School and social dress codes are often stilted against young women in particular, teaching them to feel guilty or ashamed for “distracting” their male peers and “encouraging” the male gaze. Some of these regressive values are ingrained in women through their environments — and, in some cases, the negativity can come from parents dictating what to their children what to wear.
That’s why some parents are making conscious efforts to be more deliberate and mindful in the way they discuss clothing with their daughters.
Jessica and Jeremy Martin-Weber have six daughters (ranging in age from 5 to 18), and, as such, they know a thing or two when it comes to raising kids. The parents started a Facebook page and blog, both entitled “Beyond Moi,” to document their parenting journey, and recently published a somewhat controversial — but important — post about their daughters’ clothing choices.
“Here’s the short version: we don’t teach or enforce any standards of modest dress for our children,” writes Jessica. “We don’t enforce any modesty standards. Ever. Modesty is too subjective and true modesty is about attitude and our heart. To us, enforcing modesty standards is about controlling people and we have found that is counterproductive and undermines our commitment to respecting bodily autonomy.”
In the post, Jessica shared a photo of herself with two of her older daughters, and acknowledges that the clothing she allows her daughters to wear may not feel “suitable” to all parents.
“In the photo below some would consider what I am wearing modest, others wouldn’t (growing up that dress wouldn’t have been acceptable because of the neckline and slit and the cling of the fabric), some would be comfortable with my daughter in the blue skirt, some wouldn’t, and some would seen (sic) nothing wrong with my daughter’s crop top outfit and shorts, some wouldn’t let their child leave the house dressed like that.”
However, Jessica and Jeremy argue that policing their daughters’ bodies isn’t the way to help them feel comfortable in their own skin. They say that they have their own set of rules when it comes to what they allow their daughters to wear — and the rules have nothing to do with the traditional definition of “modesty”:
There are a few questions we have for our children about their clothing that are just practical:
1) Can you participate in the activities you will need to do without worrying about your clothing? (Does it fit without hurting you, can you do jumping, bending over, etc.)
2) Is it practical for the weather? (This one is up for personal interpretation. I’m always cold, for example but several in the family are often warm, it doesn’t make sense to require them to dress to my comfort. With young ones we will take appropriate clothes/layers with us or send them with them should they choose attire that will not be fitting for the weather but we do not make them change, only offer it as an option.)
3) Will the clothing you wear seem out of place in that setting or will it communicate respect for where you are and who you are with based on the social norms of that setting? (For example: attending a classical music concert with grandma vs a concert of your favorite band with daddy and a couple of friends, or attending a wedding or funeral vs catching a movie.)
4) Are YOU comfortable with the parts of your body that are showing and that others may notice those parts and though we are not responsible for the actions of others, how will you feel if someone says something about that? (This is more a conversation for our older kids.)
5) Can you tell me what inspired you to pick that outfit and what you feel it expresses about yourself and communicates to others? (This one is REALLY important when you feel yourself disapproving of their choice and projecting why you think they picked it. For example: you see a teen girl in a low neck top and feel she chose it because she wants to draw attention to her chest but in reality she chose it because it is a hot day and it was a top she had clean that she considered cute and has no desire for people to check out her chest but she knows it will happen anyway so why not wear what she wants since in her experience it won’t make a difference.)
6) Are your genitals adequately protected and safe from accidental harm or accidental exposure (i.e. From bacteria or sitting bare on a public surface) in what you are wearing for the setting and activities you will be doing? (This is required for any time leaving the house and often for inside the house as well.)
Though this is still a “dress code” of sorts, these rules are more about encouraging their daughters to feel empowered by their clothing choices, and take ownership of those decisions. These rules also avoid placing any sort of blame on their daughters.
“When I was sexually assaulted as a teen I was ashamed to tell anyone in part because I had worn something that was more form fitting and blamed myself for what happened,” Jessica writes. “If only I hadn’t been wearing that, I thought, this wouldn’t have happened. Never mind that he was my boyfriend and it happened several times no matter what I was wearing.”
For these parents, it’s all about making their daughter conscious of their own tastes, as opposed to dressing for the tastes of others — and reminding them that it is not their responsibility to “dress modestly,” only to dress comfortably.
“With our girls we never, ever tell them something isn’t ok to wear for modesty reasons. I don’t regret this decision as we watch our daughters bloom with confidence and dress for themselves rather than for the gaze of others.”