Teens & Tube Tops

October 10th, 2007

What Britney’s done to your younger sister

By Heather Newberger

It was a less than peculiar day in the Richmond household.

Seated at the large dining room table, I listen as my friend’s 13-year-old sister complains about her boxy shirts and skinny legs.

“It’s really not fair,” Carly Richmond huffs as she sits down in the chair next to me. “They can’t just change to a uniform and then only give us terrible shirts to wear. There has to be a better option.”
“You could just not go,” my friend Kira says while sucking on a yogurt filled spoon. “I would have loved to get out of there as soon as I had the chance.” She pauses and gets progressively more excited, “You should totally do it, Car. Mom would definitely pull you out for something like this.” And although Kira seems sure, I am more suspect.

Yes, the high school we both grew up in was something of a challenge, however getting removed just because of a new school uniform appeared to be an act reserved for the rich and privileged. From my perceptions, the Richmond family fits both categories.

“I have to start sewing,” Carly says. “I’ll just tailor the shirts and make them fit my body. It’ll be fine. Everything’s going to be fine.” And with that, Carly runs off in the opposite direction, flying up the stairs.

Kira turns to me with a dark look. “She really is a great girl,” she says as if she needs to defend her sister’s brief vanity. “She’s just nervous about going into high school. You know how it is. They’ll eat her alive if she doesn’t look the part.”

I nod and half-heartedly remember my own private high school education, a memory swimming in Prada handbags and Abercrombie pullovers. Although the new uniform policy has caused more upset than pleasure, I can’t help but feel jealous that school attire is no longer bathing in a pool of dollars. Then again, something in Carly’s nervousness and Kira’s response is more upsetting than it should be.

Although it would be easy for me to say that I remember my awkward teenage years, I have fortunately (or I guess unfortunately for this article) pushed them into the dark recesses of my mind. Hoping to never let such memories resurface, my view of teenage girls now comes from such feminine prototypes as Carly Richmond, Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan, Vanessa Hudgens and the Bratz dolls.

These icons of pre-teen envy, with many others, dictate what young females care to put in, and on their bodies. It’d be easier if girls didn’t notice the little things, but they do.
They do notice Hilary’s switch to dark eye make-up, which is why they believe they should wear some too. They do notice the supposed 13-year-old Bratz dolls older looking boyfriend counterparts, implying that statutory rape is totally in. And they do notice Lindsay Lohan’s short stint in rehab vacation, so why not snort a line.

Sure, nothing ever gets this extreme, but the ideal image is there. And often ideals lead to action.

Let’s not forget these girls are all young and they’re all beautiful. Yet the concept of internalizing these facts appears impossible. It hurts me to think that at such a young age attractive girls have to worry for their own social safety, a popularity they have already discovered is based around fashionable items and skinny limbs.

I remember the first time I ever heard an art history lecture. I was in the fifth grade, and a giant portrait of shapely, (mostly) naked women hung in front of my class. As a heftier child, I was shocked to find that the standard of beauty had once been to paint women who looked, surprisingly, like me. Having always been given the message that my body was unattractive, I was thrilled to find that at one point, it would have been coveted. This is what I think about when I hear the youth of our nation squabble for tighter jeans and clearer skin.

Big was once beautiful. So what happened?

My mom attributes it to Twiggy, the British model who now graces TV screens as a judge of exceedingly waifish girls. Models used to be bigger before Twiggy hit the scene. However, with her small frame and lightweight bones, fashion moguls soon turned to women as hangers for their clothes.

A part of me wants to make this into a bigger issue, an issue of women as objects instead of people — as hangers instead of personalities. However, that’s an entirely different discussion. What we should focus on is Carly Richmond, and how she walks down the stairs a half hour later — her boxy shirts are smaller, her midriff almost exposed, about a pound of makeup covering her face.

Kira gives me a look, and I can’t decipher what it means. Her eyes are either saying tell Car it looks great, or are you fucking kidding me? I decide to look down instead of meeting Carly’s eyes.

“What do you think?” she asks Kira. As she looks for approval, I can’t help but wonder if our style has influenced her 14-year-old hoochification. Perhaps it isn’t Bratz dolls or Ms. Hudgen’s online nude pictures that influences younger girls. Perhaps it is the savvy sway of the older, more “mature” role models — the big sisters and upperclassmen, who without even realizing it, are immediate images of sophistication and fashion for young girls everywhere.

I’d like to blame the Bratz; I don’t know if I can. Which is why when Kira speaks next, I try not to laugh out loud, as it is the most quintessential support of my claim.

“You should probably just be home schooled,” Kira says finally, looking Carly in the eyes. “If you’re home schooled you’ll be much happier and you can wear whatever you want without worrying about impressing the boys.”

“I’m not trying to impress any boys,” Carly says offhandedly.

“Yes you are,” Kira says directly. “We all are.”

And perhaps “why?” is the question I should be asking next.

Heather Newberger is a sophomore IMC major who has some serious issues with the art direction of the new Bratz movie. Email her at hnewber1[at]ithaca.edu.

Whaling Wall Matthew Farrell
Chow Feng Shui Josh Elmer
Stained Glass Ceiling Emily McNeill
Anarchitect Mike Berlin
SaHarrison Desert Harrison Flatau
Metrolollipopolis Jennifer Konerman
Tropic of Scurvy Heather Newberger
Copy Editors Danielle Sherwood
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Chief Residents Abby Bertumen
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Front cover and back cover of print edition by Jake I. Forney.
Section dividers of print edition by Jake I. Forney and Justin Lubliner.