Sunday, October 08, 2006

Good cop, bad cop ... or accomplice?

I've seen the future, and her mother is wearing thigh-high go-go boots and short shorts, too.

Standing on the street corner with a boy I can identify by name as well as age are two girls I don’t know. Both are wearing form-fitting striped sweaters, hip-hugging belts, short shorts and high-heeled boots.

Had I not just come from the local library and been on my way to the farmers' market, I might have thought I was visiting Hunts Point in the Bronx. I've never been, mind you, but I've seen the HBO special on its prostitutes.

My husband, trying to balance borrowed books while choosing vegetables, pretended not to notice. He was, no doubt, unable to determine which was worse: the looking or the seeing.

"That's the style in Manhattan, you know," he says off-handedly when I mention the girls' attire later as we select apples from a vendor. "I bet their mothers are wearing the same thing at home."

Oh, the horror.

One way or another, like it or not, this perennial battle of parenthood will be ours one day.

The day will come when we will have to decide whether or not Ittybit leaves the house wearing ... well ... something I'd rather not describe. But until seeing the local street-corner gals, we had thought we'd be in the good-cop side of the fashion patrol.

As two people raised by parents who respected our decisions (to a certain degree) and whose collective teenage fashion faux pas amount to the Miami Vice look (him) and pink-streaked hair and combat boots (me) I can safely speak for him when I say we are feeling ill-prepared to deal with a potential Lolita.

I may be jumping the gun a little since Ittybit has only recently started preschool, but our clothing wars have long-since begun. And horror of all horrors: The seeds of destruction may have already been planted by yours truly.

It turns out her favorite dress -- a backless halter number acquired for $3 over the summer in a Target sale -- has already raised the eyebrow of at least one grandparent.

During a family party I watched in ignominy as the grandma tried her best to cover up Ittybit's naked shoulders. And I had to wonder. Was I one of those moms who thought sexy on a baby was cute? Of course I have trouble putting sexy and baby together in a sentence, but I understand there are people out there who will and do.

My thinking in buying the dress -- aside from its color and rock-bottom price -- was along the lines of: she spends half the summer wearing only a diaper and sunscreen, any piece of cloth would be an improvement. That she clutched the t-shirt soft material to her chest and didn't want to part with it long enough for the cashier to scan the price tag made it all the more attractive. When every outfit is a battlefield, it's nice to have one that’s a coup.

But with one sideways glance -- and the mention of indistinguishable posterior views of mothers and daughters at the shopping mall these days -- part of my world turns sideways.

I'm not sure which team I'm supposed to root for. The navel showing above low-rise pants, the distinctive sound of flip-flops clapping their way through Juniors' departments everywhere might very well belong to someone's mother. The part of you that hates getting old cheers her on, while the part of you that wants your daughter to respect herself jeers in her general direction. Where is the line?

Let's start by some admissions, shall we?

I am hardly ever an appropriately attired grownup. I have worn the same uniform -- Levis jeans, long-sleeve jersey top, bulky sweaters and some form of low-heel boot -- since I was in high school. Now, my clothes are not fashionable but all of my parts (save an ankle here and there) are covered.

I cringe a little every time my husband returns from the grocery store commenting on the latest middle aged woman he thought was a teenager. "PA-thetic," is his assessment.

"Am I any different?" I want to ask. I know I don't look like any of those moms in the commercials: the ones in khaki trousers and pastel blouses with their tasteful three-quarter sleeves. Those women are all happily cleaning the floors with the latest Swiffer product, so I know I'll never look like them. But I don't think I look like the ones vying for the position of prom queen, either.

I suppose we'll just have to wait and see, and hope that parkas will be back in fashion when our day of reckoning comes.

"You won't believe what I just heard," said the husband, munching on a cider doughnut. "A woman at the farm stand was talking about buying her daughter a $300 pair of jeans. She saw my jaw drop at the price, and she said 'yeah, but you should have seen her in them'."

"Thanks, I think I'll pass."


crazymumma said...

If you ever EVER talk about buying yourself khakis pants and a tasteful 3/4 sleeve top I will personally come down and intervene.

My Big Girl is 9, and she is fairly funky. She likes the pants with skirts over them layered look. She prefers black ( I am so proud). But I draw the line at shirts showing belly. And if she wants to wear a short short skirt, she has to wear shorts underneath.

I think setting limits but allowing creativity in dressing is great. I even allow lipgloss, and I will let them go out in full Halloween attire if they want.

But no bellies and no butt.

jen said...

i've noticed it all over blogworld lately - the debate over how to keep our girls from being overly sexualized without compromising their developing sexuality. it's a pickle. am glad i have 9 or 10 more years to work it out. glad i came across your blog. dig it, sister.

Be Still said...

I started to leave a comment along the lines of being glad I had a boy and didn't have to deal with this issue.

However, as the thought was leaving my brain, I was guilty of the same double standard that I think is at work in our culture.

And that's exactly the issue: I'm the problem. I hold girls to a different sexual standard than boys even though I know it isn't fair.

I don't have any answers or thoughts further than this (It's Saturday morning and I haven't had my coffee), but this was a great thought-provoking post Siobhan.

toyfoto said...

Be Still: YOU ARE SO RIGHT! I should really point out that the boy was dressed as "provocatively" as the girls were. He was wearing skin-tight pants that were hanging down from his hips as to show off a sizable portion of his boxers.

I didn't mention it because I had discounted him thinking: Boys aren't vulnerable. They aren't viewed as SEXY. Women don't lust after boys half their age the way men lust after girls. Men have always had the power.
I didn't look at him and think" SEX." His dress, to me, seemed more innocous "fashion blunder."

So yeah - double standard.

I suppose I believe (perhaps unwisely) that there are relatively few boys who - outside of getting an STD or getting someone pregnant - seriously regretted having sex when they were 16 or younger. I know LOTS of women who did, even into their early 20s. They were more apt to feel that they'd been desperately seeking approval and chose exactly what they didn't need.

lildb said...

this is such a difficult issue. I feel it intensely, even with being the mother of a boy-child (at this point, anyway).

it's a thunker. it makes my head feel pretty thunky.

stefanierj said...

Oy to the freaking vey, as GGC says. My own parents' appraoch to this one seemed to work well: when they saw me in something they loved, they grimaced, and voila! I wore it all the time. Of course, I was much more the kool-aid dyed hair and combat boots, too, but like you said: at least I was covered.

And while I hope to be the kind of person who educates her son on the benefits of clothing that allows for a bit of, ah, imagination and mystery, my husband has pointed out more than once that the women/girls he's observed tend to dress more for each other than for the approval/attraction boys/men, so I dunno if my efforts will even make a dent.

Of course, based on what ittybit wore to yoga the other day, she seems mindful of the "more is more" concept where clothing is concerned!

Andrea said...

I'm hoping to be able to take these things on a case by case basis. I want to give my kid(s) freedom to dress how by choice, within reason. It's that reason part that's so hard. Who knows what will be fashionable by then, so it's hard to say what's reasonable now.

In the same vein as what GGC's said the last couple days, I don't want to be so strict that the human body becomes overly sexualized or dirty, but on the other hand, I don't want the opposite end of the spectrum either, like the girls you saw on that street corner. It's just so dang hard to say.

Kate Michele said...

My biggest pet peeve is middleaged women who shop in the juniors department!! And by junior's department I mean the trashy "club" clothes look....It makes me shudder!!!

The other day I saw a mother and daughter at the mall dressed pretty much alike....and I jsut thought....not only should YOU not be wearing that, SHE shouldn't be either!!!

In a perfect world we as women should be able to wear what ever we want.....but it isn't a perfect world...and there's freaks out there!!! And I see no reason to entice them!!

MommasWorld said...

I gave my children the freedom to choose their clothing. It is not all to my liking but that is ok. My son prefers dress slacks and a nice button up shirt. My daughter is in an all black and all baggie phase. It takes her less time to dress than most of her friends due to everything matches. My youngest is just now at the point everything must match, right down to her underwear(he,he,he) Like so many girls her age she loves to wear pink everything. I am trying to branch her out to other colors but no rush.

I am sure your little one will enjoy trying out many different looks along the way to finding her own look. She will be just fine.

the mad momma said...

you know.. as a mother of a boy i didnt thikn i would have an opinion on this... but i must its an eyesore to see the way kids dress.. and i am no prude... despite living in india i have my backless and halter necks and short tops and shorts too....

but i detest little girls in spangly spaghetti strap tops and leather skirts... what are the parents thinking?
i also have an issue with boys wearing low jeans that show their underwear off... its simply not tasteful.

as a parent.. regardless of boy or girl... i would trust ur judgement.. there cant be any one rule. a little frilly sundress or a top that knots up showing off a little baby belly button is cute when its in pink polka dots.. its not cute when its a shiny red and says something like 'juicy' or 'hotstuff'

I am sure most of us as parents are capable of knowing where the line is to be drawn....

and yeah.. the basic rule.. grimace and they will insist on it.. ignore and hopefully they will lose interest in it... and perhaps going shopping with them and guiding them might help.. i dont know .. as a mother of an 18 mth old i am too far away from that day!!!