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.

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