My 7-year-old daughter wants a pair of UGGs boots, which cost $110.00. Where does she get the idea that this level of spending is even possible in our household? Certainly, she has not inherited her fashion gene from me. My only consent to fashion is not leaving the house wearing sweatpants, and I frequently break that rule for school drop-offs and pickups. I’ve been wearing the same pair of shoes for five years. They have a small hole (which is unnoticeable) and are only slightly cold on a wintry day. In other words, I prioritize utility over fashion in clothing.
I carefully explained to Maya my concerns about her desire for these boots. I borrowed from a lesson I use in my class on ideology, where I always use shoes as an example. How many pairs of shoes does anyone need, I ask my students. After they add up dress shoes, casual heels, sneakers, sandals, and slippers, they come up with a number between three and several dozen. I then give them the correct answer: one. I tried to make my daughter understand the difference between need vs. want and described how consumer businesses thrive on convincing people that they need things they don’t. However, she continued to insist that she needed these boots.
I figured the path of least resistance was to find a similar boot for less money. I discovered the Bear Paws, which at $40 seemed like quite a deal in comparison. They look like the same shoe to me (compare them by clicking on the links here and here). Of course, my daughter quickly pointed out what were unnoticeable differences to me but deal-breakers for her: the buttons do not look the same, and they have different brand names.
Ever the patient professor, I decided to try a different approach and explored the difference in cost. We went over what was $60 worth (two Lego sets for my son, or half of a week’s groceries for our family). “What would you spend $60 on, Maya?” I asked. Without a beat, she quickly responded, “On the Uggs.”
I called a close friend and expected her to side with me immediately, but she surprised me. If my daughter were asking for a non-fashion-related item, she argued, I would most likely give in, as evidenced by a previous purchase I made (I know she was thinking about the American Girl Twin double stroller. I admit it was a weak moment for me, but I’ve been able to catch up on so many emails while my girls played with that thing). My friend thinks my contempt for the fashion industry is fine for me but wrong to enforce on my fashionista daughter. How do you teach a 7-year-old about consumerism? Is it wrong to impose my fashion values (or lack of them) onto her? Am I dooming her to never fitting in, or providing her with an independence from consumerism?
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Anthropology Open Rank (Assistant, Associate, or Professor) of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts