I saw the disappointment reflected in my youngest daughter's pre-adolescent eyes each time we ended yet another unsuccessful shopping trip for clothes. Pants were too short, waists too large, or the styles were totally out of touch with her active lifestyle; shopping for new clothes was quickly becoming a chore rather than what should be a fun activity to do together. As a mother of three daughters, I had travelled this road many times before.
As each trip to the mall ended in futility, I began to wonder what this outward defeat was doing to my daughter's inward self-esteem. I could see the frustration all over her face, but how was it making her feel inside each time she looked in that changing room mirror?
Was she assertive enough to look beyond the ill-fitting clothes or was this series of negative experiences slowly chipping away at her self-image, making her feel like something was wrong with her body? At such an impressionable young age, I couldn't stand for the latter to be true.
And so I did something about it.
Now, as the founder and CEO of a pre-teen clothing brand, I find myself on the front lines of mother-daughter shopping trips every single day.
The struggles haven't changed. Young girls are still battling with their changing bodies and in this Instagram-era we all find ourselves living in, you might say the challenge is greater than ever to combat typecasting and negative body stereotypes.
The upside to these changing times is that they've also ushered in an increased awareness about pre-adolescent self-esteem and as I first realized more than a decade ago, fashion can be a very powerful tool to this end.
Depending on how things look or fit, fashion can augment a young girl's deepest insecurities or be a tool for helping her realize her fullest potential. An ill-fitting pair of jeans can quickly become a metaphor for weight-loss while a low-cut tank top can magnify a pre-teen's anxiety over the size of her chest.
The truth is that girls' bodies are designed to grow and change shape throughout their formative years and it's natural and perfectly normal that they do so at different rates. So it's no wonder that the long-held standard in kids' fashion that a size 10 is ideal for a 10-year-old is potentially damaging to one's self-esteem. It's completely out of touch with reality.
With 400 actual pre-teen girl's measurements in hand, I was determined to understand what the realm of diversity truly looked like in this age group. What I discovered, was that the range extends wider and narrower, taller and shorter, than what typical brands encompass.
So in that moment when a girl forms an opinion of herself in a change room mirror, if her dimensions don't conform within a narrow and limiting definition, she can feel excluded from her peers. She may find that she has to shop in little girls' stores or teenage stores, neither of which have the same aesthetic, which can be crushing to her body image. Girls want to align themselves with brands at this age, and to be shunned by a brand because it doesn't fit, is just one more negative message playing inside a girl's head that can lead to harmful behaviours.
By taking care to truly understand this girl, we created our own proprietary size range that doesn't have typical labels. No XXL or XXS here. We sew fun, function and fit into every piece of clothing, so that the noise about their bodies being wrong could stop.
Recently, a 12-year-old arrived in our store, after just having had a disappointing experience at another tween store where she couldn't find anything that fit. Encouraged by our team member, she was given some help and before long, had her arms loaded up with clothes. As she left, she exclaimed "This store makes me feel beautiful!"
The fashion industry bears a great responsibility in shaping how young girls perceive themselves and I don't take that responsibility lightly. I know firsthand that properly fitting and purposefully-designed clothes can help an impressionable tween believe that her body is beautiful and strong enough to do anything she wills it to do.
Girls have the power to change the world and with the right encouragement -- starting in that changing room mirror -- they will see that endless potential reflected back on them for years to come.
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