Clothes-Shaming Our Teens

Last week, my take on young girls, high heels, and bikinis generated a lot of dialogue - ok, mostly disagreement - from my fellow moms.  So it seems worth it to dig into this topic again.


Here’s a sampling of what other moms wrote:


“Call me a mommy buzz kill, but I am way DOWN with mini-heels (I'm looking at you, Suri Cruise...)”


“My 4 year old daughter still wears SPF 50 shirts and thigh long shorts on the beach and I swear she'll have to be a teen to even consider a bikini. She is a kid -- not a mini me. I want her to stay a kid while she develops and figures out the world. There will be plenty of time to figure out how to be a woman later on.”


“The ‘sexed up’ clothes, shoes, makeup that seems to assault the senses everywhere you go is alarming.”


“What I want to know is...who is purchasing this stuff?”


“My daughter is a girl whose body was sensual from the time she began to develop. She had friends in middle and high school whose bodies weren't as sensual. Her friends could wear stuff that, on them, didn't exude sensuality or sexiness. My daughter could wear the exact same thing, and look ‘provocative.’ Some girls wear bikinis and it's just fine. Others wear bikinis and because of their sheer physical make-up, they look ‘hot.’ And also they may be completely unaware or, at least, confused that they give off cues they know nothing of and don't intend to.”


I agree with everything said.  But it’s a complex issue.  It’s easier when your daughter is four, and you can pick her clothes.  Harder when she is 14 and both of you want her to develop her own judgment.  Which is what makes bikinis, makeup, and other parenting dilemmas such Technicolor challenges - we’ve got no black-and-white rule book to follow.


I hear too many adults stigmatizing young girls with a kneejerk "showing skin is bad" message. Kids listen to what we parents say as if they have little tape recorders everywhere.


There is enough shaming of women and girls in our culture that we moms -- the most powerful influence in our girls' lives -- don't need to be piling on with our own "clothes make a girl a slut" messages.


Some kids (one of mine, in fact) take a long time to be proud of their bodies. My daughter is larger and taller than the other girls in her class. Last year, she finally wore a plain pink camisole top to school after years of wearing baggy long-sleeved shirts. She looked cute and appropriate and totally a kid.


I was so proud. (And relieved.)


Then at school, one of the teachers -- in front of all her classmates -- told her she was dressed inappropriately, even though the school does not have a dress code that bans cami tops.