I’m a father of two girls. I go shopping with them often. Let me say it simply: It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find modest clothes and bathing suits for my daughters.
The fashion world is putting the pressure on, nudging young girls to get too sexy too soon. But most kids are on board. They’re simply following the fashion of their role models.
The question many parents and youth workers have is: where do we draw the line? We could be like the one mom we all know at church that always dresses her daughter in Amish-like apparel. I know her daughter well (I’ve met hundreds of them). When she turns 18 she’s going to rebel completely. She’s already started. Or I guess we can do the opposite and be like the overly-permissive parents of many of the girls we see on public high school campuses– girls who hardly wear anything at all.
Parents have a choice to make. Are they supposed to sway to either of these extremes? Is there a modest balance?
Youth workers have an equally difficult choice to make. In the U.S., it’s more difficult the next couple of months. The weather is hot, and that means bikinis, shirts with spaghetti straps, and other revealing attire. (As I sit here, my girls are at church camp- a camp that doesn’t allow two piece bathing suits. Some of the girls from our church literally didn’t have one-piece bathing suits. This can be a tough rule to enforce)
A FEW THOUGHTS: (first I’ll link a couple great articles on the subject, then we’ll talk about what parents can do, then I’ll touch on how youth workers can set guidelines)
David wrote a really powerful article on this subject this week, Short Skirts, Short Shorts and Short Shirts. Here’s just a snippet:
According to their article published in the research journal Sex Roles, of the 5,666 pieces of clothing studied, 31% of them had “sexualized characteristics.” The sexualization of the clothing was usually in the form of “frequently emphasizing the look of breasts” or bringing “attention to the buttocks.”
We know that watching sexy TV shows has a direct correlation to early sexual activity, as does listening to sex-laden songs. But is there also an effect on girls who wear clothing that’s sexual? The researchers claimed that “Dressing girls in this way could contribute to socializing them into the narrow role of the sexually objectified woman.” (CLICK HERE FOR THE ENTIRE ARTICLE)
Some great discussion has transpired in the comment section of this article. I encourage you to check it out and/or join in.
I think parents inside and outside of the church are growing frustrated with some of the companies that are “selling out” to this kind of “oversexualized” clothing for young girls. A while back I blogged about an ABC news report titled, Too Sexy Too Soon, with a great video on the subject. Some parents are getting fed up with this “corporate pedophilia.”
So how can parents set guidelines?
First… I don’t think we need to over-react to either extreme mentioned above. Personally, I don’t see the need to wrap up our girls head to toe. I’ve had a conversation with my girls about the way they dress because of the simple truth that it affects the guys around them. I’ve talked about how “visual” guys are and how much bikinis and revealing tops can affect them. These have been good conversations.
Does that mean that we never have disagreements about apparel in my house? Ha! We have to remind my girls quite often. (I actually talk about this and some guidelines we use in greater detail in my book, Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent)
But Lori and I don’t just give up. We’ve set realistic guidelines and we’ve explained why they exist. My girls (13 and 15) are pretty cool with that.
What about youth workers?
How is a youth worker to respond when it’s summer camp and a girl shows up in a revealing two piece? (not that all one-peices AREN’T revealing!)
I actually addressed this on our ASK THE SOURCE page when a youth worker wrote and asked about a situation where they were trying to figure out a dress code for church activities, and how to approach kids that didn’t follow the code.
Here’s a snippet of my response:
I also think you can handle a lot of this one-on-one. If you see someone wearing something risqué, you can have a female staff talk with her. I would use discretion and be sensitive to “unchurched girls.” You don’t want to scare a kid away from the church over a bathing suit. And let me assure you- the world has no problem with small swim suits.
I spoke for a church last year at a one week water-ski camp and they had a similar rule about bathing suits. Sure enough, a few girls wore risqué suits. I saw two female staff approach girls about this. It was interesting to see the difference in the two approaches. When someone first voiced the concern, the two staff girls spoke up. The first announced, “I have no problem telling her to change. Where is she? Watch this!” I think this staff girl was a little more excited about the chance to enforce her power than she was caring about the individual. The girl’s reaction was not good. Not surprising.
However, the second staff lady handled her situation quite well. She was one of the mothers on the trip and when the situation arose, she simply said, “I’ll talk with her.” You should have seen her gentle approach. She just walked up to her, put her arm around her and said something to her about “a pretty girl like you doesn’t need any more help getting guys to look at you.” Then she joked with her. “Why don’t you wear this t-shirt this week over that suit and have mercy on some of our guys.”
I remember that incident well. It’s amazing how most situations can be defused when you and your team of leaders pour on “love.”
So what do you think? How are youth workers and parents to set these guidelines? Where do you draw the line?