Don’t Let the TV Define Beauty for your Daughter

My teenage self shopping in Beverly Hills.

My teenage self shopping in Beverly Hills.

I recently told a friend’s teenage daughter I was glad she wasn’t mine. Whoops. That came out wrong. What I meant to say is that I think in some ways it must be more difficult to parent daughters than sons. I remember being an incredibly sassy, strong-willed, thought-I-knew-everything kind of teenager. But of course boys and girls can be equally obnoxious. Teen girls haven’t cornered the market on moody outbursts or pompous condescension toward their parents. No. Something else seems more challenging about raising daughters, clothes shopping.

My friend and her daughter seem to be having an ongoing debate over what constitutes appropriate apparel for a young girl, or maybe even women in general. I get it. The pressure on young people to conform is enormous. And girls who want to fit in often have to squeeze their bodies into outfits that are not only inappropriate, but also often downright unfortunate. And all for what? To distract people from the enormity of their intelligence? I think not.

If I had a daughter, here are a few things I might say to her on the subject.

First, popular culture would have women of all ages believe that sexy and pretty are synonymous. They are not. To dress sexy, or “hot” as the kids like to say these days, is to be suggestive, to arouse desire and tell the world, this body is ready to rock and roll. This may be the case for Hollywood entertainers and many Wal-Mart shoppers, but it’s probably not the right message for my teenage daughter to be sending to the world. It is possible to be feminine, attractive and stylish without dressing for school as if you’re competing for the mirror ball trophy on Dancing With the Stars.

Also, if dressing in short shorts and low-cut tops garners attention–and you like the attention–then you may have been mislead into believing attention equals affection or admiration. It does not. And for every boy whose attention you’re hoping to grab, there are most likely countless creeps who are also enjoying the show.

Now I’m no prude and believe the human body can be a truly beautiful thing. But haven’t women evolved enough to understand the true nature of their own beauty? Or maybe it’s darker yet, maybe girls use sensuality to compete against other girls, winner take all in an adolescent game of physical prowess and one-upsmanship. The female version of boys flexing their muscles to display dominance in front of other guys. Gross.

If I had a daughter, hopefully she’d heed some of my wisdom on this topic. But if she didn’t, as a parent, I’d still bear responsibility for clothes purchased and clothes worn. I would need to set certain standards about modesty and be willing to go to the mat to protect my daughter from culturally distorted messages about beauty and body image. So, as I stated earlier, I’m glad she’s not my daughter.


6 thoughts on “Don’t Let the TV Define Beauty for your Daughter

  1. Rachel says:

    Great article, Angela. I feel badly for moms going through this with their teenage daughters. It seems worse today than it has been in the past, but I’m sure this has been an issue since biblical times. I especially liked your statement: “you may have been mislead into believing attention equals affection or admiration”. It’s such a strong lesson for young women to learn, but probably really difficult for them to believe when it comes from their mothers. You could be the super-cool lady for these girls who could get away with saying that! 🙂 Nicely done.

  2. Angela, because I know you, and you know me (and sort of know Bryan through the blog) you will totally appreciate that our girls are the few not allowed to wear two piece suits, not even tankinis. We’re those parents. And we’re totally cool with it.

    • THANK YOU Nina. I’ll be curious to know if you’ll get push back from your girls as they get older or if by setting specific limits when they’re young helps alleviate some of that conflict later. Or, if you’ll someday relax your fashion standards. Knowing you, I doubt that. But it seems I see many parents throw their hands up in surrender on this issue.

  3. Donna Trump says:

    My daughter is now 28 and she never really gave me a hard time about clothes, preferring (as my brother-in-law called it) the “homeless look”–sweatpants, sweatshirts, with very little eye to fashion (wonder where she got that?) But when she went to her 1st formal (she was about 16) I had to impress on her that her clothes, make-up, appearance in general WOULD have an impact on her date. I believe she was truly clueless about the boy; for her it was dress-up time, and that’s it. I think it might be the same for the now younger and younger girls who dress so provocatively–how could they possibly know what their appearance means/signals to some (and some not-so-nice) people? Women and girls have the right to wear whatever they want, but why wouldn’t we teach our daughters that dressing more modestly removes a lot of nonsense from their interaction with the world?

    • I agree Donna that some girls are truly clueless about possible male reactions to “fashion.” But others are more aware but unequipped. I recall the movie, Juno, where a young girl puts on lipstick and flirts with an older man only to be shocked when he wants to do more than “admire” her looks.
      And women indeed have a right to wear whatever they choose and those choices never constitute permission or excuse for any male to behave badly. But if we were talking about my daughter, she would have fewer rights because young people still require limits, guidance and protection from their own immaturity.
      Thanks for reading and commenting Donna. This is good discussion. 🙂

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