The article on the lower front page of Monday's Maui News bothered me. It wasn't so much the report itself, about high-end fashion designers jumping into the kiddie market. As far as I'm concerned, if you want to spend $400 on a pair of shoes that your toddler will outgrow in a matter of weeks, and you can afford it, that's your business and I'm happy for you. Lucky you. Lucky kid. I would not begrudge your little one her $650 Lanvin dress or his $190 Dolce & Gabbana shirt.
What bothered me was the reasoning behind the elitist trend. One fashion consultant called it a "mini-me" phenomenon. A Manhattan mother said she dresses her 3-year-old daughter exactly the way she dresses herself, in the latest styles, because the child reflects who she (the mother) is. She spent $10,000 on the toddler's summer wardrobe. Another mom, Us Weekly fashion director Sasha Charnin Morrison, echoed her thoughts. "They're a walking billboard of you. They're a reflection of who you are. . . ."
Really? Children as fashion accessories? Miniature mirror images? Now, I don't claim to be an expert in child psychology or even parenthood, but I do have a little field experience, dated as it may be. My son was born 35 years ago, when Dr. Benjamin Spock's "Baby and Child Care" was still the bible of parenting. It's been many years since I last referred to my dog-eared copy, but one of the basic principles driven home by the good doctor was that children are people, too. Little humans in progress, not to be treated as pets or property, or extensions of ourselves.
Actually, that belief was instilled in me much earlier by my wise and wonderful parents. They always treated me like a real person, albeit a person who required a lot of guidance and an occasional spanking. We did have a couple of mother-daughter matching outfits, and I loved dressing like Mommy, but I know she never once thought of me as part of her "look." In fact, as a self-centered 4-year-old, I was probably more guilty of that attitude myself.
Of course, our clothes didn't come from the upscale designer houses either. I don't think my parents came close to spending $10,000 on my entire wardrobe, from birth through high school.
But as I said, the extravagance of others doesn't bother me. It's the walking billboard, "mini-me" ideology that I find disturbing. Aren't we supposed to want more for our kids than to be just like us? Isn't that the goal of parenting, to raise children who will do better in life than we have, be better people than we are?
Maybe I'm overreacting, maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I just don't think it's healthy for parents to treat children as fashion statements or declarations of social status and style or anything other than children. If that little girl's mother had said, "I dress my daughter in Gucci because I love her," or "My little princess deserves only the best," I could understand that, even if I disagree with such indulgence. It's sad that the only thing indulged here is Mom's ego. Good thing she's rich; she'll probably be paying a fortune for family counseling in a few years.
Like me, my son developed a strong sense of self early on. From before his third birthday, he insisted on picking out his own clothes each day. At that age, his fashion sense wasn't exceptional, although he did have a knack for color coordination. His preferences were best described as quirky. For a while, his favorite accessory was a Superman cape made for him by his auntie, worn with a variety of outfits and often with his blue rubber boots from Ooka Super Market, the ones with the yellow ducky on the sides. He wore those boots all day, every day, rain or shine, until they smelled so bad, we had to go buy another $6 pair. He also went through a Michael Jackson phase and a "Star Wars" stage. Until adolescence brought the desire to fit in, his personal style was fanciful and uninhibited.
Thank goodness this idea of children being mere illustrations of their parents wasn't prevalent back then. I can just imagine what people would have thought of me, had they based their opinions on my son's kiddie couture. Although, now that I think about it, uninhibited quirkiness is a pretty desirable trait in my book. In fact, I just might become a walking billboard for it myself; turn the tables on this trend and become a reflection of my child's childhood. Hmm. Now where did I stash that cape?
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.