The other day I was standing in line at Starbucks, and the girl in front of me was on top of her shit. She had the shoes I've been wanting, the purse I've been wanting, and a phone that I coveted. Her hair had been perfectly ironed that morning and her leggings/tunic combo had been artfully selected to reflect the current trend du jour. She ordered her latte in a bored tone that made it clear she'd ordered that drink a million times before.
And then she turned to her mom for some money to pay.
Because she was 12.
This is surely not the first you've heard of this phenomenon; anecdotal evidence abounds, and it was in the spotlight even more than usual today due to the Monday release of the American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls and the subsequent trend pieces in the major papers. Reading the Washington Post's take, " Goodbye to Girlhood," cemented two thoughts that I've been mulling over for the past few months.
1. Thank GOD for grunge.
If I had gone through middle school during anything like the current cultural moment, I would have had a nervous breakdown tryng to keep up with the level of sexuality involved in being a preteen right now. Fortunately, though, it seems like mid-90s society was basically scientifically engineered to camoflage my awkwardness.
When I was in middle school (1995-1997), the reigning trend in both music and fashion was grunge. As a result of lyrics like "I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me," our parents may have worried about our self-esteem, but they certainly did not worry about us getting pregnant. Angst poetry and self-loathing do not exactly breed hypersexuality. Middle School Lauren had a much better shot at fitting in than she ever could have had today.
First, there were the clothes. My body type at 13 could best be described as "not applicable." Although I suppose the flatness of my chest would have made it much easier for people to read "Your boyfriend thinks I'm hot" off of it, that would have only really served to expedite complete strangers' ability to laugh at the irony of mywearing such a tee. Fortunately for me, though, the formula for a great outfit in 1996 comprised some very forgiving elements (see graphic).
Do I need to explain why baggy jeans do a lot more for the walking 180-degree angle that serves as the body of most preteens than tight tank tops and low cut jeans ever will? Didn't think so.
The grunge mentality also saved me on the dance floor. Whereas the partcular body movements that currently qualify as "dancing" require coordination, confidence, and large amounts of bumping and grinding, when I was in middle school dancing was simple: it amounted to standing in a crowd and jumping up and down. I could handle that.
Bear in mind that I'm not saying that I was able to master even the simple trends of the mid-90s; no, I was still frightfully awkward. But by God, at least I had a chance to try and keep up. At least I could comprehend what it was that separated me from the cooler kids. These days it would just be pointless.
2. Dear sweet Lord, don't give me no daughters.
In my limited experience as an 'adult,' I have found that the single most effective way to actually make me feel old is to present me with a preteen or teenaged child. Seeing how much more advanced these young women are than I was at their age is intimidating, depressing, and confusing. But here's the thing: it's only been a decade. By the time I have kids, things will probably have progressed to the point where female babies are just taken from the delivery room straight onto the set of a rap video to be raised there. Or something. My limited, un-hip mind is incapable of even envisioning it. I'm just hoping for boys.