Should Little Girls Wear High Heels?

Can the trend affect on girls' physical and emotional development?

Jan. 27, 2010— -- A growing trend in children's fashion is raising eyebrows -- and ire -- in communities all across America.

Little girls, some as young as 3 years old, are wearing shoes with heels, and not to play dress-up.

Suri Cruise, the daughter of the Hollywood mega-couple Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, has been photographed several times wearing shoes with little heels -- or kitten heels. Heels are also a must-have on "Toddlers and Tiaras," the TLC reality series about child beauty pageant contestants.

The heels aren't just for the famous. "Good Morning America" checked online and found hundreds of heels that were up to 2 inches high. They were being offered for girls as young as 3 months old.

Heels for girls have become very popular, and come in a variety of styles, Amanda Kingloff, the lifestyle director of Parents magazine, told "GMA."

Wanting Mom's Sophistication

"People say they're only for special occasions, for church, for weddings, but little girls are so into it," Kingloff said. "They want to show it off, they want to be as sophisticated as their moms."

But some question the trend, worrying that placing little girls in heels may jeopardize their physical development or place them in physical risk.

Kingloff said it's hard for little girls to keep their balance when they are wearing heels.

"It's just not practical, it's not safe," she said.

The trend does pose potential health risks.

"We're dealing with a foot that's in development, which means the muscles, the tendons and the ligaments are certainly not as strong at that age as they are at age 18," said Dr. Rock Positano, a foot disorder specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

There's also criticism that the fashion statement may send the wrong message, that it may sexualizing little girls.

6-Year-Old Wears Heels, But Only When Appropriate

What started as a game of dress-up for Samantha Fein's then 4-year-old daughter, Ava, turned into a request for her own pair of heels. The girl got her first pair of heels when she was 6 years old, and wore them to her kindergarten graduation.

Fein, a 38-year-old marketing executive, stressed that her daughter wears heels in moderation.

Ava dons the footwear only when it's appropriate for the occasion -- such as for going out to dinner with the family or dressing up for a party. The heels aren't worn at the playground, the San Jose, Calif., woman said.

"She's a diva in her own right, but she knows what is age-appropriate to wear and she knows that there's a time and a place for everything," Fein said of her daughter.

While sneakers are more common than heels, the trend is sweeping Fein's neighborhood.

"With very few exceptions, every little girls has walked through this door in some kind of high heels," she said. "We had a little girl here the other day in a diaper and flip-flop high heel shoes."

Trend Is Criticized

But some are asking if the trend is pushing little girls to grow up too fast.

Hundreds of "GMA" viewers weighed in online, and many said they believed girls shouldn't be allowed to wear heels.

Minetta in West Virginia wrote: "It's very inappropriate for little girls to wear heels! Let them be little girls, not little women!"

Kingloff said putting a child in heels is too much, too soon.

"I think it is growing up too fast. Childhood is for running and playing, it's not for having to walk daintily. We have plenty of years for that," she said. "We as adults wear heels and they're sexy and they make you feel good and we wear them when we dress up, when we go to work or when we go out on a date. And I think to see a child trying to embody that is just a little premature."

Kingloff said there are plenty of brands that make flat shoes that young girls will wear, and she advised that parents involve the girls in the shopping process and emphasize the features -- colors, glitter and bows -- that may make flat shoes fun and appealing.

"Your child will look adorable in any shoe. … And there's tons of brands out there now that are making really adorable things. I don't think a heel is what takes it over the top," she said.

Tips for Parents on High Heels for Little Girls

Limit heel-wearing to 2 to 3 hours a day, and never during athletic activity

Keep grown-up clothes in the dress-up pile

Just say no

"GMA" parenting contributor Ann Pleshette-Murphy says high-heels should be part of playing dress-up or special occasions for little girls, not part of their everyday wardrobe.

If it's dress up, that's great," she said on "GMA" today. They should be relegated to the dress-up pile... You're not a grown up, you can pretend to be a grown-up."

And although parents can try to keep their girls from wearing heels during physical activity, Pleshette-Murphy points out, "When are your girls not physical? They run around all the time."

Pleshette-Murphy is primarily concerned with the psychological message high heels send to little girls, saying they can "push a child to grow up faster than she's really ready to."

"I think it is a sexualizing thing," she said. "It really is not ok."

At the end of the day, it's up to parents to make the decisions about their children's wardrobes.

"When they're clamoring for it, just say no," she said. "Stick by it if you feel this is important."

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