I received this question from a reader the other day about girls and clothing. I thought it would make a great topic for a blog post because, honestly, it’s something I’ve struggled with too.

“I have two daughters, 4 and 7-yrs old, and am thinking about when I will have to start policing what they wear. Really, the bigger question on my mind is how to do this in a way that is constructive, honest and fair to my girls. I feel like I have one real chance to approach the topic of body image, and then there’s no going back.”

Concerned in Calgary

First off, as a mom of three girls, I believe you will have many opportunities to talk about body image, so don’t feel it’s a ‘one and done’ conversation.

But I know exactly where this mom is coming from…even with much older girls, I still find myself asking similar questions about clothing:

Is it ok for my daughter to be walking into Starbucks in dance clothes? The crop tops and Daisy Duke shorts are a huge fashion trend right now…am I ok with that? How do I tell her in a respectful way to cover up?

Here’s why I find this issue such a challenge. We spend so much time these days trying to encourage our daughters to accept and love their bodies just the way they are. We promote messages of health and fitness and teach them that their bodies are strong and capable of doing so many great things. We tell them to be proud of their bodies.

Yet…as soon as they start developing, we put the brakes on. The mom instinct kicks in and you want her to cover up! You can see her body is changing and while she’s still your little girl, you know that others may not be viewing her that way.

There’s been a lot in the media lately about body shaming. This article  made the rounds last year in which the mother made no apologies for the clothing her daughters chose to wear. In the name of promoting body confidence, the mom defended the dresses which some viewed as too revealing.

So, it made me wonder…by asking them to cover up, are you doing them a disservice? By advocating modesty in public are you sending a message that they now need to be embarrassed or ashamed of their body?

According to Julie Freedman-Smith of Parenting Power, every parent will have a different comfort level with what is considered “appropriate” dress. Asking them to cover up or change the way they’re dressed (boys too) isn’t body shaming, you’re simply helping them learn what kind of dress is appropriate for what social situation.

“At various ages and stages, some things are acceptable,” says Julie. “Running around naked with a diaper on was fine at a certain age, but running around in your underwear (as a teen) is not, because it’s not socially appropriate.”

Here are some other ways you can handle the discussion with younger girls:

Dance wear is fine at the dance studio, but not in public, because it’s meant for dancing. Spaghetti straps are not ok at school because that’s school policy. We need to cover our shoulders in church because it’s a sign of respect, the same way boys take off their hat. Bathing suits and bikinis are fine at the beach and the pool when we’re swimming, but we cover up when we’re away from the water.

According to Julie, you don’t need to go any further than that.  As kids get older though, it’s important to explain that your appearance says a lot about you and, in some cases, may attract unwanted attention.

“We are always trying to put our best selves forward,” says Freedman-Smith. “So, how do you dress your body so that people are looking at you for what you want them to see. Where do you want them to look?”

With a new season of back-to-school shopping coming quickly, this is a great time for you and your teen to get clarity on some recent fashion trends.

  • profanity on clothing
  • midriff-baring tops
  • Daisy Duke short shorts
  • wearing sweatpants to school
  • wearing leggings to school
  • appropriate dress for the dinner table
  • are bare shoulders allowed?
  • tight or “body con” dresses
  • no bra
  • loose pants (with underwear showing)

It’s also ok to change your mind on something. Over the years, I’ve loosened the reins on a few things on that list. I never thought I’d let my daughters wear a cropped top in public and now I do.

Recently, my daughter received a disapproving look from another mom when she was wearing a top that showed a portion of her midriff. At first, I was really irritated because clearly she was judging my daughter without even having met her. But, to be honest, I judged another young woman in a similar way when I saw she had a tattoo. So, there you go! We all do it.

At some point, you just can’t worry about what everybody else thinks. I thought my daughter was dressed appropriately for the occasion (a party) and so did my husband, so that’s really all that matters. And my daughter was comfortable and feeling confident in what she was wearing, end of story.

Yes, we want our girls to be body confident, but the confidence shouldn’t come from what they’re wearing or not wearing.  It really is a state of mind.

How do you navigate the tricky issue of what’s considered appropriate dress with your teen?


Author Michelle

More posts by Michelle

Leave a Reply