When it got hot this summer, I found myself in a bit of a bind. We don't have air conditioning so I had to find other ways to keep my kid cool at home and when we were out about. One of my strategies was to forgo my daughter's pants, opting instead to let her sweat it out in just a onesie. But, I have to admit, that there were a few times I almost stopped myself from letting her wobble around pants-less. There were moments when I thought, Wait, is it appropriate for her not to wear pants? And then I'd shake my head at myself because there's nothing inappropriate about a baby with no pants on. In fact, I can't think of anything much cuter than chubby baby thighs. But I'm still a little ashamed of myself because for just a moment, that inner dialogue was there. The idea that my daughter could somehow be sexual or suggestive or seductive because she wasn't wearing pants existed in my brain. And that's ridiculous because, let's get one thing straight: Children can't dress suggestively, and even though I may have moments where I second-guess this instinct, I don't care if my kid dresses suggestively one day, because it's her body and no one has a right to it based on what she does or doesn't wear.
First of all, "suggestive" children's clothing doesn't exist. If someone sees something suggestive or sexual in a child's outfit, all that suggests to me is that they are sexualizing that child. Therefore, the problem lies in that person's sexualization of children rather than in anything my, or any other, child may or may not wear.
There will come a day when she is going to learn that she is "supposed" to cover up, lest her choice of clothing inadvertently lead someone else one, and that is incredibly disturbing for me.
On the one hand, I don't want to contribute to the sexualization of female bodies. When I hear about retailers stocking T-Shirts that say, "Future WAGS," it makes me angry. When I see padded bikini tops made for 7 year olds, I rage. When I came across a T-Shirt for pre-teen girls with nipple tassels while researching for this article, I had to take a break. I don't want to dress my daughter in clothes that sexualize her. Obviously, I won't encourage my daughter to walk around pants-less for the rest of her life. But the fact that I had to stop and think about it at all shows that, even for a self-described card-carrying feminist mom like myself, all of the assumptions and myths about sexualized female bodies and so-called "suggestive" outfits is pervasive.
It is impossible for my daughter to dress suggestively at her age. But there will come a day when she is going to learn that she is "supposed" to cover up, lest her choice of clothing inadvertently lead someone else one, and that is incredibly disturbing for me.
At the end of the day, what my daughter wears really doesn't matter. Whether her de-pantsed toddler legs might be considered inappropriate or even suggestive by some and not others, isn't the point. Girls' bodies will be sexualized whether they are wearing crop tops and platform heels or are covered from neck to ankles.
Wouldn't the real solution be to change our collective gaze? To stop seeing children — especially girl children — as potential sex objects, no matter what they're wearing? Wouldn't the solution be to stop seeing women as sex objects. Are we not more than the sum of our parts, clothed or naked or somewhere in between?
The argument that children's clothing that mimics adult styles is a clear indication that young girls are being groomed as sexual objects is a valid one. But ridding the market of these fashions isn't the solution, is it? Not only does it blame girls for their own sexualization, it polices their clothing choices — and we've had just about enough of that. But it also fails to address the real problem: the fact that we see young girls as sexual objects. Wouldn't the real solution be to change our collective gaze? To stop seeing children — especially girl children — as potential sex objects, no matter what they're wearing? Wouldn't the solution be to stop seeing women as sex objects. Are we not more than the sum of our parts, clothed or naked or somewhere in between?
I have had to think hard about how to navigate these murky waters because while it's not an immediate issue for my daughter and our family now, it will be one day. And the best I can come up with is to make a promise to my daughter to always have an open dialogue about her clothing choices. Whether I like it or not, people will judge my daughter for what she wears. Maybe her clothes will be "too masculine" or "too girly," too tight or too loose. Maybe she'll care too much about clothing or not enough. There will always be unmeetable parameters for how a girl must act and dress and be, there isn't much she can do to avoid them. But if we are always open and honest about why we wear the clothes we wear — if we're wearing them because of how they make us feel, how they help us hide, how they show us off — if we understand the motivations behind our choices, then hopefully the unwarranted judgments of others won't matter much to her. And the only thing my daughter's dress will suggest is that she is happy with herself.