As a mom of a baby girl, there are many things I worry about when it comes to raising her in today's world, and one of them, unfortunately, is clothing. What is okay or not okay for her to wear? How will I be judged for dressing her? How will she be judged later on when she gets to choose?
Just recently I participated in a conversation with another mom who was upset by finding only short shorts (also known as "shorties") for girls at Walmart. She was upset with society sexualizing little girls. Yet, this same mom was planning on going to Hooters for a free Mother's Day meal (oh the irony!). For those who don't know what Hooters is, it basically is a restaurant that relies on "sexy" women to make a profit (after all there are plenty of restaurants that sell crappy burgers and wings without scantily clad waitresses), not really a family-friendly place in my opinion.
Her argument was that because the women who worked for Hooters are "adults" that have made "informed" decisions about what to do with their body, that it is okay for Hooter girls to wear "provocative" clothing, while a little girl relies on her parents to buy her clothing, and thus shorties were not okay. (She was also upset about the lack of choice, but I'll get to that later.)
I should make it clear that I am not a fan of Hooters. I do not support anything that only values women for their beauty, including modeling and cheerleading. It is easy to claim that these women choose to do these things and thus it is okay, but most of these women probably grew up thinking that all they were good for is being objectified by men.
Basically, the cycle works like this: Little girl sees a Hooters waitress, a Victoria Secret model, or even just everyday women walking down the street in mini skirts and high heels; she gets the impression that this is what society likes about girls. The little girl then wants to be like these "beautiful" women thinking that women are only valued for their looks and next thing you know she's working at Hooters or worse a strip club, and the cycle repeats.
An APA Study came to this conclusion after researching the effect of media on young girls:
"The evidence reviewed in this section demonstrates that women and girls are more likely than men and boys to be objectified and sexualized in a variety of media outlets (including television, magazines, sports media, and music videos), in advertising, and in several products that are marketed to children."Though they did not look at restaurants, I think it is safe to say that Hooters would leave a pretty big impression on young girls.
However, I found myself surprisingly upset with the idea that a little girl can't wear shorties or even a mini skirt without being sexualized. This totally contradicts my feelings towards Hooters.
I am a modest person. I prefer to wear clothing that does not show anything. Even when I wear dresses or skirts long enough to cover my butt, I still wear biker shorts underneath as a precaution. Also, for the short time I breastfed, I never did so in public. (Just to give you an idea of how modest I am.) Yet here I was arguing for the right for a little girl to wear a mini skirt or shorties, even though I probably would never dress my daughter in that.
So why was I so upset that this mom was frustrated with clothing for little girls? For one thing, it felt as if she was blaming the parents or little girls for their clothing choices, and not the boys and men that are sexualizing and objectifying them. After all, what is so wrong with shorties or mini skirts? They are still covering, not as much, but since when was showing leg an issue? It is not like she is going topless, which then got me thinking, why is it okay for a boy to go shirtless but not a little girl? Girls don't get breasts until puberty, and even then why can't a woman go topless (breastfeeding seems to be the only exception) while a man can?
This quote from the Odyssey article, "Stop Sexualizing Little Girls," really hit home for me:
"We are teaching little girls that being "modest" is more important than their education. We are teaching them that wearing shorts when it's hot out is wrong. We are teaching them that boys can wear whatever they want, but girls can't."Though the author is referring to school dress codes and how they are sexist, this applies to what I am talking about. Instead of blaming little girls for wearing shorties or mini skirts, or whatever clothing they choose to wear, we should be teaching boys not to ogle and punish men who do.
Parents like to say by putting little girls in "sexy" clothing, that they are only encouraging pedophiles, rapists, and other creeps, but that's not the case as this Washington Post article states (I highlighted the important parts):
"It’s a common argument that invariably boils down to the same nonsense: If the victims were different, they wouldn’t have been victimized. It’s a comforting myth, guaranteed to make it easy to pretend that sexual assault is something that only happens to people who make bad choices. It’s also a myth that has been thoroughly debunked by the Justice Department, RAINN and many other organizations. A Federal Commission on Crime of Violence study found that just 4.4 percent of all reported rapes involved “provocative behavior” on the part of the victim. (In murder cases, it’s 22 percent.) It also found that most convicted rapists could not remember what their victims were wearing. Studies show that women with passive personalities, who tend to dress in layers, long pants and sleeves and high necklines, are actually more likely to be raped. In one study, 1 in 3 college men said that they would force someone to have sex if they could get away with it, and that has nothing to do with clothing."Clothes have nothing to do with sexual assault! A pedophile or rapist isn't going to care what the kid is wearing. They are looking for an easy target!
It is not the clothes fault that a little girl is sexualized, but the boy or the man's fault for ogling them! Let's stop blaming the clothing, and start focusing on the real problem. We need to teach boys that objectifying women is not okay, no matter what they are wearing, and places like Hooters are just not helping.
What makes clothing "sexy?" Why are shorties sexy, but not cargo pants? Why is a bikini sexy, but not a one piece? I hate using the word"sexy" for clothing. It's as if we are saying that someone who chooses to wear a sweater and slacks is not as attractive as someone who wears a tight little black dress. "Sexy" is arbitrary as it depends on who you ask. Let's say that instead of shorties being sexy that boot cut jeans all of a sudden became the next "sexy" thing, would we stop dressing our little girls in jeans then? Or if all of a sudden turtlenecks are the next hot thing, would we ban little girls from wearing those too?
I don't think a girl or a woman should be judged by their clothing choices. There was a time when we didn't even wear clothes! We were all naked! This is where I think babies are lucky. They are allowed to be naked. They don't have to worry about what they are wearing. Half of the time they don't even wear pants; they get to wear onesies! Yet if an adult wears a onesie (also known as a bodysuit) it is seen as "inappropriate." Does this mean we should start covering our babies more?
Now I know a lot of people love to point out the lack of clothing options for girls that do not "sexualize" them, but I did my own searching and found tons of options! (You can view my findings at the bottom of this post.) Personally, I don't see how clothes can "sexualize" a girl as they are kids! They aren't meant to be attractive, so it shouldn't matter what they wear.
Also in a Live Science article, "30% of Girls' Clothing Is Sexualized in Major Sales Trend," this is what researchers found:
"Of all clothing items, 31 percent had sexualizing features, the researchers found. Most of these, about 86 percent, had childlike characteristics combined with sexy characteristics. Abercrombie Kids was the worst offender, with 72 percent of clothes featuring a sexualizing aspect. Neiman Marcus boasted about 38 percent sexualized clothing.
Child-only stores like Gymboree tended to do well, though older girls might think of those stores as babyish, Murnen said. Target was one of the better stores, with 80 percent of their girls' clothes falling in the "childlike" category."This shows that, yes there are "sexy" clothes, but there are still other options, and honestly 30% is not a lot, but I'm guessing these type of people think there shouldn't be any, so they like to amp it up like it's 90% of clothes, when the reality is there are options. I am not a fan of this article in general as "sexy" is a matter of opinion, so I am curious as to what all these clothing items were and what made them "sexy," but it basically proved my point that there are options.
Just as I choose not to go to Hooters because I see it as degrading towards women and sexist towards men (Hooters doesn't let men be waiters because they lack breasts, which is apparently an important aspect to Hooters waitstaff), parents have the ability to choose not to buy clothing they think is inappropriate. If Walmart only has shorties for girls, then go to a different store! If Walmart is the only store in your area, then order online, make your own, or go to local garage sales. Or hey, why not shop in the "boys" department? (But I won't go into the whole gendered clothing issue as that could be a whole post in itself!)
However, as I have said earlier, the clothing isn't the problem. It is the way we label women for the clothing they wear. It is the stereotypes that are problematic. A woman who wears a hoodie and sweats shouldn't be seen any less sexy than a woman who wears a low cut shirt and tight skirt. The fact that society sees one over the other as sexy is the problem.
So where do I stand now? Am I a hypocrite because I dress my daughter in what many would call "modest" clothing, but yet here I am ranting on about how shorties and mini skirts for girls are totally fine. Or would I be more of a hypocrite if I wore these things but refused to dress my daughter in them?
I think many moms of little girls face these dilemmas and I think we all have different ways of addressing these issues. For me I feel it would be wrong to dress my child in something I wouldn't wear, so yes that may make my choices more "modest," but that doesn't mean when she is old enough to pick her own clothes I am going to be helicoptering all her choices. I will, unfortunately, have to explain the implications of those choices that society has set in place so she can make her own informed decision on what she wants to wear. I would like to think by then, society would be a little less concerned about women's clothing choices and more concerned about her intellect, but I think that might be a far off dream.
Here are some examples of various clothing at different stores with plenty of options for little girls. I chose not to focus on baby clothes because as I mentioned above, a baby gets a free pass to be naked and can go without pants, so I only looked at the toddler and girl's sections, but I am sure there are just as many options in the baby section as well.
Old Navy Toddler Girl Swimwear
Old Navy Toddler Girl Swimwear
This showcases two "extremes." The pink two-piece on the left would probably be considered too "sexy" for a toddler, while the one on the right, basically covers everything. Honestly, the two-piece shown here and on most girls tends to cover way more than the bikinis they make for women, so I honestly don't see the issue, but for those who do, you do have a choice!
Target Toddler Girls Swimwear
Here I wanted to show that not all two pieces are "revealing" and many do "cover-up," but yes Target also has bikinis and one-pieces for both toddler girls and girls.
Target Toddler Girl Shorts
I selected a few just to show that there are different lengths being offered at Target for girls. The top left image is probably what many would refer to as a shortie (but honestly I see nothing wrong as her butt is fully covered!), but the rest look like normal length in my opinion.
Kohl's Girls Swimwear
What I found unique about these two outfits was that they were being sold as a 3 piece set, so girls have the option of more coverage or less coverage.
Kohl's Girl Shorts (left) and Toddler Girls Shorts (right)
This was just to show that there are longer shorts available to girls, not just shorties, though Kohl's had those too, of course.