Fashion has been hijacked by our hypersexualized wake culture. The scope of it hit me this summer when I saw two young women near our home. The first was walking her dog with her boyfriend. She was wearing only a thong bikini. The second was standing at the bus stop. She was a very young, cute, fresh-faced girl wearing a red and black bikini that was attached to various garter belts, stockings, and complete with high heels. And this was the same day in a suburban neighborhood!
Now that it’s fall, there’s just a little less skin. It’s commonplace to see young women in the mall wearing lace-up shirts that expose a good six inches of skin from neck to belly button, allowing passersby to see half of their chest. This problem is not going away anytime soon.
Three of our daughters have become young women (with the others following close behind). We haven’t had outfits like the above, but there have been various forms of “expression” that have expressed too much in some way. My husband and I decided to sit down with the three oldest and discuss our house rules and the reasons behind them.
Before doing this, I searched the internet hoping to find some ideas for the conversation. There was a lot less than I expected, so I sat down and wrote down some ideas for the message we wanted to get across to the girls. (And soon I’ll be taking these basic ideas and talking to my younger children as well.)
We told the girls that we wanted to have a little meeting with them. I printed out my thoughts (below) and started with these ideas. We let the girls talk, of course, since it was meant to be a conversation, but it was helpful to have the thoughts on paper in front of us for times when the conversation strayed. Another thing we did was pick a time when everyone was relatively happy and pretty open to talking.
This is the message we convey to you:
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We’re so glad they can tell us about things that matter to them, and we really want to be able to talk about things, even if we don’t agree. It’s okay to disagree on some things. We can still love each other like crazy.
That is why we believe it is important to dress in a way that respects our body. You can also frame this as a question to allow for more dialogue and understanding of what they are thinking.
- It is GOOD to be comfortable in our own body, even in a bathing suit. We have nothing to be ashamed of. This is not about shame! You are so beautiful young women. You have great figures and we want you to dress in a way that highlights your figure. We are not suggesting that no one should wear ugly, baggy clothes. We want you to look good!
- We’re not going to talk about the fact that men between the ages of 10 and 80 have a real physical reaction to revealing their clothing because it reminds them of the sexual organs underneath. That is NOT the focus of this conversation. (You can either skip this part or say it quickly and not dwell on it. Teenage girls HATE the argument that they have to dress in a way that doesn’t provoke men. I’m sure they’d say, “Men just have to control their eyes! ” And honestly, this is not the main reason to dress with dignity.)
- The fact is that you all have HUGE value. You are indeed priceless treasures! Their personalities are all so unique. You are smart, talented, and destined to do great things in this world. Their clothing and behavior reflect this reality.
- Certain parts of our body are private because they are connected to sexual love (which is a beautiful gift humans have), but also a very private act and one that is only beautiful and true in the context of marriage.
- It’s hard to remember this because we’re bombarded with messages across shows, ads, and media that tell us it’s okay to show off our bodies. But what would you think of a woman who walks down the street in a see-through top and no bra or that she doesn’t wear a bathing suit bottom to go to the beach? Why is it wrong, but showing cleavage is okay?
- Even if a person is not naked in a bikini (or a tight top, short, etc.), that way of dressing draws attention to those sexual areas (so the “look” becomes about this, not about being comfortable in our skin ). And keep in mind that clothes look different on different body types. A two-piece swimsuit can be even more modest than some one-pieces. It depends on the cut and the type of body of the person. So it’s not about rules like skirts have to go so many inches above the knee, etc. We are all individuals and this must be assessed on an individual basis.
- We have to rebel against this culture that we are in that pushes sex as a recreational activity, dehumanizing people, treating people as objects to be used. Girls, you are leaders, not followers! (If you have any budding feminists, this is a good point to talk about further.)
- You have HUGE value – you are an incredible and priceless treasure.
So, in our house:
- We wear clothing that looks good, flatters our bodies, and is respectful of our bodies.
- This means… no cleavage or high stomach (especially at church or more formal occasions) or tight all over (leggings are fine, with a proper shirt)
- Exercise clothes are fine for working out. If you’re alone in a room, you can wear different clothes than if you’re going to a gym.
We love you very much. You may not understand or agree with us, but we tell you these things to help you become a mature, happy and confident young woman. We are doing this with her highest good in mind. What do you think?
Then discuss. Hopefully in a friendly way.
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All of that looks great on paper, of course. In real life, conversations rarely go as planned, so my husband and I went into this hoping for some blowback. And, yes, there were a few, but the conversation went pretty well. And, very important, we expressed how we felt to our daughters, trying to do it with love and giving them the fundamental reasons why we respect our bodies with the way we dress.
Now that the conversation is over, our goal is to continue to give them lots of love and keep the lines of communication open. Chances are one of the girls will have a hard time with some of these ideas. They are young and influenced by our culture and have a hard time understanding. So, we’ll have to remind them again. And again. We will also have to keep our word regarding the consequences.
in his book Thriving and Surviving Raising Thirteen, Anne Perrottet describes a case in which her daughter came out of her room in a dress that was too short and told her mother that her standards were too high. Ella Anne asked if she would like her to set the bar high or low. The girl gave up. She wanted the bar high.
Says Anne, “Believe it or not, kids really want rules, standards, and limits; They know they need them and they want direction, they need an anchor to pull them back if and when they need to.”
I have to be honest. Not all of my daughters would have responded as Anne did. But it doesn’t matter if they realize this now or in the future. In the not too distant future, they will mature, and if we have been kind and firm, they will understand and thank us.
One last thought: in many ways, women are more powerful than men. What women do, men follow. (Think of Adam and Eve.) This argument has been made by intellectuals such as Alice von Hildebrand, Gertrud von Le Fort, and most recently, Dr. Carrie Gress.
Our power can be destructive or a force for good. It may seem like a small thing, but the way women dress influences the others. This is not simply a disciplinary issue for parents. It has great cultural ramifications. Teenagers want to rebel and protest against oppression. In this area, let’s encourage that.