Brigit 1

Short shorts and midriffs: dressing our daughters

According to WebMD, girls begin a growth spurt around age 9 or 10, with the fastest growth around age 11 or 12. Typically, girls grow about three inches per year during this period. That’s what happened to my youngest child this past year.

At the beginning of summer, it became obvious that my eleven-year-old daughter needed new clothing. She is at the tail end of a long line of six brothers and a sister who is thirteen years older. She isn’t familiar with the time-honoured tradition of hand-me-downs. For her, a trip to the mall is a necessary, sometimes expensive occasion.

Have you shopped for an eleven-year-old girl lately? Have you, like I, wondered  why it has become acceptable to dress our daughters in clothing that is too short, too tight, too revealing, too adult? Our daughters (and sons)  are constantly subjected to overtly sexualized images and ideas, and clothing selections reinforce this disturbing way of thinking.

In the spirit of turning of all things into good, what could have been a disastrous shopping experience became a lesson in modesty and self-respect, thanks to a reasonable eleven-year-old girl and some maternal determination. As we rejected more and more pieces of barely-there clothing, we talked about how our clothing choices can convey the wrong message of who we are and the type of people we want to attract. We discussed how clothing can enhance our appearance in a dignified, modest way and how our overall appearance is important to our self-image.

Two days and two malls later, we had enough outfits to satisfy her budding, tasteful fashion sense and my always vigilant mom-meter. Thanks to the availability of young women’s size zero and extra small in some of the retail chains, we bought stylish skirts that end at a decent but fashionable length, shorts that don’t look like underwear, jeans that don’t cut off circulation, and tops that actually cover her midriff. Admittedly, she hasn’t yet reached adult height and that’s why the clothing fit her appropriately. I’m not looking forward to clothes shopping when she’s a fully grown teenager.

It seems to me that sending letters of complaint to clothing manufacturers and retail stores will not change what they sell, and learning how to sew an entire wardrobe isn’t realistic for most of us. But with some common sense and determination, we can use a potentially bad shopping incident to teach our young daughters that their self-worth isn’t measured by how much skin they flaunt. It isn’t determined by how closely they resemble the clothing and actions of barely clad women in music videos. Nor is it defined by an undue focus on physical appearance.

Along with training them to develop an eye for stylish yet appropriate clothing, a day at the mall can teach our daughters that dignity and attractiveness start on the inside and that the charitable disposition of heart and mind is the most important element of beauty. We can explain that people will discover how beautiful they are if they aren’t focused on an overly-sexualized appearance. We can urge them to treat themselves well because they are loved and valued. And we can remind them that the gift of being a cherished daughter of God is mirrored in the beautifully appropriate way they present themselves to the world.

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