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'Just say no' to sexually suggestive clothes

Published on: September 01, 2004

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.

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