As if being judged over our parenting choices isn't enough, the media and Internet also love to comment on what women with kids wear on a daily basis. Wearing leggings as pants or pajamas in public is an absolute no-no, but women with kids who chose to show a little skin are considered to be "trying too hard" or called straight-up "slutty" for their outfit choices. No matter how the woman wearing the clothes looks or feels about herself, her body and the clothing she chooses to put on it becomes fodder for a public vote. I'm not sure why, but it doesn't make much sense to me: we ask women not to "lose themselves" in motherhood, we applaud them when they "get their bodies back," and yet we shame them when the very thing they choose to do with those bodies — dress in clothing that makes them look and feel good — doesn't fit our cultural understanding of what a mom should wear.
I've worked hard at accepting my body exactly as it is and I enjoy wearing the occasional outfit that showcases my skin, but seeing as how my day-to-day uniform is a pair of workout leggings and a long sleeved t-shirt, I started to wonder how it would feel to dress in a little less not just for date night, but for everyday life. Would people treat me differently in a short skirt than they did in yoga pants?
For an entire week I committed to busting out my fancy clothes, dressing in outfits that could be considered revealing. I was curious to see how it felt to dress "skimpy" as a mom and to see how people reacted. It was time to cue up the Johnny Gill, because things were about to get provocative.
Day One: Drinks With Friends
The problem with being a SAHM with three year olds is that 90 percent of my wardrobe is comfy clothes and the other 10 percent belongs to work suits that were so expensive I can't bear to get rid of them. Usually meeting friends with kids means wearing a pair of skinny jeans and a sweater, but I really wanted to commit to the experiment. After going through everything I owned and getting inspired by Julia's outfit in The Magicians, I came up with this crop top and skirt look. I was feeling myself and so were my friends, but my husband didn't think the look was trendy until we Googled "crop tops."
I never wear crop tops and I was worried that I'd feel weird out in public, but as I live in a college town, once we got inside the bar I blended in just fine. Even though I was talking about my kids the entire night, no one looked at me twice. I relaxed and stopped trying to suck in my stomach and just had fun.
Either it was really dark in there and no one saw what I was (or wasn't) wearing, or a mom out without her kids just looks like any other woman trying to be fashionable despite the fact that it's mid winter and freezing.
Day 2: The Gym
Today I was headed to the gym for a session with the dreadmill. Going to the gym usually means dressing for function over fashion and my gym is not a place where people seem too concerned with what they wear. In fact, the men who lift the heavy weights and wear shredded tank tops are probably the most scantily-clad people in there.
I set out for the gym in just a sports bra and pants, but packed a shirt just in case I got cold feet, and good thing. Even though it was mid-morning and the gym was practically empty, I just wasn't comfortable in only a sports bra. I was worried about people looking at my bouncing chest and didn't want to damage my self confidence if I looked in the mirror while running and didn't like what I saw. Working out is something I do to feel good, and for me, that's easier when I'm wearing more on top than just a sports bra.
The fact that the woman sitting directly across from me was shooting daggers at my chest and then talking to her own mother with no attempt to hide the fact that I was the subject of the conversation made me wish I had brought a sweater to melt into.
Day 3: Target
We had to run to Target on day three to get a few things, as well as a few more things I didn't realize I needed until I saw them. I wore my favorite brown boots and a sweater that I usually pair with leggings but for this experiment decided to wear as a very short sweater dress.
Target was filled with retirees and other moms like me, so I didn't have to worry about getting catcalled in the housewares section, but as much as I like how I look in this outfit, it was a failure. There was no way to get the boys in and out of their car seats without flashing my underwear at everyone around to see. I realized that for some women, dressing more modestly may be less about making a "statement" and more about making a practical decision based on having to deal with the realities of chasing kids around.
Honestly, I would have felt much more comfortable with a pair of leggings under that dress.
Day 4: Church
I like to dress for church, but I borrowed this dress from my mom that's shorter and tighter than what I usually wear to mass. I'm not sure if it was the way the dress looked on me or that fact that it was 30 degrees out that caused so many women to look at me with pursed lips, but I didn't care because I really liked how I felt in this outfit.
I felt pretty and since I didn't have to run around after the kids in church, it was pretty comfortable too. I liked that I was able to showcase the fact that I was a mom while wearing this cute dress; it just felt like I was wholly myself instead of being part mom or part Megan.
I also realized something terribly eye-opening and totally disappointing: much of the criticism surrounding how moms dress comes from fellow women
Day 5: Date Night
Tonight was date night, so I pulled out my high-heeled black boots and a zippered dress that's pretty low cut. I loved how I felt in this dress. But as much as my husband appreciated my outfit, the woman sitting across from me at hibachi did not.
We happened to be seated with a family of seven — parents and their three children, plus one set of grandparents. Eating hibachi next to strangers is always a little uncomfortable, but the fact that the woman sitting directly across from me was shooting daggers at my chest and then talking to her own mother with no attempt to hide the fact that I was the subject of the conversation made me wish I had brought a sweater to melt into.
The funny thing was though, that as mad as this lady seemed to be over the fact that my chest was on display, her husband never glanced in my direction (or if he did, I didn't notice it). I'm assuming maybe she was worked up by the thought of my body somehow tempting her husband, but it was she who took notice, not him. I also realized something terribly eye-opening and totally disappointing: much of the criticism surrounding how moms dress comes from fellow women. I wish we would be supportive of other women dressing in a way that they feel good about instead of slut-shaming one another.
Clearly, I didn't get dressed to go out tonight in the hope's of tempting someone else's partner. I picked that dress and my boots because they make me feel great. Unfortunately the reaction from the other side of the table was enough to sour the evening — and my feelings on my look.
Day 6: Groceries
As much as I like to get dressed up, by this point in the week all I wanted was a nice comfy pair of yoga pants. I had to go to the grocery store, so I dug deep into the back of my closet to find this dress I used to wear to work. Normally I'd pair it with a tank top to reduce the cleavage, but I decided if I was going to do this project, I was going all the way, cleavage and all. This outfit felt costume-y, like I was in an episode of Mad Men, but without all the smoking.
The high heels and restrictive sleeves of this outfit slowed me down with the kids in the store. A kind older woman in line behind me told me I looked nice, but it was a bit too much like being a 1950s housewife for me. I wasn't dressing for myself in this outfit, and because my heart wasn't in it, I didn't feel good about myself, even if it is a really cute dress.
Day 7: The Gym Again
My large chest can turn a average tank top into something X-rated if I'm not careful, so I usually sweat my way through yoga class with a long sleeved high neck top. But today I threw caution to the wind and put on two sports bras over my regular bra so I could wear a tank top to yoga class. I expected to be self-conscious and tugging at my top the whole time and I was worried that people would stare, but my fears were for naught.
Yoga class is dark and everyone's too busy trying to hang on to their tree pose to notice what the person next to them is wearing. And sure, I had to make a few adjustments to my top from time to time, but I didn't flash anyone and it was nice to let my skin breathe and have more freedom of movement in a smaller top. Yoga class is a situation where dressing in less isn't so much a fashion statement for a mom as it is a practical move, and I'm never going back to covering up in yoga again.
The way I dressed had zero impact on how effective I was as a parent.
Is Dressing Provocatively OK?
The most profound thing I realized from dressing provocatively for a week as a mom was seeing that the way I dressed had zero impact on how effective I was as a parent. Even when people gave my cleavage or exposed skin the once over, they never inferred my outfit to mean that I wasn't rocking my job as a mom.
I no longer believe women who don't dress in less do so because they're making some sort of statement about breasts no longer being sexual once they become a potential food source. Sure, there may be some women (and men) out there who think like that, but in general I think women with kids are practical, and we dress in a way that makes us feel good but also provides the freedom to dash after a kid in the parking lot. And if you don't like it? Honestly? Who cares. I'm dressing for my day, not the opinions of others.
I'll be going back to my trusty leggings while running errands simply because it's easier, but when we're headed out to dinner as a family or when the babysitter's coming, I won't let the fact that I have two twin sons stop me from wearing what I feel good in. Crop top included.