We were driving through town when I spotted her – a young-ish woman wearing an outfit that was less than flattering. “Ooh,” I said. “That’s not a good look.” My daughter turned on me immediately. “Mum! Stop body-shaming!” she said.
Ok, I’ll admit it wasn’t the kindest of observations. (In my defence, if I’d met the lady in person, I wouldn’t have said or done anything to make her feel uncomfortable.) But the fact is, we come in different shapes and sizes; some things suit us and some don’t.
I never wear jackets that end above my hips because I’ve got a short body and long-ish legs. I end up looking like a box on stilts. I’ve also been, um, amply blessed up top, so I go for V-necks rather than button-through shirts that gape inconveniently.
My daughter is developing her own style, and that’s great. I’m glad she feels good about what she wears. But can I help her learn what works for her and what doesn’t without making her feel like I’m body-shaming?
These are a few tips I’ve picked up.
1Talk about context
There’s a time and a place for certain kinds of clothing. There’s nothing wrong with having a personal style, but clothes should be appropriate for the occasion. Discuss what your daughter would think if she saw someone grocery shopping in their swimwear. Or if she turned up for school and her headteacher was wearing ripped jeans and a slashed T-shirt with swear words printed on it.
When they hit the pre-teen and early-teen years, girls want to be more grown-up. They want to stop wearing ‘childish’ clothes but don’t necessarily know what to choose instead. This is where she’ll need your help, not your disapproval.
If our daughters are confident enough in their bodies to wear what they like, that’s a wonderful thing. Our girls should never be ashamed of how they look. They need to know, though, that some people will always judge. Make sure your daughter knows she’s not responsible for other people’s reactions – that’s important.
But also discuss how any attention would make her feel. If a man whistled at her, or an elderly couple glared at her disapprovingly, would she feel embarrassed? Unsafe? It’s not fair that she feels that way, but this is reality.
3Go shopping together
Rather than make your daughter feel like you’re nagging about her choice in clothes, show her what you mean. Plan a shopping trip to buy new outfits. Pick clothes to try on that you know don’t suit you as well as those that do.
When you put them on, ask her opinion and explain why you think something works (or not). “I really like the blue top but the fabric is very thin – almost see-through. I couldn’t wear it for work. The green one is fitted at the waist, so it gives a nicer shape but still looks smart.”
There’s an incredible amount of pressure on girls to conform to their friends’ expectations. There’s a chance your daughter might not even like what she’s wearing but wants to fit in with her chosen group. Don’t pressure her into wearing something that will draw ridicule from other children; instead, work on her self-esteem and teach her that she should dress to please herself, not other people.
5Let some things go
If your daughter’s choices aren’t too offensive or inappropriate, let them go. Often, they’ll be a phase that will pass quickly. I know a girl who insisted on wearing tights with holes in the legs at every opportunity. She thought they were cool, edgy and just a little bit provocative; in reality, it looked like she’d fallen over and torn the fabric. But her mum gritted her teeth and let her get on with it; she soon outgrew it.