I am going to stick up for Ariel Winter here a bit. For those of you who don’t watch Modern Family, Ariel here is the 13-year old actress who plays the middle child of Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell. (You might also know her from the last season of ER, or voice work she does on Phineas and Ferb.) And she is getting a lot of Internet flack for wearing this gown to the Emmys last night:

A few things first: This photographs better than it did on the red carpet — there, it looked almost stuffy and matronly somehow, as if it belonged on someone forty years her senior; here you can see the delicacy of the lace, and the fact that it appears to be pink and not white (on E, we couldn’t tell), and the whole endeavor seems more girly. But the issue everyone has with it is her cleavage. People are clutching their pearls over whether she is showing too much boob for a 13-year old. And while, yes, that seems a bit young for boob, I kinda want to give her a hug this morning. Because, think about it: She’s 13. That’s the transitional age. That’s right at the beginning of that awkward period Britney Spears wrote about in “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman,” and as cheesy as it is to quote that in a sincere way, she’s, like, totally sagacious, y’all.  If anyone knows how cracked out that time can be, it’s probably Britney. So Ariel is playing out her maturation in front of everyone — she can’t control how her chest is growing, after all — which is a really tough row to hoe. Especially when your co-stars are these people:

Julie Bowen was in a plunging-neck slinky gown; Sarah Hyland had a sexy leg slit, and Sofia Vergara is Sofia Vergara. Imagine being Ariel Winter, being the youngest of that group, and being expected to take photos with them when you won the Emmy. Would you want to be in a Laura Ashley sash-waist dress, or something by Jessica McClintock with a bunch of flowers and a lace bib? Probably not. I don’t know if it was conscious, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the dress was an attempt to bridge the gap a little, shed the “baby of the family” complex — which I get; as the baby of mine, I can relate, like when I used to try to borrow my sisters’ shoes ad make them fit by wedging Kleenex in the toes — and feel like a semi-grown-up actress in a sea of majorly grown-up actresses. I am thrilled it’s not a micro-mini. I don’t believe the neckline is an attempt to sexualize her. I think she just found a dress that made her feel pretty and as if she could stand in that clutch of ladies without feeling like a kid who lost her way en route to the church luncheon. In short, I sympathize with where this girl is. And it makes me a lot more inclined to give her a (written) hug and tell her she looked pretty and not to worry about all the cranks. I mean, when I was 13, those spandex mini-dresses from Express were all the rage, and all my classmates wore them, and nobody seemed to care, and I think those were actually a lot sexier in concept (shudder) than this is. Her lady bits are protected. Nothing is going to fall out of place here. This is not going to turn illegal.

But since I ALSO understand the pearl-clutchers — if I had worn anything booby at that age my parents probably would have wanted to lock me in my room, and if I ever have a girl, I suspect I will feel the same — I want to put it up for a vote, and a discussion. Not to mention the dress’s merits on its own, regardless of the girl in it. Me, I wish Ariel hadn’t worn baby pink, with her skin tone, but I’ve come around on it and actually think it’s a very pretty gown, and one that might actually look twee on anyone much older. So: confusion! Let’s try and settle it.

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