It was the first week of school when my daughter came downstairs in a pair of dark black jeans from last year. They were tight. Not uncomfortably tight, but enough to make my mom brain wonder for a split second, Did she not have any other clean pants to wear?
Then it hit me: Oh duh, it’s a fashion statement.
The black pants were accompanied by a tank top, which showed just the tiniest bit of my daughter’s 8½-year-old belly. She topped the look off with her long blonde hair, which currently sports a green streak in the front, and a pair of black high tops.
Honestly, she looked pretty cool.
Still, I couldn’t help but think she also looked about five years older than her actual age (which I’m pretty sure was the goal in the first place). I had to remind myself not to comment. As a rule, I never comment on my daughter’s body. Likewise, I try hard not to comment on what she puts on her body. As far as I’m concerned, she can dress it as she pleases. It’s hers, after all.
I instantly went back to packing lunches and slugging my coffee, and before I knew it, we were about to be late for school. As the kids were grabbing their backpacks and scrambling out the door towards the car, I casually asked my daughter a simple question: “Are you comfortable in that?”
I meant it in every sense. Are the pants hurting you? Are you comfortable having your belly show at school?
She looked down at her carefully-crafted outfit and said, “Yup!” with confidence.
“Good!” I told her. “Let’s go, then.” And just like that, we were off.
In the moment, I was reminded of my own days getting to know myself — part of which was testing the limits of what made me feel good in my own skin. From rocking blue hair to wearing punk band T-shirts, black boots, and short skirts, I did it all.
My style evolved as I grew up and into myself, and watching my daughter do the same thing now just feels like a rite of passage. Nothing about what she was wearing felt wrong or too grown up or obscene in any way. It just felt like I was witnessing my daughter doing the same fashion experimentation I once did back in the ’90s; and I’m sure it won’t end anytime soon. She’s still got a lot of growing up left to do.
Still, I know plenty of parents, maybe even most, that would be hollering for their kid to go upstairs and change immediately after seeing what my daughter came down in that morning. And to a point, I get it.
I know it’s uncomfortable to watch our kids experiment, change their style, or even put on something that we think looks silly or improper. But I also know a girl’s confidence is a fragile thing, and I’m not about to shatter it. I’m not going to be the one to tell my kid that what makes her comfortable is wrong or indecent, and no one else should, either. After all, it’s none of our damn business anyway.
Too often, we adults think it’s our place to dictate to kids what is and isn’t appropriate to wear in public, and it’s usually a bit over-the-top when you really stop and think about it. School dress codes, which almost always target female students, aim to tell girls what they can and cannot wear based on outdated (and often sexist) ideology.
Don’t believe me?
Recently, one Florida student was suspended for wearing a pair of ripped jeans to school. Yeah, you read that right. And it’s not the first time we’ve heard about girls being sent home for ridiculous reasons relating to their clothing choices, either. Almost constantly, we see news stories of girls being sent home or suspended for having their bra straps showing, their shorts, skirts, or dresses being “too short,” and now … ripped jeans?
Honestly, where does it end? Because if you ask me, it’s nobody’s business in the first place but the girls in question.
Women and girls are constantly scrutinized for how we look, nearly every single day. We’re sent messages via advertising that tell us to be smaller and thinner and take up less space. We’re judged more on our beauty than our brains. And if we’re ever assaulted or harassed, we’re asked what we were wearing. That line of thinking, that placing of blame where it doesn’t belong, starts early — and it starts both at home and in school.
But I say we flip the script. We need to empower girls to make their own choices about what they put on their bodies, while also instilling that it’s not wrong or immoral to do what makes you happy and confident. Perhaps the thing that we should be worried about most as parents is a child’s own comfort level in their own skin, rather than everyone else’s comfort level with their particular fashion choices.
If my daughter keeps experimenting with her clothing choices — which I fully expect her to do — a disapproving eye might look her way from time to time. But it won’t be mine.
Luckily, she’s in this glorious stage of not caring what anyone thinks, because she’s pretty confident in her own decisions; and I sure hope she stays there, because I refuse to be the one to squash that confidence.
Instead, I’m going to keep on telling her to do exactly what makes her comfortable every single day. Because I know that the only way to find out what that is is to explore, to push the limits once in a while, and most importantly, to make your own choices about your own body. As parents, I think we should be the ones teaching our kids that it’s their right to do just that. Belly shirts and all.