My Life: Why pop stars' clothes are unsuitable for children

Maryam Ismail on the frustrations of shopping for her daughters in advance of Eid.

When I went to do some beat-the-rush, early Eid shopping, I ended up empty-handed.

"Maybe I should just wear boys' clothes," my eldest girl sighed in frustration. Was she reading my mind? I confessed that when she was a toddler, I had no choice but to buy her jeans and T-shirts from the boys' section of the store. Walking around with a baby-sized Bratz doll in a pushchair was not my idea of cute.

As I looked for the dust on the windowsill in this Orwellian fashion nightmare, I couldn't help but think that somewhere in the upper rooms of kiddie couture there was a group of clothiers conspiring to convince me that 8-year-olds and 10-year-olds are ready to enter the scantily clad adult worlds of Nicki Minaj, Britney Spears and Keyshia Cole.

Booty-choker jeans, micro-mini skirts, camisoles and shorts that resemble unmentionables crushed my little tweens' hopes of getting something dazzling to dress up in for Eid. They seemed sad, but what kind of decent mother would dress her daughters in clothes that some would consider lingerie?

I looked at some other little girls at the mall, whose mothers didn't seem to mind that their daughters were dressed inappropriately. Some seem to think of it as a trend. To my relief there was one parent who in exasperation said: "There's nothing for us here." Perhaps the "us" was us mothers who had our senses about us.

I want my girls to dress in something that doesn't make them look like what my father used to call a "jezebel". To him, a farm boy from South Carolina, this meant a girl with questionable values. For my three sisters and me, his fashion sense was mind-boggling: no hoop earrings, lip gloss or hot pants, which could get us sent upstairs until further notice. Daddy obviously knew the lurking dangers out on the streets that we weren't aware of. If he were around today and had to shop for clothes for us, he'd have locked us upstairs forever.

M Gigi Durham wrote The Lolita Effect, which examines the trend of fashion and media portraying little girls as objects of desire. This is dangerous and misleading, sending mixed messages to our daughters. They're told they have to stay in a child's place, but they aspire to look like adults. Of course, it's up to the parents to take control and let them know this is not acceptable. That's what my mother did.

Hot-glued on my memory forever is the Shakespearean-inspired, grey-white-and-yellow plaid blouse with billowy sleeves that had tapered, purple, crocheted wrists. I was my mother's signature model who introduced her eclectic genius to the world. I wore her clothes without complaint because sewing was her love. When she showed off her latest line to the neighbours, she got a lot of nods and smiles and remarks such as "That's really cool".

Searching for my own inspiration, I've found a love for Indian cottons and African prints; with these and a store-bought pattern book, look out! I'm cutting a new haute couture line. My girls, who love long skirts, brightly coloured hijabs and Fulla-inspired styles, will play muse as I craft my own line especially for them.

Last weekend, I created a pattern for an Eid skirt, and that's how I'll be doing it from now on. No doubt, I'll spare them the Shakespearean chic. Instead, we'll be creating a Muslim-inspired moda together, one that little Muslimahs can love and feel great in.

As for those shops at the mall, sorry, guys, denim Bermudas are just not our shtick.


Maryam Ismail is a sociologist and teacher who divides her time between the US and the UAE.

Published: August 17, 2011 04:00 AM


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