiting for the day when you're finally not a kid anymore.
This shifting idea of childhood is especially alarming for young girls. The Times article points out that "Research suggests that the bombardment of sexualized images tell girls that popularity and social standing are based on looking like a sex object." The earlier it's hammered into your head that the best thing you can be is pretty and feminine, the more difficult it is to later discard such ideas.
There isn't some magical age where it suddenly becomes appropriate for you to be interested in fashion. What's important is why someone becomes interested in it, not whether that interest is sparked at 12 or 20. Personally, I became enamored with fashion from a very young age. I was always a creative kid, and fashion was just another way for me to be creative. It wasn't about being pretty or desirable. It was about expressing myself.
It's difficult to offer a solution to this issue. Young girls will almost always try to emulate the people they look up to, which, for many pre-teens are celebrities. Perhaps the answer is to point young women in the direction of role models whose worth is in no way defined by their dress.