My sons take a hip-hop class at a local dance studio, and every week I have a moment of sheer panic as I watch the next group of kids roll in. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, watching grade school girls emerge from the dressing rooms in off-the-shoulder tees and booty shorts alarms me.
When I say booty shorts, I want you to really understand. These shorts are so short, they’d make Daisy Duke blush. They’re so short that if a grown woman were wearing them, she’d need a special bikini wax.
My first instinct is to clench up, clutch at my pearls and fret for the children while side-eyeing all the mothers in the room. I grew up in a town not unlike the one in the movie "Footloose," where shame was the name of the game, and I can’t stop my first instinct, which is to want to pull the moms aside and tell them they are dressing their precious daughters like tramps.
But then reality sets in. First, these are children, and they are blissfully unaware of the sexuality associated with their clothing. They look like the big girls, like the Beyoncé, and Taylor Swift. Ultimately, they’re there to dance, not seduce older men.
And while I might make a different wardrobe choice for my own child, were I to have a daughter, the reality is that these moms are not condemning their children to a life of sexual objectification because they let them wear what their friends are wearing.
This all came into sharp focus when Jenny Erikson, a self-proclaimed conservative mommy blogger, wrote that she would be happy to buy her 9 year-old daughter undies in the new teen line from Victoria’s Secret, as she moves away from the babyish briefs at Gymboree. Erikson noted that girls change in front of each other all the time, and that it’s fun to have cute undies.
Though I disagree with her premise that “all moms should be happy” about Victoria’s Secret’s new teen line, I get where this mom is coming from with her daughter wanting more grown-up underwear.
My 2nd grader recently decided that his tighty-whities were out and that boxers were in, so we went to the mall to buy him some boxer briefs like his dad wears. He didn’t want childish prints, he wanted stripes and solids, and he has proudly pulled them on every day since.
In no way did this process seem sexual to me, nor would I suspect it would to anyone else. But for some reason we cannot resist applying a double standard to little girls. If my son’s female classmate is done with Dora the Explorer undies and wants to move on to solid pink or a floral print, we can’t help but think that it must mean something torrid.
Enter ABC News and so-called relationship expert Mel Robbins ready to slut-shame a 9-year-old, and mommy-shame Erikson for a future that hasn’t even occurred yet, saying, “All you need to do is roll the clock forward four or five years -- if you're buying a 9-year-old lingerie -- they're going to be Snapchatting that lingerie in a matter of years to their friends."
Now I ask of you, Ms. Robbins, in what world is what you’re saying okay? Did you even stop to contemplate what you’re saying about a real mom and her very real daughter? And do you truly believe that teens sexting photos of themselves in lingerie starts with a mother-daughter shopping trip to the mall for what Erikson describes as, “fun, bright-colored underwear?”
Allow me to clarify that I am no huge fan of Victoria’s Secret for a few reasons, the most personal of which being that their sizing is incredibly limited, and the last time I properly fit into a VS bra I was 15 years old. But I am a huge fan of lingerie in general. There is something sacred to me about putting on an amazing pair of panties and a great bra, even if I know nobody is going to see it.
I’m not even all that girlie. My glasses are taped together with painter’s tape and my favorite joke is the one where people look at the armpit hair I often sport and I say, “What? I’m growing it out.” But I love great undies, and I always have.
As a kid, in my aforementioned Footloose-ian childhood, my mother only allowed me to wear white cotton underwear. She believed she was protecting me, and she was doing the best she could, but I desperately wanted prints and colors, or even satin. Finally she gave in and got me a pack of Jockey for Her briefs in an array of pastel shades, and I think even these made her nervous.
What I remember from that shopping trip was how my mother seemed to find my interest in cute undies offensive and maybe even terrifying. As we walked out of the lingerie department of JC Penney’s, plastic bag of coveted pink undies in my sweaty little hand, I couldn’t help but feel shame. Like I’d done something wrong. I couldn’t have been older than 12, but I felt dirty.
And that’s why parents of daughters have a delicate balance on their hands. We know that little girls are being sexualized at younger and younger ages. A few years ago there was an outcry when a French lingerie company featured pre-pubescent girls in what seemed to be very grown-up panties and poses, and Abercrombie actually had 9 year-olds in padded and push-up bikinis.
We should be alarmed at this trend. But to me, it’s less about worrying that little girls are looking more like grown ladies, and more about kids feeling pressure to mold their little bodies into the already dangerously narrow restrictions the fashion industry puts upon women, and to base their self-worth upon being attractive to boys. But the solution isn’t to tell moms that Old Navy is okay for undies but Victoria’s Secret isn’t.
What this whole conversation reeks of is mothers throwing one another under the proverbial bus in a desperate attempt to feel a sense of control over a changing world. It’s nothing new. There was a time when mothers were chastised for allowing their daughters out of the house without pantyhose, or for letting their teens wear tight jeans, or allowing girls to wear sweatpants with JUICY written across the ass. New decade, new mommy-shaming.
What we want to believe, as parents, is that there is a simple way to protect our children. The idea of our kids falling victim to a predator like the one who targeted Amanda Todd is terrifying, and we grasp at the hope that there’s a simple way to prevent it. Somehow we feel better when we’re pointing fingers at other parents who are doing it wrong, and that’s what’s happening with Jenny Erikson and other parents who are judged for allowing their daughters to shop at Victoria’s Secret.
We need to stop putting our grown-woman bullshit on little girls, and remove the shame from growing up. Brightly colored panties from Victoria’s Secret probably aren’t going to harm a little girl, but being shamed for wanting them most likely will.