It is difficult to recall exactly what one wanted as a 4-year-old.
More than likely, I wanted whatever my 7-year-old brother had. That might have included a bow and arrow, a football, but most likely one of those Indian heads made out of a coconut.
If I'd had a big sister instead, I assume I'd have wanted whatever she had. The very things I later acquired, a Barbie doll, a Bride doll, a Palomino -- you know, one of those plastic horse models that lined the shelves of girls who never got a real pony. (Ah, yes, the girls who never got a pony. We are legion. We're still bitter, Dad.)
In any case, I am quite certain that never -- not in my dreams, not in my fantasies, not in my most magnificent make-believe moments -- did I ever want a lace bra with matching ruffled bikini panties.
Which makes one wonder just what is going on over there at Christian Dior.
The good folks at Christian Dior have recently come out with a new lacy ensemble for the preschooler. That's right, teensy-weensy bras and panties -- in lace and ruffles -- for the teensy-weensy girl in your life.
Now she can put on her makeup and paint her nails while dressed just like the mannequins at Frederick's of Hollywood.
Hmmmm, isn't that special?
The impetus behind this absurd marketing move allegedly is the desire of little girls to look like their mommies.
I don't know who these mommies are, and I don't know who these little girls are. Most mommies I know save the lace and ruffles for those times when 4-year-olds are sleeping. And most 4-year-olds I know are too busy learning how to skin the cat to concern themselves with lace-and-ruffled bras and panties.
The promotional material for Dior's new underwear shows three little girls looking wistfully innocent, with their hair tied in bows and their faces made up just enough to suggest a modest flush.
They are wistful, no doubt, in memory of innocence lost.
The image is disturbing for reasons that shouldn't need explaining to any literate adult. For any literate adult has read countless newspaper stories of little girls who have been sexually molested by people who would love nothing better than a 4-year-old in lacy, ruffled bikini panty and bra.
Do we really need to encourage the notion of little girl as sexual plaything?
Some might argue that little girls like this sort of thing. Maybe they do. It is natural for children -- boys and girls -- to dress up in "grown-up" clothes. But do we have to provide them their very own sizes?
Little boys might also like to own a gun like Daddy's or wear an athletic supporter just like Daddy's. That doesn't mean we give the little dickens his very own designer jock strap and a rifle.
Such comparisons fall short of the real issue, anyway. It's not a question of the appropriateness of imitation. The issue is imposing on little girls the ages-old concept of woman as vamp, woman as wistfully innocent sexual object.
Some might also argue that this is much ado about nothing. But what are we telling a tiny child when we give her a bra?
A little girl whose parents encourage her to wear a lacy bra and panty learns very quickly that playing sexy is a way to please. And meanwhile, what does Daddy say? Isn't she cute? Ah, my little girl is getting to be a big girl. It won't be long before ...
What does that mean? Before what? Before she's showing other people her underwear? What good are lace and ruffles if no one can see them?
The real question is, why are we as a society so eager to encourage a child barely out of diapers to dress and act like a grown woman?
Little girls are shortchanged on childhood. Boys are still playing war and discovering new ways to hit a ball when girls have to face the facts in an alarmingly vivid way. Menstruation has a way of bringing the carefree days of girlhood to a screeching halt.
Suddenly, girls have to keep track, be responsible, think ahead, come to grips with the fact that they are now capable not only of playing with babies, but of having them! Boys, meanwhile, are blithely kicking a pebble down the sidewalk, baffled by the somewhat less-troublesome issue of why exactly girls like all that lacy stuff, anyway.
In fairness, couldn't we let little girls be little girls just a few minutes longer?