“I think through the years kids are starting to feel older than they are and they want to express themselves in a more mature manner. Seeing older girls wearing more mature clothes I think has made them [middle school girls] think that that’s how they’re supposed to dress and they act upon it,” explains 8th grader Gianna Coppola.
When you compare what the current female high school student wore in middle school or even elementary school to what countless middle school girls wear today, there is a tremendous difference. Girls at the middle school are seen wearing extremely short shorts and tops that barely cover their stomachs. Yet these styles aren’t only seen in middle school, they’re featured on the covers of magazines, college girls in downtown Durham, at the beach, and all over practically every preteen to teen’s Instagram feeds. Not to anyone’s surprise, these trends are found at the high school too. “Shorts are much shorter, tops are tighter and skimpier than ever before. Anything goes!!” says middle school teacher Christina Hackett.
Going into freshman year of high school I felt pressure from my friends and upperclassmen to dress in more revealing clothing. I felt like I finally fit into the normal crowds of high school and the girls with thousands of followers on social media, but I also regret trying to show off my whole body to my classmates.
“I feel like there were definitely some stereotypes that pressured me a little bit to wear certain things. I would sometimes pick something out at the store that I liked and then felt nervous to wear it to school, afraid of what some people may think,” says Coppola. A countless number of girls feel this pressure from the people around them. According to http://www.girlsincyork.org, where a survey was completed in March 2006 and 1,059 girls were interviewed. 74% of these girls feel that they are under a lot of pressure to please everyone, yet 84% of them, disliked that this was true.
The Dove Self Esteem project is trying to help change these statistics, yet their website states that 98% of girls still feel there is an immense pressure from external sources to look a certain way, which is research shown from the National Report on Self Esteem.
Especially at the middle school age, girls are the most insecure. Girls come to the internal dilemma about clothes, hair, or makeup, between whether they like something or whether their peers may like it.
A common sentiment around 8th graders and incoming freshman is that as they grow older in age, they need to try to transform themselves into an older looking person. One main way of doing this is through the art of makeup. “I thought makeup was something I needed to begin wearing more of going into the high school. During middle school, I never thought to really experiment with any,” explains Anna Haight (‘19).
One seventh grade girl, Tess Brown, adds, “I do feel like because of today’s standards a lot of younger kids are wearing makeup.” But how are these girls discovering makeup more easily than when I was in middle school? The “cool” thing to do amongst everyone I knew was to dig through your mom’s makeup bag and use your fingers to smudge sparkles wherever necessary and brush whatever else looked interesting onto your face.
But many girls have found a new way around stealing makeup from their mothers, and avoiding comments such as “What are you wearing?” as they walk down the stairs in the morning. “I have seen a handful of girls come into school with a clean-scrubbed face only to take a few minutes in the bathroom and come out with mascara, eye shadow, and lip stain. I think the girls think that mom will never know!” Explains Hackett, recapping her recent experience. And most of the time, they never do.
“I think that social media and my peers around me tend to affect what I wear. I often find cute styles or trends through social media. I follow a lot of clothing models on Instagram and they are a good way to get outfit ideas. I think I get a lot of inspiration from models and older people,” said Vivian Keegan (‘21). Models on social media known as “Public Figures,” denoted by Instagram and themselves, draw the most attention to preteens and teens. They tend to wear minimal clothing, and live the “ideal” lifestyle as models or sponsors for brands. Comments on photos of these influencers such as Alexis Ren consist of, “Can I be you?” or “I love your outfit.”
While children begin to grow up and increase of age, so does the eye for fashion choices. The more popular a clothing trend is, the more likely it will be all over the internet or social media. Therefore when something becomes popular, everyone is seeing it, not just those whom it may apply to. There is no limit for what can be viewed on social media at a certain age. You can be viewing models in tiny bikinis or the shortest of shorts as long as you have an account or if their profile is public, all you need to do is an internet search.
The real question is, whether middle school students are following these trends and figures because they are appealing or because they feel like in order to be ‘popular’ this is how they must act?
“In elementary school most people didn’t care about how you dressed or your clothes, but as people matured, like going into ORMS it became more of a priority. I think the same thing happened with most of my friends as they got older, they dressed more maturely,” explains 8th grader Brooke Thompson. The prioritizing of outfits, friends, and school work is one aspect of middle school that students must juggle. But the middle school population seems to focus on appearance more than anything. “My favorite quote about middle school is: ‘It’s the only place you can hear conversations about coloring and sex in the same hallway,” explains Cathi Stetson, a former middle school teacher.
Your age, your body, and your mind’s speed of maturing plays a role in the attractiveness of a clothing trend or the new makeup look is to you. “I think what caused people to change what they wear is because they now care about what others think and are much more self conscious than when they were younger,” explained Thompson. A recurring issue in the teenage, or even preteen years, is being uncomfortable with how you view yourself. Currently an outlet, or way to escape the underlying thought of disliking how you may look or feel, is to try to feel older. Dressing in a more mature level, is helping boost the self esteem for many young students. When you feel like you look good, you feel better about yourself.
“I didn’t try to dress well or in any specific way because there weren’t many people you had to look good for or even try to impress. But as 7th graders you aren’t the oldest, but you are considered to be an older kid in the school so you feel the need to look better,” said Keegan. The idea of looking better than you had in recent years is a substantial reason for why many girls are trying to change themselves completely and all at once as they approach the end, and for some the beginning of middle school.
As for the male population in middle school, one reason behind why many girls feel the need to look their best at school, they take note in the change in behavior and attire. “Around the end of 6th grade was when I realized girls started to dress up more than in previous years,” says Andy Carlson (‘21). In terms of males’ maturity and trends there seems to be less of a change, than that of girls. “I don’t have much preference on whether or not girls wear makeup except sometimes I believe it is a bit excessive,” says Carlson.
Social media, along with siblings, and fashion trends will continue to influence students’ mindset and maturity throughout the preteen and teenage years. “I feel like middle school and elementary school have many things that make them different, people are growing, friends are growing apart and meeting new people, people are changing their senses of style and we’re just all becoming new people,” says seventh grader Brown.