by Tanya Cromartie-Twaddle

I remember high school. Puberty. I spent it hiding my female transformations under my older brother’s nerdy button up shirts. I walked the halls in long sleeves and loose jeans. Reflecting, I don’t recall too many friends or classmates wearing revealing, provocative clothes. My sister-friends and I were just talking the other day. We don’t remember “hoochie-mama” clothes from the ’80s. Tamara can’t recall “sexy” ensembles strutting around middle school. Seems like it was cooler to cover things up with leg warmers, funky layers, and such. It could be selective memory. I don’t know. But I’m not that old…I’m not that prudish. I’m just fed up with school girls wearing outfits that I’d have to think twice about wearing to the nightclub. Makes me wanna pull out the sewing machine and send my own girl to school in some momma-made clothes. This situation is getting on my last nerve. It’s a crisis to mothers everywhere…at least it ought to be. Seriously, our little girls are old before their time. Shopping for school clothes this August for my 9 year old was ridiculous. Tops seemed cut too low and too see-through. Jeans are now hip-slung…belly-show affairs. And since when do fourth graders need to wear shoes with such high heels to school? I’m not having it! I searched high and low for classic, cute back-to school apparel, department stores and discount shops alike. Needless to say, I didn’t find much. Tamara had the same experience shopping for her four year old daughter. Even preschool clothes are sexy. “I see girls with shorts on and their cheeks hanging out, folding up the waist of skirts to make them shorter, it hurts. Who are they trying to impress? School boys? Older men? They’re seeking attention. Why are so many girls not getting the attention that they need?” Not only are our little girls screaming for attention, they are constantly being bombarded with sexy images. Most of the commercial messages overwhelming them are clearly HOT- SEXY- NASTY. Everywhere they look, videos, magazines, prime time TV, they are being told to use their bodies to get attention. To be loved. For the most part, ads for clothing that target teens are PROVOCATIVE. Abercrombie & Fitch has a window display at Bayshore Mall that disturbs me. The young girl in the window (and if the model isn’t a young girl, why does she look like one?) has a sultry, seductive look. A & F is extremely popular with teenagers. Khakis and polos used to be innocent. Back-to-school shopping just isn’t what it used to be. I know we try to be the biggest influence on our daughters, but we’ve got nothing on Brittany Spears & Beyonce. Mary & Kate Ashley aren’t so innocent and bashful these days either. I thought for sure their line of clothing would be tolerable. I know schools have dress codes. Don’t they? If so, why do we see so much flesh on display at bus stops and after-school programs? Are they changing their clothes the first chance they can? How can Tommy concentrate on algebra if Sally is in his face sitting SUPER SEXY? He can’t! It’s sick. Too many grown men think schoolgirls are HOT! I see this with my own eyes and hear the stories straight from the mouths of teen girls. And if it isn’t you Mister, then don’t trip. But my daily walk down Burleigh Street presents one too many episodes of grown men trying to “holler” at young girls. The ogling and cat-calling is disgusting and scary. And the way they dress is no excuse for this solicitation. My sister-friend Gwen, mother of three girls, believes our young people are not at that “certain level of elevation…where they can deal with peers dressing sexy. They aren’t equipped to deal with the repercussions.” It is possible for girls to be grounded in their sexuality and have a healthy outlet of expression for it. But the messages most girls are taking in, and the deprivation of enriching attention, do not encourage or create an environment for this healthy expression. Like Gwen, I believe our daughters should have freedom of self-expression, but it is up to us to help them make developmentally appropriate choices. Gwen offers insight, “We [women] use our dress to call attention to ourselves because our needs aren’t being met.” Perhaps our young girls lack nurturing attention from home, community, society. She dresses her young daughters in clothing that doesn’t take focus away from the “inner-self.” I realize I must be a role model for my girls and tell them what I expect as they grow into young women. I must also draw a line. Self-Expression is fine. But this mom will set limits. My nine-year-old is not allowed to knot her t-shirt in the back and sport skin-tight jeans with high heeled sandals on. Not as long as she’s living under my roof. We want our girls to be appreciated and loved for what’s on the inside and to understand the difference. There is a healthy way to express sexuality. But our daughters should not be taking lessons from the street or MTV. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 10 – October 2003