Voice | Learn about the issues | Tweens + Teens | Behavior + Discipline | Ages 6–10 | Ages 11–14

'Just say no' to sexually suggestive clothes

I went school-clothes shopping with my 12-year-old daughter a few weeks ago. A recent growth spurt has pushed her out of the girls department and into the world of junior fashions -- a change that has been challenging for both of us. "I hate shopping for jeans," she told me after her third visit to the dressing room. "They are all so tight. I feel like I can't move."

It has become more clear than ever to me why the modest clothing campaign of 11-year-old Ella Gunderson, our ParentMap hero last month, struck a chord with so many parents of pre-teen and teen girls. We have become desensitized to just how sexual the "latest looks" are, and to the message this clothing sends to both our girls AND our boys, who are already bombarded by sexually suggestive advertising, song lyrics and music videos at an early age.

A personal case in point: At a recent out-of-town baseball tournament for my 16-year-old son, one of his teammates was accompanied by his 16-year-old girlfriend (a trip approved by his parents and hers). She wore her pants and short skirts extremely low on her hips (we're talking pubic bone here) and her tops extremely tight and low cut. And of course, in the required 4 inches of space between pants and shirts, there was the sparkling belly button ring. She appeared that way during all group meals with the team of 14 boys and at all games and related team events that she attended.

Of course, that fashion is the rule, rather than the exception, these days -- at the shopping mall, at the movies and even at school. And my first thought when I see these girls is, "Why do their parents allow it?" (For the record, while I appreciate the efforts of middle and high school administrators to enforce a dress code, I certainly don't think it's their job to make sure my daughter -- or son -- is appropriately dressed!)

Let me be clear, I am not a fashion scrooge. My daughter dresses very fashionably, but she knows that there are limits on how low her pants can be and how high her shirts can ride up. And yes, I expect the discussions will get more difficult as she gets older and there will be a few compromises here and there.

But I believe that the standards and rules have to be set -- and enforced -- early, because every age group is exposed to it. One ParentMap staff member with a 4-year-old daughter was dismayed to see strappy dresses and tight tops being sold in preschool sizes. "Do tiny little girls really need platform shoes?" she asked. Some of my daughter's classmates -- also age 12 -- are already wearing a major amount of makeup and fairly suggestive clothing. And it begs the question (actually several questions!): Why are we in such a hurry for our girls to look older? Why do we give in to the pressure of advertising and fashion magazines and TV? Why do we rationalize that it's OK because "all" the girls dress that way? We are the adults -- we are supposed to provide guidance and advice, and it's our job to say no even when it makes us very unpopular with our kids.

True, it takes more time and effort to find jeans that are a little looser and tops that are a bit longer. But it can be done. Patronize stores that offer modest fashion choices. We listed several of those in the August issue of ParentMap and they are available on our Web site at www.parentmap.com. Another good choice is Land's End, which offers stylish yet modest girls clothes through mail order, online and through all Sears stores. And if you don't like what you see in a store, let the management know.

In the words of our hero, Ella Gunderson, "You don't have to be sexy to be cool." Amen to that. ™ Teresa Wippel is the managing editor of ParentMap.

There are no comments yet. Be the first to comment

Read Next