“When I see my daughter in drop-dead gorgeous mode, I experience something akin to a thrill—especially since I myself am somewhat past the age to turn heads.” That’s Jennifer Moses admitting to living vicariously through her hot (ew?) 12- or 13-year-old daughter in a piece for the Wall Street Journal titled “Why Do We Let Girls Dress Like That?” I can only assume the “we” in the title refers to Moses and her wealthy suburban friends, but I know “that” manner in which their children are allowed to dress includes “minidresses, perilously high heels, and glittery, dangling earrings, their eyes heavily shadowed in black-pearl and jade.”
What any writer shares is based on her cultural and personal experiences, so it’s no surprise to me that Moses, who lives in a “cushy East Coast suburb,” looks around to find a sea of 12- and 13-year-old girls dressed as she has described. But where I grew up, in the cold, financially depressed, rural area of Central New York, you’re much more likely to look around and see 12- and 13-year-old girls in eyeliner, sure, but covered from head to toe in cotton or flannel. That flannel may say PINK on the butt, but it’s unlikely to say JUICY, since there’s really nothing couture about cow country.
Moses, on the other hand, sees the posh mothers she’s surrounded by – and herself – as encouraging their daughters to dress “like prostitutes” as a way for “the feminist and postfeminist and postpill generation” to avoid looking like “hypocrites.” But parenting is all about being a hypocrite – to the extent that it’s about trying to impart to your children the wisdom you gained by making mistakes in your youth and hopefully helping them avoid the same pitfalls. I went through a short-lived pothead phase in college – does that mean I should pass my daughter a loaded bong on her 18th birthday so I don’t look like I’m preaching double standards?
Of course not. In fact, I plan to encourage my daughter to avoid drugs, because I can tell her from experience that while smoking pot can be fun, I’m also quite sure it sent me flying head-first into a year-and-a-half long thrill ride of horrifying panic attacks. (I know, I know. If only I’d searched for better weed! I’m sure they’ve only got the kindest bud where Moses lives, so her daughter will be fine.) All kidding aside, I’m not here to bash Moses for telling her truth – there’s been an awful lot of ripping Mommies a new a-hole in the past week or so for sharing their thoughts and feelings with the world. (See Kate Tietje’s confession about loving her son more than her daughter and some of the reaction it’s gotten.) Instead, I’m here to challenge Moses to admit that the whole hypocrisy line is a little hard to believe in light of the fact that our job as parents is to try to prevent our kids from making the same dumb decisions we did. If Moses really regrets being overtly sexual as a young woman – as she claims to – then she should tell her daughter that. The problem is, the bigger part of Moses enjoys seeing her daughter dressed like a cute little slutty doll, and I think she just doesn’t know how to let that be okay. Because maybe it’s not.
I’m really not the best person to ask about women’s clothing and where it crosses the line from flattering to foul because I think I look sexy in jeans and a t-shirt. I almost never wear skirts or dresses and though I do from time to time avail the world to the glory of my rack, it’s not exactly big enough to hang your hat on. In other words, I know nothing about dressing “like a slut,” nor do I judge other people for doing it. I think the question every woman should ask themselves every time they get dressed is not only “How do I look?” but “How do I feel?” If you feel good in what you’re wearing and you’re covered enough to be in public, God Bless You. (I’m not really into fashion rules, uniforms or workplace attire, either. Because in addition to feeling sexy in a t-shirt and jeans, I also feel office appropriate, which is why I’m so happy I’m a blogger. My home office is proud to celebrate pajama Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Bra-wearing is discouraged.)
I do, however, generally feel concerned about young girls dressing in a way that comes dangerously close to revealing lady bits because I’d bet 9 times out of 10, those girls don’t feel great in an itty bitty teeny mini – they feel like it’ll make them “attractive, sought-after and popular,” as Moses says – and seems to be fine with. She rightfully asks, “What mom doesn’t want to help that cause?” Yes, every mother wants their child to feel loved and accepted, but I’ll speak for myself when I say I’m not willing to pay that kind of price. I don’t want my daughter to feel like she has to be part of a trend – or worse yet, that she has to show parts of her body she might not be comfortable with showing – in order to fit in. I think ultimately we have to teach our children that if they respect and love themselves and others, they are sure to be treated in kind. In other words, what you wear shouldn’t have that much to do with who you are. I totally acknowledge that dressing is a huge part of self-expression, but we should all be dressing in a way that declares, “This is who I am,” not “This is who I think you want me to be.”
The real problem with Moses’ essay is not that she admits to enabling her daughter’s questionable wardrobe choices, but that she seems to have not fully, uh, fleshed out her thoughts. Moses is sort of saying that she and the other mothers she knows feel bad about having been “sluts” when they were in their 20’s, and so she doesn’t understand why – ostensibly – she’s raising her daughter to wind up being “the campus mattress” by allowing her to dress in a revealing way. I think that’s a really interesting idea worth exploring, and I only wish Moses had delved deeper into her subject matter. Why does she regret having slept around? (As someone who never slept around before marrying young, I’m curious about that, especially because I’ve considered retroactively living out my “slut phase” now that I’m single, but I honestly feel like it’s probably not worth the ensuing drama. After all, I do have a daughter to think about.) I’d also like to know why Moses assumes wearing a miniskirt at 13 will automatically lead her daughter to be promiscuous. Not that I disagree entirely, but I think a woman’s level of sexual activity is influenced by more than her wardrobe. (This jeans and t-shirt girl lost her virginity at 16. I have friends who likely dressed way “cuter” than I ever did who saved it ’til their 20’s and even age 30.)
It seems to me that Moses should truly come clean about her own feelings about sex and then talk to her daughter about them. If Moses feels that her daughter’s closet needs a cleaning, then she shouldn’t be afraid to clear her hangers of items that don’t have straps. Ultimately, maybe the answer is that Moses will continue to feel conflicted, wanting her daughter to both be desirable and sheltered. I don’t know. As for me, I plan to dress my daughter in safe, charming, sweet, matching Children’s Place attire for as long as she’ll let me, and then go from there. I also plan to teach her that when it comes to dressing, the only person she needs to impress is herself. And, well, her mother, of course.
Source: Why Do We Let Girls Dress Like That? – WSJ