Teen wardrobe controversy.
Recently, one of my favorite psychologists, Lisa Damour, the author of Untangled (see the book on Amazon here), posted something on Facebook about how to address your preteen/teen daughter’s wardrobe choices. And wow! It stirred up some controversy on her Facebook page! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, because everything seems to stir up controversy these days. Below is what she posted. And you can listen to the relevant podcast here.
If you have ever read anything I have written, you know I am the mother of a teenage daughter. She’s 18 now…almost 19…and a month into her freshman year of college. She has always been a “real” teenager. She likes to have fun. She likes to spend time with friends. She likes to laugh. She likes to go to parties. Somehow, between all the fun, she manages to do the things she is supposed to do too. Thank the Lord.
She’s the perfect daughter for me, but does that mean she’s perfect? No. I’m not the perfect mother or a perfect person, either. But somehow, we survived the middle and high school years. Does that mean we never disagree? Nope. We disagree. When she was younger, we even disagreed occasionally about wardrobe choices. And just like Lisa Damour, I tried to find a way to say things nicely. Was I always successful? No. Sometimes, I probably said things like, “You look like a hoochie mama.” I know. Not kind words, but they got the point across, and chances are, they probably started a “discussion.”
Even when she was four years old, she had a mind of her own. This is not a story of which I am proud, but it happened. One Sunday morning, as we were getting ready to go to church, I said to our daughter, “Pick out which dress you want to wear.” She argued, “I don’t want to wear a dress. Everyone else doesn’t wear dresses to church.” You know what I said next. “Well, I’m not everyone else’s mother, and we wear dresses to church. Now, go into your closet and pick which one you want to wear.” Her dresses were beautifully organized (back then) and hanging in an orderly fashion in her closet. I followed her into the closet, where she promptly and defiantly touched each dress with the tips of her fingers, while saying some things I won’t repeat. ***Here is where I need to tell you my husband had a brain tumor at the time and because of it, lacked judgment on when and where to say things. He had no filter.*** I’m not kidding. I was horrified (I knew where she had heard it), but I also found myself about to laugh. I made a quick decision to ignore the obvious ploy for attention. I turned my back for a moment before turning around and asking her, “Did you pick a dress?” She did, and I never mentioned the offensive language to her, because I didn’t want it to get any attention. I did, however, tell her preschool teacher (at our church!) the next morning when I dropped her off…gave her a heads up that my daughter, my sweet little 4-yr-old daughter, might teach her classmates some new words. Lord, help us.
We didn’t have much wardrobe controversy for several years after that. I had given up on ruffles and bows long before…when she, at 1 1/2 or 2, declared they were “for babies.” I did manage to get her to wear a hair bow for picture day in Transitional Kindergarten, but only because I told her she could take it out immediately after pictures, which she did. In third grade, on picture day, she didn’t want to look prissy. That was a bit of a battle. We finally agreed, much to my dismay, on a blue t-shirt with a sequined pocket. Sadly, it’s the picture that appeared in the school lunchroom on her checkout page every single day when she made a purchase…all the way through senior year…that damned blue shirt with the sequined pocket.
When she got to middle school, I’m sure I had to veto some ensembles, but not likely because they were skimpy…just not appropriate for the occasion, whatever it might have been.
Then along came high school. She got taller, and the clothes got smaller.
The shorts got shorter and tighter. The shirts got tighter and shorter. The heels got higher. It happens. Frankly, I probably would have been more worried about her if it hadn’t happened. And yes, there were times I had to stop her at the door and say, “You’re not wearing that.”
Some people think we shouldn’t expect our girls to be responsible for what other people think of how they dress. I get it, but I’m not one of those people. I think there is a time and place for everything.
When our daughter was in high school, if she wanted to wear short shorts and a crop top or tube top, that was fine…as long as she is just hanging out with her friends. She didn’t need to walk into better retail establishments dressed like that. She didn’t need to go out to dinner dressed like that. She didn’t need to meet parents of dates dressed like that. It’s simply not appropriate, and I don’t think it gives off the impression she wants to give in those situations.
She’s in college now, so I only get pictures after the fact. I have no say-so. I have no opportunity to nix an outfit choice, but so far, I’ve been pleased with the photos she has sent me. Generally speaking, she knows what is appropriate and what is not.
Come on. Let’s face it. What we wear does say something about us. Every time I get dressed to go somewhere, I am very aware of what I look like. Sometimes, I am dressed like a casual mom, and I know it. Sounds silly, but jeans and a gingham shirt are not going to a fine dining establishment. A comfy, cotton dress? That’s not going either. Sneakers? Nope. I can wear all of those to the grocery store, a sporting event, or for running erands, but if I’m going to a fine dining establishment, I want to dress like I know what I’m doing.
Even when I go to the doctor, I tend to try to dress up a little. It’s about respect, right? I don’t have to be a beauty queen, but don’t we all know people get treated with a little more respect when we look like we have made some effort to look our best? I can’t speak for everyone, but if I look good, I feel good. It’s just the way I roll. If I’m dressed sloppily, I tend to feel sloppy.
So yes, I have been known to stop my daughter from walking out the door dressed in certain ways…when she was younger. Don’t get me wrong…I’m pretty easy going. But if her date’s parents are coming over or picking her up for dinner, she needs to look like she wants their respect. I think this is what school dress codes are all about…teaching kids how to dress appropriately, but most schools don’t seem to care anymore. Later, when our daughter goes for a job interview, she needs to look like she has some self respect.
If you don’t respect yourself, how do you expect others to respect you?!?
If you don’t respect yourself, how do you expect others to respect you? That’s my message to her. Fortunately, this is not a conversation we have had much in the past couple of years…mostly when she was a young teen.
So yes, I agreed with Lisa Damour’s post. Not everyone did, and that’s OK. We all have our own opinions, and that’s what makes the world go ’round.