Updated: Apr 25
I have wrestled with this question so much because I grew up hearing I needed to "act like a lady," meaning cross my legs when I sat. I received the fairly common pressure from my parents to cover up my body, rather than display its burgeoning sexual shape. I remember hearing I should "be careful not to make boys stumble" by showing off too much skin, too much leg, or too much cleavage (thought I didn't have any). My dad told me I could never really understand "how boys think."
This was somewhat confusing for me. I was excited about my new shape. I thought it was beautiful. I didn't want to be labeled a slut, but I did enjoy the extra attention I could snag. I thought, "I know EXACTLY how boys think and I can use it to my advantage." But I also felt a little afraid.
As a grown woman now, I know my body affects every room I walk into. As much as I wish it weren't true, we all respond to each others bodies. Fat, tall, female, white, disabled, voluptuous… it DOES matter without even a conscious thought. We can aspire to better, but in the meantime we need to recognize the bias and plan accordingly.
I also know I am not responsible for your response. My job is to show up my best self, dressing for success in whatever my goal is for that day… to impress, to lead, to blend in, to welcome. I keep my goal in mind, but I also know you may not cooperate—but that's not on me.
When I talk to my kids about how they dress (which is rare outside of complimenting), I am very careful not to shame any part. I never want them to feel bad or even self-conscious about their awkward teenagerness or their burgeoning sexuality, but I do encourage them to think about their goals—what is it they're trying to accomplish and does this "dress" suit that goal? I might acknowledge the vibe they're giving off and how it could be perceived if they seem to be short-sighted. After saying that, I let them make their own choices. I trust my kids to do their best AND I expect them to fail and learn from their mistakes.
Unsplash: Dickens Lin