August 2, 2010

"This is what being a little girl is all about... if only the Miley Cyrus lookalikes of today could follow suit."

Commenters respond to a photograph of a girl in Pennsylvania, taken by the great fashion blogger, The Sartorialist. Was it ethical to photograph this child? Did she dress this way as a matter of style, or is she just poor? Does she represent some ideal that we should emulate today or is this a weird flashback to our lost past? Are there little details — unintentional? — that trendy urbanites can adopt — the juxtaposition of patterns? The rolled sleeves? The dirt? Do we see a character from a storybook? A religious devotee? What does the expression on her face mean? Do we read in it a rebuke to the little girls we actually know?

71 comments:

BAS said...

She's probably Amish, not poor.

jayne_cobb said...

I'd say Mennonite.

She was likely just outside playing or something.

Florida said...

I find this young woman amazingly beautiful and her fashion sense strikingly reminiscent of a time when women were women in this country.

She is striking; Earthy in a way that you just know your mother was back in the 40s and 50s.

"I just want to be her." writes one female commenter, echoing, I'm certain of it, the yearnings of many women today who would gladly trade the drudgery of modern life for bare feet and the sweet smell of summer corn and the moist Earth
s scent tilled up by a strong man, a loving husband and a good father.

This girl exudes the America we wish we could return to; the America that's being destroyed right before our eyes.

I fall in love with this girl every time I see her; on every farm-to-market road I've ever traveled.

She is the most real person I've seen on The Sartorialist in a long, long time.

Florida said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
caplight said...

She's Mennonite and she has been working in the vegetable garden on the family farm. That's not poverty. It's hard work.

traditionalguy said...

Home sewn dress and barefoot but well fed. The goodness of growing up in a farm life 70 years ago still attracts us, but why? Is it the family life and the safe world created by communities of believers in rural churches? Or is it the closeness to the land?

Fred Drinkwater said...

The image reminds me of several chapters from Leslie Peltier's autobiography "Starlight Nights" about growing up as a farmboy. A fascinating book both as a slice of life and time, and also as a history of one of the foremost amateur astronomers.

WV: "chbom" : (abbr.) Child - Bill Of Materials: everything you need to relive your grandparent's life in Nebraska

Florida said...

Oooohhh ... there's more:

http://thesartorialist.blogspot.com/2010/08/on-roadroute-45-woodward-pennsylvania_02.html

They're into the real America now. I wonder if they'll ever want to come back to fake New York.

former law student said...

Was it ethical to photograph this child? Did she dress this way as a matter of style, or is she just poor?

I would hope the Sartorialist had obtained the parents' permission -- a strange adult who commands stranger children to pose for them would be exceedingly creepy.

Does wearing a pinafore over your dress signify "poor" to people? When I was a kid we had "play clothes" that could stand up to a certain amount of hard play, that dirt would not ruin.

Does she represent some ideal that we should emulate today or is this a weird flashback to our lost past? Are there little details — unintentional? — that trendy urbanites can adopt — the juxtaposition of patterns? The rolled sleeves? The dirt? Do we see a character from a storybook? A religious devotee?

I see a little girl dressed as a little girl, and I hope Calvin Klein with his creepy children's clothing ads does not try to make something of it.

What does the expression on her face mean?

She is thinking, and wondering when the photography will be over.

Do we read in it a rebuke to the little girls we actually know?

She is happy in her own skin. If your little girls are likewise happy while wearing whatever clothes they wear, that's fine.

rhhardin said...

She's been pulled away from her blog.

TMink said...

If that is a public street, I think it was ethical.

Trey

HKatz said...

I also think she looks at ease with herself.

What does the expression on her face mean?
She has an expression that makes her look older than a little girl; something knowing about her face. A bit guarded too.

No, this isn't something that can be replicated just by wearing certain clothes. She is who she is because of her character and circumstances.

""This is what being a little girl is all about... if only the Miley Cyrus lookalikes of today could follow suit.""

I prefer how she's dressed rather than how Miley Cyrus dresses for sure... but it's not good to trade in one form of imitation with another without understanding what you're doing, as a sort of quick fix. The commenter would have to examine what is meant by this is what being a little girl is all about and actually think about it rather than just react on the spur of the moment.

or is this a weird flashback to our lost past?
Many more people grew up in farms in the past, that's true. But we've always had cities and factories, where plenty of children grew up (often in less wholesome circumstances than in the outdoors). That's also part of the real America and our history. We can think fondly of the past or seek to recultivate some of its values without turning everything into a golden image of pastoral perfection.

Florida said...

The juxtoposition of these photos to that a few posts down at The Sartorialist is just amazingly surreal.

rhhardin said...

The legal deal is that if it's a picture of a person doing something for the doing of it, eg. frisbee at the beach, you don't need permission to publish. Not, for example, here's a picture of Jon Stewart playing frisbee, which depends on its being Jon Stewart.

This meets that. She's being a girl.

And looks like she's been asked, so there's even permission.

I don't see an _ethical_ issue beyond the legal one. She's not made pathetic or anything for some purpose she's unaware of.

edutcher said...

She looks like almost all little girls in this country once did. In fact, she could be watching The Army of Northern Virginia on its way to Gettysburg.

At least she has some character. Most of the little clothes horses today don't have that. Too much without having earned it.

mrs whatsit said...

We aren't talking about fashion sense or poverty; that lovely child is probably Mennonite, possibly Amish. The dirt on her skin reflects hard work in the family garden, not poverty. Where I live, there are many such children in their print dresses and rubber-band-fastened braids and old-fashioned aprons -- or, if they're boys, in overalls and straw hats. I'm not sure how Mennonites feel about cameras, but if she is Amish, it was decidedly unethical to photograph her: around here, the Amish ask politely not to be photographed and duck out of sight when people point cameras anyway.

I passed two buggies full of Amish children on our country road last night, all gazing gravely at me as I steered carefully past on the narrow country road, trying not to spook their horses with my Subaru. I couldn't help wondering whether I looked half as strange and fascinating to them as they looked to me.

mrs whatsit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mortimer Brezny said...

I much prefer Miley Cyrus to this girl.

former law student said...

rhh: this is a portrait, not a candid photo of a scene with a girl in it.

If an adult stranger posed your little girl for pictures I would hope you'd find that to be out of line.

ricpic said...

If she's Amish she'll never see this picture. If she's a Mennonite she can surf the web and might be reading all about herself right now on Althouse.

former law student said...

No seamstress has commented, so, along with the print fabric, the piping and the ruching on the pinafore argue against her being one of the Plain People.

Revenant said...

The goodness of growing up in a farm life 70 years ago still attracts us, but why?

Because we didn't have to live it.

mrs whatsit said...

Precisely, Revenant. I live on a farm (though a modern one) and long ago lost patience with the romantic burblings of city people who've never attempted to do the work they love to sentimentalize.

As for the piping, ruching and print on the dress, FLS, those are the indicators that she's Mennonite, not Amish. There's now a group of pictures on the site clearly showing that the children photographed are Mennonite and that an adult was present and, presumably, consented to the pictures.

Rhodamine said...

Definitely Brethren (Mennonite)

Which are happily thriving of late, along with the Amish.

She's lovely.

Revenant said...

Thanks, mrs whatsit. The dewy-eyed nostalgia for a life that never existed in the real world irritates the heck out of me. :)

Synova said...

She's wearing a uniform. Except that it doesn't look like a uniform so we don't reflexively reject it.

The value of a uniform is that it expresses nothing at all about an individual. That's why we're drawn to look more closely at her face and expression, at her poise and posture.

When we express our individuality so *hard* with our clothing, we move everything to the surface and make ourselves superficial.

That goes for Mr. Paris Shorts Boy in the other thread, too, even though he's not dressed outrageously.

David said...

Who does the girl's makeup?

I say it's posed. Planned and posed.

Almost Ali said...

I wonder if the girl or her parents will ever see this picture - where one day she was minding her own business when along came a city-slicker offering her candy.

J said...

That dress is pretty (OK, insanely) flashy for anybody who's Amish. Mennonite maybe, or somebody who lives around a lot of them. Or it's a posed shot with a model.

"That goes for Mr. Paris Shorts Boy in the other thread, too, even though he's not dressed outrageously"

My guess is if Paris Shorts Boy messed with this little girl, she'd make a dent in the earth with his face. Right before she squashed his round sunglasses with her bare foot.

"What does the expression on her face mean?"

That photographer looks like Paris Shorts Boy.

MadisonMan said...

That's 20 miles from my parents' house.

Beautiful child. I wonder if I know any of her relatives.

DADvocate said...

I have some similar pictures taken in Adams County, Ohio. They're called Amish. I guess the Mennonites don't wear the little hats the Amish do. Most of the Amish have a natural beauty, or handsomeness in the male case.

Windbag said...

Look how wide her feet are. I'd wager that she spends a good deal of time barefoot.

pm317 said...

Wow, I am taken aback by the some comments here and in the original blog. People gawking at her as an alien specimen, some with patronizing comments and some others thinking they are making some big artistic pronouncement. Leave the girl alone!

ironrailsironweights said...

What about all the adult women who strive to look like little girls? You know what I mean.

Peter

Palladian said...

"Wow, I am taken aback by the some comments here and in the original blog. People gawking at her as an alien specimen, some with patronizing comments and some others thinking they are making some big artistic pronouncement. Leave the girl alone!"

Leave Dorothea Lange girl alone!! Leave her alone!! I'm serious!!!

kalmia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pm317 said...

Palladian, I had to look up who Dorothea Lange was (I am of foreign extraction -- don't know the things you would know assuming you're of a natural born American status without any fake BC) -- though I should say I have seen her famous picture of that depression era woman with pain/hurt/indignity writ large on her face.

Here there is no such story from the photographer himself except that the gawking commenters are making up some inane one line comments/stories which are not worth telling. It is more of an invasion of that little girl's privacy.

Christopher said...

Gotta laugh a little bit at some of the reactions to this photo as some kind of exotic marvel. Glad to see others here identifying her as likely Mennonite. Amish and Mennonites are a common site in many parts of rural Pennsylvania, as is this look. As a point of interest, Woodward is in the same county (the creatively named Centre County) as Penn State's main campus at University Park/State College. On part of my drive from Washington DC to my Dad's place in northwestern Pa., I often stop to pick up a pie or cookies at a house where Mennonites have a little bakery.

God bless her in any case.

MadisonMan said...

Woodward is most famous for its Cave. That and Indian Caverns (and, of course, Penns Cave) are the three underground rooms in that part of the state.

DADvocate said...

Gotta laugh a little bit at some of the reactions to this photo as some kind of exotic marvel.

I agree. Where I live I run into Amish people in Walmart all the time. There are at least 3 Amish communities within 25 miles of where I live. They live clean, good, simple lives and make great baked goods. Although that's a gross over-simplification.

I love the way they always pay cash. A few years back a group bought a farm at auction for $600,000. They had the cash in coffee cans in their buggy.

Methadras said...

I find it to be a beautiful photo of a beautiful young child. Something about the look on her face makes me feel good, like there really is fairly pristine beauty to be found where you least expect it.

madeleine said...

I saw an Amish or Mennonite family in Whole Foods on Saturday. Funny--I thought they were the ones growing the organic stuff the rest of us buy at the store!

Jason said...

She's lovely.

The photo reminds me of this wonderful childrens' book:

http://www.amazon.com/Roxaboxen-Alice-Mclerran/dp/0688075924

former law student said...

She looks a lot like a guy (of German ancestry) I used to work with, which is why I have trouble with those assessing her as "beautiful."

Jason said...

That's because, fls, you have your head up your ass.

amba said...

My first thought was: Amish. (but Mennonite is probably more accurate.)

My second thought was: do you know how it hurts to have your hair braided that tight? Maybe that's why she looks kind of sad and wan -- her braids hurt. Her mother made her sit still for it.

reader_iam said...

Anyone remember the mocking from/in parts of the blogosphere of one of Rick Santorum's daughters crying upon his defeat a few years back? "Fashion" was part of the justification of that mocking, as I recall.

Quaestor said...

Mortimer brezny wrote: "I much prefer Miley Cyrus to this girl."

And I suppose you much prefer Cheez-Whiz to stilton as well?

wv: confi - deceived into a false belief that one is comfortable.

Revenant said...

And I suppose you much prefer Cheez-Whiz to stilton as well?

You people have very active fantasy lives surrounding this girl.

She's dressed that way because that's the way her parents' religion says she should be dressed. Would you automatically assume she was a better class of woman if she was wearing a burqa? Of course not. The same people praising this ostensibly sainted girl's virtue would be grousing about Islamic oppression of women.

Anyone who looks at the way a person dresses and thinks they can guess the person's character is a jackass.

Methadras said...

Revenant said...

And I suppose you much prefer Cheez-Whiz to stilton as well?

You people have very active fantasy lives surrounding this girl.

She's dressed that way because that's the way her parents' religion says she should be dressed. Would you automatically assume she was a better class of woman if she was wearing a burqa? Of course not. The same people praising this ostensibly sainted girl's virtue would be grousing about Islamic oppression of women.

Anyone who looks at the way a person dresses and thinks they can guess the person's character is a jackass.


For me, it's not how she dresses, but it's her demeanor in the photograph. It's the way her hand is clasped, which for me conveys a certain humility from her that appears genuine. Plus it's the colors and composition of the picture I enjoy so much. I can see how the artsy types would or could go on fawning about it that can rile up the appearance of jackassitude.

reader_iam said...

It's the way her hand is clasped, which for me conveys a certain humility from her that appears genuine.

You see clasp, I see grip. You see humility, I see disciplined assertiveness.

Most likely, neither you nor I know what the hell we're talking about. Not really.

Quaestor said...

My point about the Cheez-Whiz snark is this: Miley Cyrus is virtually an industrial product. Thanks to dear old dad she's been reared and groomed for "show ring" as surely as any Arabian horse. She's followed by a retinue of handlers, managers, designers, producers, costumers, make-up artists, choreographers, etc. who all contribute to the brand.

In contrast the Mennonite girls lacks fame, fortune and acclaim, but possesses authenticity -- an increasingly rare quality, sad to say...

michaele said...

I love her hands...they look capable of real work.

Class factotum said...

I live on a farm (though a modern one) and long ago lost patience with the romantic burblings of city people who've never attempted to do the work they love to sentimentalize.

You mean they really don't want to get up at 4:00 a.m. every single day to milk the cows and then do it again in the afternoon? Or bale hay in the hot sun? Have to use an outhouse in the middle of a northern Wisconsin winter? Can all their own fruit and veg?

I know that's why my mom and her six siblings all left the farm. They knew what was involved. City life is much easier.

Quaestor said...

And what's in that wagon, blackberries by the quart perhaps? Note also that mother is barefoot too. I for one wouldn't choose to pick blackberries in bare feet; 'tis a thorny problem, brethren.

wv: paphaimr - the cantankerous old sourdough turned rabbi who lives in the shack down by the abandoned mine, oy dagnabbit!

Shanna said...

My second thought was: do you know how it hurts to have your hair braided that tight? Maybe that's why she looks kind of sad and wan -- her braids hurt. Her mother made her sit still for it.
Good point Amba. At least she doesn’t look like her clothes itch. Maybe they don’t, but every time I see pictures of the amish I always think their clothes have to itch and that would be the worst!

I think people just romanticize girls wearing dresses. They look cute, but she’s obviously been working/playing hard and she probably would have been more comfortable in pants or shorts. I agree with synova about this being a uniform.

Drew said...

Little girl in a dress with dirty feet? What's unique about this? The only part of her wardrobe that makes her look any different from my own young daughters is the apron, or whatever you call that. Otherwise, yeah, this is what I come home to at the end of the day. Two lovely girls, bare feet (and dresses, which they prefer because they have decided on their own that pants are for boys) dirty from playing outside.

Maybe it's the "outside" part that throws people. When you have malls and food courts and movie theaters and iPods and iPads and Ninetenelevendos by the dozens, who ever sees kids playing outside anymore?

Drew said...

She's dressed that way because that's the way her parents' religion says she should be dressed. . . . The same people praising this ostensibly sainted girl's virtue would be grousing about Islamic oppression of women.

While it's tempting to see such an outfit and brand it a uniform of religion, the fact is we don't know anything about this girl. You see the dress and see an oppresive religion. I see one of my own kids (and we're modern, city-dwelling Lutherans).

Trooper York said...

If Mort was awake he would be all pervy.

Wait a minute....

former law student said...

That's because, fls, you have your head up your ass.

OK, I guess "John" was beautiful, then, because his facial features and hers are so similar.

Does that make me a big gay man?

Fred4Pres said...

The photographer should have had the sun behind him.

She is a pretty girl and has nice long braids. It is a look that was common from, say, the mid 1800s till the 1950s.

My six year old has hair like that. She loves her hair.

LordSomber said...

Do we see a character from a storybook?

"A Girl Named Sooner"

rsb said...

It's just a good picture of a young girl isn't it? Nothing more or less.

Revenant said...

In contrast the Mennonite girls lacks fame, fortune and acclaim, but possesses authenticity

Authenticity? As Synova pointed out yesterday, the girl is wearing a uniform. That's not authentic. She is dressed that way -- by her "handlers", as you would put it -- specifically to portray a certain image. In her case, an image of simplicity and humility.

You want authentic? I had a party at my house a while ago. There was a little girl there in a Dora the Explorer shirt. That's authentic, because that little girl really does love the Dora character. That outfit told you something real about that little girl. This girl in the picture? Her outfit just tells you something about her parents.

It is a good picture, though.

dbp said...

I have an old picture of my mom from when she was about that age and she looks a lot like that; serious, long braids, long dress etc. The picture has got to be around 65 years old.

Wendy Kloiber said...

It's the Sartorialist's policy to ask subjects if he can photograph them, right? If they agreed, where's the ethics problem?

I see these pictures as having a lot in common with his earlier picture of Thea (a 16 year old in a blue blouse and white culottes.) He mentioned that he was hesitant to ask Thea for her picture, but did because he wanted to show it to his young daughters.

I actually read it as support for little girls I know (particularly an 8 year old who wears aprons to school every day, because she finds them both beautiful and convenient.)

Who was the architect recently who told a roomful of people they lived in "stuffed animals" - i.e. remodeled industrial buildings that his listeners loved for the remnants of their former function and meaning? I feel like a lot of the comments in the Sartorialist post reflected a similar stuffed-animal emotional response.

Methadras said...

Class factotum said...

I know that's why my mom and her six siblings all left the farm. They knew what was involved. City life is much easier.


Once you see what running water, a sewage system, and refrigeration can do, well, everything else seems to pale.

jamboree said...

Poor kids don't dress like that. They wear Marshall's workout gear and knock off trainers. The most dominant feature in any Section 8 apartment seems to be the enormous flat screen TV.

It's not the 1930s. Her parents might make her dress that way. No she doesn't represent an ideal. I realize she's an ink blot, but she looks miserable. Don't romanticize misery because it comes in a quaint package and Miley's uberrich freedom gives you the vapors and you'd like the past to be silent and well worn instead of garish and opulent like it actually was (apologies to Joan Didion.)

She could be faking it, but I don't think so. Mine wore her prairie hat and dress from going to a frontier town field trip, but she had the ipod poking out.

reader_iam said...

I realize she's an ink blot, but she looks miserable.

In contrast, there are kids who *look* all happy and are enabled but who, statistically and historically speaking, in more recent terms, *are* miserable, in more than one senses of that word. That is the far more terrible thing. If you don't think that's so, why don't you think that's so?

wv: drumstu

Over to you, fellow steady beats-keeper.

Julie said...

Farms these days generally do have running water and flushable toilets, not outhouses.

There is always a certain segment of the population who says liking the farm is simply being nostalgic for a past that never existed mostly because we never had to do the hard work that it involved. But...

I live and have almost always lived in the rural West. I know lots and lots of people who are doing everything they can to keep working their family ranches and farms. Often, these days, that involves at least one person working a "city job" and tending the farm or ranch in the evenings and on weekends. We still can our own food, and it's work, but it's good work. Many of the kids who grow up on these ranches and farms fully intend to stay on them and keep working them alongside their parents.

My grandma grew up on a farm in Depression-era Missouri. The work was too hard, the life too rough, so she took her kids and moved to the city. City life was easier in some ways, but she regretted giving up the farm. For one thing, being poor in the city means struggling just to feed your kids; on the farm, the kids were almost always well fed. For another thing, you just trade dirty hard work for pollution and commuting stresses.

This is the life I've grown up with (although as a little girl, I wore pants mostly, but I was barefoot and dirty and in braids like this girl in the photo), and now my husband (who also grew up on a farm, but in Japan) are looking at buying our own little farm. I want to milk goats in the morning and can peaches in the afternoon. I would be OK with never shopping in a supermarket again, personally. I kind of think some of you are romanticizing city life. It ain't so great, if you ask me.

Little Towhee said...

Reading these comments makes me realize just how many people are out of touch with the real Americans. Some of you here comment like you're elitests.

Trust me, she's as sophisticated as your public schooled brats.