|Rosea Lake's "Judgements"|
Kids are different. They have no concept of societal expectations. Running through a shopping mall butt naked is 100% acceptable to them until we tell them otherwise. They're not thinking about what others will think about them, they've never heard the terms rape culture or modesty, they just know that sometimes clothes can be cumbersome, the day can be hot, and wind on your skin feels nice!
But they learn, quickly. They're smarter than we give them credit for and can pick up on social nuances before we may even notice them ourselves. Just to give you an example, my daughter has beautiful naturally curly hair. Think a dark haired Shirley Temple. However, most of those around her don't. On TV and in books there are few curly haired characters, pretty much all Barbies and baby dolls out there have straight hair and every single mixed women or women of African decent I know locally straightens her hair. My hair has some natural curl to it and if I put in the right products it'll curl up but often I'm too busy and just put it in a pony tail. So, really, I'm about the only person who does wear her hair curly that she knows and it's made an impact on her. She complains if we don't straighten her hair (we never actually do but her nanny will do it at times). She says that her hair is not as beautiful as other girls with straight hair no matter what we tell her. Let me tell you, as a parent it's extremely hard to convince your kid of something when all of the subtle messages in society tell you otherwise!
As kids age the barrage of messages that they get from society can be extremely overwhelming and confusing. One one hand, we dress our kids in clothes that would be considered "immodest" on adults, we give them dolls who are dressed in even less clothes (see the Barbies below... I'm not quite sure who would wear that to go fishing?), and kids are not given the freedom of choice when it comes to many things dealing with their bodies (what clothes we buy for them, when they get examed by dr's, when we have to help clean them after going to the bathroom, when they can get piercings and tatoos etc).
|Barbie and Stacie Go Fishing|
How motherhood changes everything
Motherhood is crazy to say the least. Giving birth is probably one of the most immodest experiences in your life. All the check ups, which lead to the final big day slowly strip you of many of your reservations about your body. You're constantly prodded and poked and during delivery you have an audience even if you're stark naked. Following all this moms who choose to breastfeed have to deal with being told to cover up and that their breasts are "dirty" when they're feeding their kids the way nature intended. That's just the beginning!
Because motherhood splits your heart into many different pieces, one for each of your children and you have a little creature running around that carries that piece of your heart with him or her. Your instinct to protect that little guy or gal can be so insanely strong that it'll push all reason outside of your head (yep, mommy wars exist for a very good reason!). So a topic like modesty can be difficult. We want to protect our kids with all our heart. The thought of someone looking at our young daughter lewdly can be enormously disturbing and following up that train of thought with a child of ours experiencing sexual harassment or assault is absolutely vile.
That's why this topic is so tough. Somehow the idea got into people's heads that clothes protect our kids. That if we dress them conservatively, if they don't show enough skin that that's ok. Unfortunately, that's NOT the case. Kids are sexually assaulted due to availability, NOT because of what they're wearing. If a sexual predator has access to them in some way or they are at the wrong place at the wrong time that's what causes sexual assault.
The last time I was sexually harassed on the street I was wearing a long trench coat that went down to my knees, loose blue jeans, tennis shoes, my hair was in a pony tail, and I had no make-up on. This happened in Paris where I probably looked like a bum compared to the more put together Parisian females. However, I was at the wrong place at the wrong time and a insane creepy guy decided to follow me where ever I was going. I got to the subway and he stood their yelling at me in French (I don't speak French) and no one came to my assistance. Thankfully, I was able to get away by faking getting on a train, which he stepped on to and then running away at the last minute. But I share that with you here today to say that clothes don't prevent sexual assault, IDIOTS cause it.
What are we teaching our kids?
A letter from a father recently went viral when Rev. Evan Dolive called out Victoria's Secret for their Bright Young Things line that is marketed at tweens to college age kids. I can see both sides to this issue. For instance, when he writes:
I don’t want my daughter to ever think that her self-worth and acceptance by others is based on the choice of her undergarments. I don’t want my daughter to ever think that to be popular or even attractive she has to have emblazon words on her bottom. I want my daughter (and every girl) to be faced with tough decisions in her formative years of adolescence. Decisions like should I be a doctor or a lawyer? Should I take calculus as a junior or a senior? Do I want to go to Texas A&M or University of Texas or some Ivy League School? Should I raise awareness for slave trafficking or lack of water in developing nations?I want to scream, "Hell Yeah!". I DON'T want my daughters judged on their appearance but I DO want them to focus on their schooling, their careers and how they can make the world a better place down the road. That being said, The Lingerie Addict responded to the piece and I love when she wrote:
Lingerie does not always have to be about the boudoir. Yes, it’s fine if it is, but why aren’t we telling young women that you can totally buy that lacy bra and panty set just for you? No one else has to see it. You don’t have to be in a relationship. You don’t have to show it off. You can buy this beautiful lingerie and be completely, awesomely selfish about it, and wear it all by yourself. And that’s not only okay, it’s wonderful. Why are we scolding and shaming teenagers for their interest in lingerie instead of encouraging them to view it as another, healthy aspect of their self-expression and personal style?That also gets a "Hell Yeah!" from me. As a mom I fully expect to help my daughters find beautiful lingerie for them once they need it. I know lingerie makes me feel confident and put together even though only my husband sees it (and he couldn't care less what kind I buy as long as I'm happy with it). I buy lingerie for me because it's supportive and it helps my body image. PERIOD.
I don't think the idea of wearing beautiful lingerie and being an active, intelligent participant in the world compete against each other. That being said...
There IS something that makes we wary about Victoria's Secret's ad campaign and that's the lack of choice. Yes, certainly, there ARE other lingerie brands (and let me tell you my daughters will be well aware of them thanks to me!) but because Victoria's Secret is so dominate, so entrenched into American society it severely limits the choices to girls. If it's the only major lingerie store locally, then what sort of choice are you given? Soon the Bright Young Things line is THE line and young tweens are only given the option between plain white briefs from Target or panties that say "Call Me" across the butt. THAT bothers me.
So few lingerie brands, especially full-bust ones market to the younger crowd that it can make it extremely difficult for young girls to feel comfortable buying lingerie, getting fitted, and finding items that they love and feel comfortable in. Why do so many ad campaigns focus solely on sexy? Why aren't there bras out there (that actually fit well) that have popular Disney characters or characters from their favorite books? Why isn't there a Harry Pottery bra? I can promise you that it's not just the young teen crowd that would be interested in them...
So what's the point off all this? Where do I want our culture to go in the future?
- I want kids to have choices. I want them to have a DIVERSE group of role models. That means characters in media and TV with a wide range of ethnicities, religious backgrounds, personalities, and ideas that challenge typical gender stereotypes.
- I want kids to know that their appearance doesn't make them or break them as a person. Bullying has gotten a lot of attention in the media recently but it starts at home with parents introducing kids to the idea that everyone is different and that's OK. Their friends might choose to dress more or less revealing than they do and that's not a reflection on them and it does not mean that they need to dress that way either.
- Companies need to be aware of what they are presenting to kids. Is there a reason all the "cool" Barbies like the Dr. and Teacher Barbies are always white with have blonde straight hair? Is there a reason that Victoria's Secret can't come out with a line that has other options besides just sexy for tweens?
- We need to put our own assumptions asides. As parents just because our child wants to wear a short skirt or have a nice bra doesn't mean that they are sexually promiscuous. It doesn't mean they are putting themselves in dangerous situations and/or are ignoring their studies. Also, even if they ARE sexually active as a parent you need to make sure your kids are aware of how to have safe sex, talk to them about situations that could possibly be unsafe, and teach them how to respect their partner's wishes. Listen to your kids and help them navigate tough situations.
- As parents don't accept judgements based on outside appearances and discuss with your kids why this isn't acceptable. Recently, my daughter thought it would be funny if her Superman action figure wore a dress. She would put a Barbie dress on him and laugh hysterically. When we noticed this we sat her down and explained that some men like to wear dresses/skirts and they wouldn't appreciate it if they were laughed at. We also discussed with her how she would feel if someone laughed at her choice in clothing. After that we noticed that in her play it had changed, a couple of days later she drew a picture of some friends and she pointed out to me that a boy was wearing a dress but no laughter followed, it was just as a matter of fact.
|Sean Connery in a kilt is no laughing matter.|
- Teach kids to stand up for themselves. Even young kids can learn that people should ask permission (yes, even doctors) before touching their body. Tell them to verbalize their feelings and if they don't like the way some treats them to be vocal about it. I've considered even putting my daughter in some sort of martial arts class to teacher her discipline and give her regular physical activity, but also to be able to protect herself so she won't feel helpless if she ends up in a dangerous situation some day.
- Teach them to stand up for others. I think this is one area where we, as parents (or even other adults in a kids life) can be good role models. If you see or hear someone making fun of another person because of their appearance, blaming a victim because of their dress etc say something! Kids pick up on these things and will learn from their role models.
- Victim blaming is never ok. We have to be aware of our words and how we talk in front of our kids. Also, even if you as parents don't participate in victim blaming kids can be exposed to it at school or through the media. Nobody is ever asking for abuse and our kids need to know and understand that.
- Help your kids find good role models. If we're only showing young girl Disney princesses, are we subtly telling them that only their looks matter? If we're only showing young boys superheroes are we telling them that they have to be strong and impulsive for them to be special? Recently a mom decided to dress up her daughter like famous women in history, which I think is an absolutely brilliant idea! Why aren't we telling our kids stories about these great men and women throughout history? I know my daughter would love it if we had kids books that were just as beautifully illustrated and well put together as all things Disney about Marie Curie, Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr, Susan B Anthony, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson etc.
- Work on a consistent message. This takes some self-reflection on our part but I think it's important to ask yourself if you verbalize judgements about others bodies and clothing choices in front of your kids. If you're criticizing a women for wearing a bikini at a certain size but then trying to tell your kid that they're beautiful no matter what they look like, the message just isn't going to sink in as well. That might be a more obvious example but subtle prejudices and stereotypes can sneak into our thoughts even amongst the most enlightened of us. That's why it's important to teach children empathy too so that they understand their words have effects on other human beings.
So how should we dress our kids?
I can't answer that for you. A lot of it's cultural. For instance, I was down right shocked when at the pool here I saw 5-7 year old girls wear just panties to the pool and nothing else. Brazil is a lot more laid back when it comes to young children being nude- especially at the pool or on a beach than what I'm used to as an American. It's not something that has a clear right or wrong answer but I know I personally don't feel comfortable allowing my own daughter run around without an actual swimsuit at her age. Then again, at least I can acknowledge that it has to do with my own upbringing rather than some crystal clear rules on modesty handed down from God himself.
In our family we try to give my daughter as much autonomy as possible within reason. Sometimes certain clothes need to be worn for practicality (her school prefers she wears pants, not shorts, because of the number of mosquitoes around) and other times I know she doesn't get everything she wants because I won't let her wear faded leggings with holes in them to a wedding. That being said, even at a young age kids can have opinions about clothes, sometimes that are very contrary to their parents. It also doesn't hurt to take a step back from our own obsession with modesty and allow our kids more freedom.
For further reading see: Am I feminine enough?
For other posts from the Modesty Panel see:
For more perspectives on modesty, check out the rest of the “Bosom Bloggers” posts. The links go directly to the modesty post if it’s been published, otherwise it links to the blog’s home page:
Boosaurus: Growing up in the Christian Homeschooling Subculture
Braless in Brasil: What if you want more coverage?
Bras and Body Image: What I wear is none of your damn business!
By Babys Rule: Modesty and Breast Implants
Contrary Kiwi: More clothes = more holiness?
Fussy Busty: Why I choose not to cover up
Fussy Busty Pt 2: I’m fat and ain’t no one telling me what to do!
Hourglassy: Stares Bad, Breast Private
Hourglassy Pt 2: Feminism isn’t a four letter word but modesty should be!
Miss Underpinning: Why I like taking my clothes off for the Internet, or on modesty
Nothing Ever Fits: What Modesty means for us
Obsessed with Breasts: A Word Vomit of Thoughts
Red Hair and Girly Flair: It’s not your body
Sophia Jenner: Where do you stand?
That Bra Does Not Fit Her: We have a great selection of minimizers!
The Tit Rambler: Modest Panel Crashing
Thin and Curvy: Dressing Modestly
Two Cakes on a Plate: Respecting One Another Not the Rules of Society
Weirdly Shaped and Well Photographed: On Looking Away
Wide Curves: I Want to be Big and Immodest
Windie Gardie: Modesty