My daughter is eight at the time of this writing. Her wardrobe, besides being fabulous, can best be described as eclectic. It’s a dress one day, followed by running shorts and a tank top the next, followed by an ever changing mix of leggings and long tops, and swishy shorts and boots, and skirts with knee-high socks, and other various combinations that I haven’t even imagined until I’ve seen her put them together. Last week she wore one of her dad’s t-shirts as a big boxy dress, and believe you me, she rocked it.
One thing she does not do is dress for me. Or for her father. Or for her peers. Or for boys. She dresses for herself, in whatever way makes her feel comfortable and confident and best able to take on the world as her own wonderfully weird and perfectly imperfect self. My wish for her is that that always continues, whether she’s eight or twenty eight.
To insist otherwise is to give in to rape culture, and to an increasingly misogynistic society that tells us that 1) girls are nothing more than sexual objects, and 2) boys are nothing more than walking penises, slaves to their animalistic urges. It is always amazes me each time that I again realize how equally disparaging this view is to both genders. Can we give ourselves a little more credit?
Women are more than the clothes they wear.
Men are more than hormonally-driven hunters, always on the lookout for the next thing they might want to have sex with.
Which is why articles like this one, by Shelly Wildman, are so concerning. Titled How Your Daughter Dresses Matters, she explains why as parents we need to be vigilant in ensuring that our daughters are dressed modestly (which sounds pretty difficult, since she estimates that 80% of what we see in stores is inappropriate.)
From the article, in response to a WSJ online article with a quote that said, “We wouldn’t dream of dropping our daughters off at college and saying: ‘Study hard and floss every night, honey—and for heaven’s sake, get laid!’ But that’s essentially what we’re saying by allowing them to dress the way they do while they’re still living under our own roofs.”:
Think about that. If, as mothers (or fathers!), we’re encouraging our daughters to dress inappropriately, that’s basically what we’re saying. At the very least we’re saying, “Here’s my daughter. She’s on display. Take a good, long, hard look at her.”
And a few lines later, in describing what the author says to the junior high girls she works with:
Dressing a certain way attracts a certain kind of guy. I doubt very seriously that the kind of guy you want to attract is the kind of guy you’re dressing for when you dress like that. Besides, you are above that. You are better than that. You deserve better than that. So dress for the guy you deserve.
First of all, thinking of your daughter in terms of her hypothetical sex life is gross and inappropriate, to say the least. I don’t care what she’s wearing or not wearing. Second, if a parent is equating a specifically dressed daughter with an object on display… the problem lies within the parent. This is going to sound harsh, but that excerpt literally filled me with revulsion.
Our children are not our possessions to display, nor are they puppets with which to act out our own ideals about what is and is not “appropriate” when it comes to attire. They’re humans.
As for the “encouraging our daughters to dress inappropriately”, there is a very big difference between respecting autonomy and encouraging inappropriateness. And who decides what’s “inappropriate” anyway? You? Me? The church elders? “Appropriate” attire is completely subjective, and it’s both unrealistic and arrogant to think that we can define it for someone else. I would never encourage my daughter to dress in a way that feels inappropriate to her, or uncomfortable to her, or inauthentic to her.
What I will encourage? Self-respect. Self-love. Self-confidence. An intrinsic need to think, and act, and dress out of a deep respect for herself... not for me, not for you, and certainly not – as the second quote advises – to land the man of her dreams. Sorry (#notsorry) current eight year old boys who might one day want to date my daughter: She’s not going to dress for you.
She’s going to dress for herself.
And I can’t speak for the rest of the moms or daughters out there, but if my daughter does in fact choose to be in a relationship with a man: The man she deserves is one who doesn’t give a single wit about the clothes she’s wearing, and instead sees the person underneath.