Emily in a size 12-13 T-shirt
Calls for retailers to produce 'age appropriate' clothing for children – in particular little girls – are nothing new – parents, children's campaigners and even the government have all criticised retailers who sell overtly sexualised outfits. But one mum is calling for designers to go one step further and make more child-friendly designs across bigger age ranges.
For the past year, Karen Thomas, 28, from Tiverton, Devon, and her husband have found it almost impossible to buy clothes for their seven-year-old daughter Emily.
At 4ft 4inches tall, and weighing 5 and a half stones, Emily is hardly 'big' but has gone through a series of growth spurts which have left her parents struggling to find anything age-appropriate to fit her on the high street.
"At the moment she is wearing anything from nine to ten year old clothing through to 12 to 13 year old," Karen explains.
They are just blank, basic T-shirts because everything else in that age range is completely unsuitable for her age.
Karen says that even trying to find summer basics like shorts for Emily has been virtually impossible simply because once the sizes inch towards tween and teen years, the style changes.
"We have seen shorts where the crotch is actually lower than the seams that go around the bottom. The T-shirts have picture of ice creams and slogans like 'lick me' on – I just wouldn't buy them for her even if she was 12 or 13," Karen says.
Having been on extensive shopping trips around all the high street retailers, Karen feels that sizing is not reflective of the actual size of children. When she attempted to buy Emily a dress in a size 7-8, she said she doubted it would have even fit her when she was 3 or 4 – the skimping on fabric and cut of the garments making them much smaller than the actual children they are designed for.
The whole shopping process leaves Karen frustrated and Emily upset.
"She sees clothes that are for her age which are very pretty and appropriate – nice skirts, pretty little T-shirts with Tinkerbell or Disney princesses on and she wants them," Karen says, "But they only go up to a certain age and the biggest 'younger girls' sizes just won't fit her."
Karen says in the last few weeks she has been to Primark (result: two plain T-shirts aged 12-13) and H&M (result: nothing) as well as Tesco, Mothercare and M&Co. "Basically any high street store you would expect to go in a buy clothes that would fit a seven-year-old."
Emily in a 12-13yrs t-shirt from Primark
Karen acknowledges that higher priced stores do have what she considers 'appropriate' clothes for Emily – saying that both Next and Monsoon have outfits in 9-10 years which would fit her and be suitable for her age but, she says, it is just too much of an expense to be forking out £30 or £40 for an outfit that Emily will have outgrown in six months.
Another problem Karen says she encounters is the assumption from retailers that children from seven upwards want to wear clothes which are more suited to the tween and teen market. "They think all little girls want to wear T-shirts with slogans or brand names on, or that are cropped, or to dress in outfits consisting of hot pants and tights," she says.
"I think if I'd had Emily 30 years ago, the range of clothes would have been a lot nicer and more age appropriate. Most of the clothes we see in her age range – which do not fit her – are miniature versions of what teenagers wear, and that is not how we want to raise her."
Right now, Karen says, Emily is limited to one pair of trousers which are high waisted and elasticated, and a range of T-shirts.
"She has no dresses at all, which is a shame when she goes to parties and wants to look girly in a non-trashy way, but there is just nothing at the the moment that we can find."
Emily in her 7-8yrs jeans - too tight and too short!
The last time Karen took Emily shopping, the little girl was reduced to tears and even started asking her mum if she was fat.
"Emily got very tearful in one shop, and it made her very self-conscious. She is now asking 'Am I fat?' and becoming very aware of her body. Near enough every day she will say something about her size or her tummy – it has not put her off her food at the moment, but she is completely aware of what she is eating – she will say 'I'll have an apple because that is healthy' or 'I've had some water because that will help my tummy'."
Emily is also becoming frustrated at being 'different' to her friends at parties and on mufti days at school.
"She is a quite a lot taller than the majority of children in her class, and out of her friends," Karen says. "Although she does have a couple of friends her height, but generally, on non uniform days and at parties she sees smaller, shorter, maybe a bit thinner children in very nice pretty clothes which fit them, and it is upsetting for her as she is stuck in bigger, baggier, plain items designed for older children."
And, heartbreakingly for her mum, Emily has also endured teasing from other children.
"She has also had two children in the same group as her calling her fat and has come home in tears about it, and on one occasion a child called out 'Hi fat Emily' across the road to her – while I was there and while the other mother was there," Karen says.
As as difficult as things are now, Karen fears that shopping for clothes is going to get more traumatic as Emily gets bigger.
"I have a feeling things are only going to get worse. I worry about when she goes through puberty and starts developing even more. I don't want to have a 12 or 13-year-old daughter who will not eat her meals or is constantly being teased because she is slightly taller or a little broader than everyone else. And I can see in only a matter of a couple of years us having to buy Emily adult size 6 and 8s rather than 10-11 or 11-12.
I really do not want her to have to wear adults' clothes when she is still just a little girl.
So frustrating for Karen - and sad for Emily not be able to dress up like other little girls. Have you encountered similar problems on the high street?