Dear Jenny Jackson
My 10-year-old daughter goes to a school that doesn’t have a uniform, so every morning we have a constant battle about what she should wear. If she had her choice it would be low-cut singlet tops and short skirts or shorts. I don’t expect her to wear something from Little House on the Prairie, but I don’t like her looking cheap. It’s particularly difficult when “all the other mothers” don’t seem to mind. How can we navigate this minefield without every morning turning into a shouting match?
Isn’t it sad that there seems to be an almighty rush for our girls to grow up? And why does dressing provocatively seem to represent this for girls? This issue seems to be part of the early sexualisation of our children that’s so prevalent in our culture and advertising, and part, peer pressure. Our girls are getting bombarded with the message that somehow they’re not okay as they are and they should be hotter, older, skinnier, flirtier etc. What our girls really need is to be able to take their time growing up, enjoy being kids, not worry about pleasing the crowd or the current fashion but have the confidence to be themselves in all their individual and innocent fabulousness! But let’s get on to how to deal with this practically.
In terms of the school day shouting match, a great strategy is to get kids to lay out their clothes the night before – much less stress all round. If there needs to be any discussion about choices, it can happen when everyone is calm and not in a rush. If it comes up at an inappropriate time, let your daughter know you can’t talk about it now because it’s bedtime/school time but you’re happy to discuss it after school.
Back to the standards part of the situation, it’s a good idea to have clear family standards of dress – acceptable cleanliness and tidiness, appropriate standards for different occasions, and then ‘how much skin’ can fit in with this bigger picture. For instance, at the beach or at the pool, this much skin is okay, but anywhere else this much is okay. Perhaps a good rule of thumb is, “Bodies are private so no clothes that others can see down, up or through”. Encourage girls to wear clothes that allow for any activity they enjoy – can they play sport, climb trees, get muddy or paint in it? It’s great fun to dress up now and again, but what do they do most of?
Avoid like the plague any negative labels (you probably know the ones I mean!) or parental outbursts such as, “You’re not going out in that are you?” or, “Is that a skirt or a belt?” Approach these situations with calm and dignity. Try, “Sweetheart, that’s for the beach not for school. Come and show me when you’ve changed.” With any comment or request we make, it’s important to leave our daughter’s dignity intact.
Now may be a good time to begin a conversation with your daughter about how she wants to present herself to the world. You will probably need to come back to this topic several times. Ask her what she sees and thinks when she sees people dressed in different ways. What are her first impressions of others? What does she want others’ first impressions of her to be? The media provides a variety of opportunities here. Why not start helping her critique ads and TV shows? If she was that character how would she present herself and why? It’s most useful when we can keep these discussions about a genuine interest in what your daughter thinks, rather than turning them into a lecture! Remind her that she’s about way more than how she looks. Tell her how you see her – intelligent, brave, honest, funny, helpful etc.
I appreciated the advice about being clear what the expectations are in our family. We asked if our kids knew what our expectations were, and got some interesting responses. That led to a great conversation at dinner one night about what happens in other families, and what our daughter thinks about what some of her friends wear. It really helped to stay calm and pay more attention to listening to her thoughts, rather than rushing in with our opinions. This led to watching her favourite show together and discussing what characters on TV wear, and what she thinks of them. I can see how this will be an ongoing conversation.
We have also got ourselves more organised. Most outfits are chosen the night before and this has hugely reduced the tension in the morning. We love your mantra, “Nothing you can see down, up or through”. It’s no-nonsense and so respectful. Thanks so much for the great ideas.