This morning, while walking near my office, I saw a family with a girl of maybe 15 or 16 who was wearing a halter top and short shorts. As I continued to walk, I passed a couple and overheard the female saying “Look at her… There’s no way I’d let our daughter out looking like that. What’s wrong with those people, letting her out looking like a slut?”. It nearly broke my heart when I saw the girl’s head twitch slightly in the couple’s direction. She’d heard them.
This got me thinking. Was there something wrong with those parents? Were they wrong to let their daughter dress that way? Presumably they also bought and paid for that outfit as well, so were they actually encouraging her to dress that way?
As a father of a young daughter, I admit, I’ve had similar thoughts to that couple in the past. I’ve seen young women out and about and thought “Nope, I’d never let my daughter out looking like that”. My daughter is my princess and I’d never let her degrade herself by dressing so inappropriately, especially in public. But wait… I’ve also encouraged my children to be whoever they are and express themselves. Is there a limit on self-expression? Do I, as their parent have a right to say “Ok, that’s enough self-expression. You’re fine right there. Now go put some jogging pants and a giant sweater on”?
The answer, as I now see it, having given it some serious thought, is “No”. Although I am my daughter’s father, guardian, mentor and friend, I have no right to tell her to cover herself up. I’m not going to shame my daughter into dressing in burlap sacks just because I think that every lecherous eye on the planet is going to gravitate towards her when she leaves the house.
In the media, we read accounts each day of girls who are (in every case, undeservedly) fat shamed. We read accounts of rape victims and there’s always the one commenter or (in some cases, horrifyingly) reporter who utters the phrase “Well, look at how she was dressed. She was asking for it.” Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Oh my sweet, gentle *insert deity of choice here*, so WRONG!!!
If my daughter grows into a 500lb woman, I’ll never tell her she should diet. I will help her lose the weight if she is unhappy and asks for my help. If my daughter grows into a woman that current society regards as the epitome of beauty (that “ideal” being 110lbs or thereabouts, at least as far as I can tell from watching TV), I’ll never tell her to eat a meal or try and stuff her full of cheeseburgers. Finally, if my daughter, regardless of her size, wants to wear a halter top and short shorts, I’m not going to keep her inside or force her into an outfit from the wardrobe of the Paper Bag Princess.
Why? Because I’m her father, guardian, mentor and friend and I trust her to make informed decisions, based on how she feels about herself. Because I am all of those things to her, I know that my words carry much more weight for her than they may do for me. If my daughter is happy, then all I can and should do is remind her that I love her.
If my daughter becomes half as self-confident as that young woman I saw today, I’ll be proud. That girl wasn’t “flaunting it”, she wasn’t “asking for it” and she most certainly wasn’t trying to be a “slut” (which, by the way, is, in my opinion, the worst word in the English language). What she was, in my opinion anyway, was a very self-confident girl who dressed to reflect her positive self-image and visually express her happiness with life. Were her parents wrong to encourage this? No. I believe they were great parents who (I assume) trusted their daughter to make informed decisions about how she presents herself to the world and encouraged her positive self-image.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the girl had a horrible self-image and was using the clothes to project a false sense of confidence. Maybe she was looking for attention from all of those lecherous eyes. But is it my place to judge? No. Not for a strange young girl on the street and not if it were my own daughter.
If, instead of judging others or shaming our (or worse, others’) daughters, we spent our time teaching our daughters that no matter how they present themselves to the world, no matter their size, no matter their physical appearance, we will always love them and respect their choices, I think our daughters will turn out just fine.
Let’s all just stop projecting our prejudices or pre-conceptions onto our daughters and let them become who they are going to be. Remember, who they grow into will be a direct result of how much we show them that we love, respect and trust them. If we show them those three things, how can we go wrong? If they feel loved, trusted and respected, how could our daughters be anything other than happy, self-confident women?