Should I let my daugh­ter wear a crop top?

First, learn how to talk to a tween girl, says The Kit’s ed­i­tor-at-large

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - FASHION & BEAUTY FROM THE KIT - Kathryn Hud­son Send your press­ing fash­ion and beauty ques­tions to Kathryn at ask@thekit.ca

“My daugh­ter is al­most 12, strad­dling child­hood and teens, and de­vel­op­ing. And she loves short shorts and crop tops. Which is fine, right? Right! But I do won­der what creeps are look­ing at her. I don’t want to judge or dic­tate her choices but … I don’t know what to do.” — Amy, Toronto

“I have gone through this ex­act same sit­u­a­tion with both my daugh­ters and I made an ab­so­lute hash of it in the be­gin­ning,” says ac­claimed best­selling au­thor Caitlin Mo­ran with a laugh and a sigh when I call her to dis­cuss your ques­tion. Her de­liv­ery sets up the essence of what makes her writ­ing — and her lat­est book, “More Than a Woman,” which just dropped to deaf­en­ing ac­claim — so com­pelling: She’s deeply funny, to­tally un­flinch­ing and com­pletely wel­com­ing.

In fact, the Bri­tish jour­nal­ist has pinned her now-sto­ried ca­reer to fear­lessly ex­plor­ing taboo top­ics. “And, well, ba­si­cally, be­ing a woman is still a bit of a guilty shame­ful se­cret, isn’t it?” she says with an­other chuckle. Our guilt and shame are only fur­ther com­pounded when we’re try­ing to carry the bur­den of wom­an­hood for our daugh­ters, won­der­ing when they will be strong enough to shoul­der the load them­selves. “Nearly ev­ery con­ver­sa­tion that women are sup­posed to have with their girls is re­ally heavy and de­press­ing. At the end, the child is sup­posed to be cry­ing on the floor as the mother stands over say­ing, ‘Yeah, it’s sucks to be a woman!’ But it doesn’t need to be that way: We can set up the idea that be­ing a grown woman is fun.” Af­ter all, girls are grow­ing up in an era with more di­verse role mod­els and, os­ten­si­bly, less shame. “So why al­low our bit­ter­ness and anger to taint things? Bet­ter for us to go have our ther­apy qui­etly and try and tell our kids it’s fun to be a girl.”

So how can you tackle your loaded ques­tion in a way that doesn’t in­volve a lec­ture about the pa­tri­ar­chal at­ti­tudes and age-old sex­ism con­ferred on oth­er­wise unas­sum­ing items of cloth­ing? (“Be­cause an 11-yearold will cry or climb out the win­dow if you talk like that.”) Watch “Ru­paul’s Drag Race” to­gether, says Mo­ran. Yes, the colour­ful, creative, glam­orous real­ity show that chal­lenges bud­ding and ac­claimed drag artists to im­pres­sive feats of cos­tum­ing, makeup, lip sync­ing, dance and so much more. (And Canada’s it­er­a­tion of the show, “Canada’s Drag Race,” just aired its first sea­son.)

“Watch­ing that show with my kids re­ally changed things for me be­cause it’s ba­si­cally the game-show-ifi­ca­tion of fem­i­nin­ity,” says Mo­ran. “It gives you and your daugh­ter a nat­u­ral en­trance point to talk about fe­male ap­pear­ance and what story clothes tell — some­thing drag queens are bril­liant at.”

Watch­ing shows like “Drag Race” or more ma­ture films like “Lit­tle Miss Sun­shine” (which is “re­ally just a movie about a young girl who wears an in­ap­pro­pri­ate out­fit and dances in­ap­pro­pri­ately, but in a way that’s oddly pure and bril­liant”) — or what­ever feels right for you and your kid — al­lows you to strike up deep con­ver­sa­tions in a more fun and more thought-pro­vok­ing way.

“It’s like if you walk straight to­ward a cow, it will run away and be scared. You have to come at it side­ways,” says Mo­ran. (Be­sides, if you try to ques­tion nearly any woman about what she’s wear­ing while she’s wear­ing it, she’s go­ing to get defensive; I know I do when my young son looks at me crit­i­cally and asks why my skirt looks like a garbage bag.) While you’re watch­ing, get her talk­ing: about what her friend’s favourite out­fits are, about why she likes crop tops so much, about why she thinks the queens are wear­ing cer­tain looks, about what nar­ra­tive she wants to cre­ate through fash­ion, about her bud­ding ideas and val­ues. “Un­til re­cently, your kid only knew three words and you did the talk­ing. Now the whole game has changed. You need them talk­ing about what’s on their mind,” says Mo­ran. “Work­ing out who you want to be is a com­plex thing for any­one — so squeeze as much in­for­ma­tion and opin­ion out of your child as pos­si­ble be­cause when a child starts talk­ing, she starts work­ing things out in her head.”

Be­cause while you are tor­tur­ing your­self try­ing to make the right de­ci­sion on be­half of your daugh­ter, it’s time to start grap­pling with the idea that she is the one who needs to learn how to make this choice for her­self.

It’s un­der­stand­able to feel con­flicted. “The first time I asked my 14-year-old daugh­ter if she re­ally wanted to wear that very short dress or if she maybe wanted to pop a cardi­gan on over it, she turned around and said, ‘Don’t slut shame me,’ ” says Mo­ran, laugh­ing about the pit­falls of rais­ing fem­i­nist girls who are un­afraid to ad­vo­cate for them­selves. “I was like, ‘That is a very com­plex no­tion, one which has brought many fem­i­nist con­fer­ences to their knees, so we don’t have time to talk about it when you need to be on the bus in 10 min­utes.’ ”

So con­sider this sit­u­a­tion from her per­spec­tive: If she’s al­ways worn crop tops, she’s likely to feel hurt when you sud­denly tell her to stop, cit­ing her chang­ing body, which is some­thing she can’t con­trol. Sure, you’re the par­ent and you make the rules, but log­i­cally, what does prevent­ing your daugh­ter from wear­ing crop tops be­tween the ages of 12 and 16 ac­com­plish, re­ally?

In­stead, it’s per­haps bet­ter to fo­cus on be­ing her up­lift­ing guide through the parts of adult­hood she hasn’t been ex­posed to as they en­ter her life. I’m talk­ing about what the changes hap­pen­ing to her body ac­tu­ally mean, about how to deal with con­fus­ing on­line in­ter­ac­tions, about the dy­nam­ics in her crew, about what her friends are go­ing through — the list goes on and on. Be­cause she will ex­pe­ri­ence the full range of what the world has to of­fer whether a sliver of her tummy is vis­i­ble or not. Show­ing her joy and trust and try­ing to make sure she is emo­tion­ally equipped and con­fi­dent enough to han­dle her in­cum­bent teens years is more rel­e­vant. Or as Mo­ran puts it: “It’s once you’ve got your sassi­ness that you are bul­let­proof.”

So if you want to guide her with­out sham­ing her, make peace with the fact that no item of cloth­ing is in­her­ently in­ap­pro­pri­ate — not crop tops or short shorts or biki­nis — but they can be more or less suited to an oc­ca­sion. An adult might think it’s ob­vi­ous that an amuse­ment park poses a dif­fer­ent sar­to­rial op­por­tu­nity than a fu­neral, but a child needs to learn those nu­ances, so you, as her par­ent, can talk through with an open heart and mind. But if it be­comes a con­stant fight and she doesn’t feel like her voice is be­hind heard, in a cou­ple of years, she’ll just change into what­ever she wants at school be­hind your back.

“You’re go­ing to make mis­takes, so be ready to say sorry,” says Mo­ran. “Though women are some­how sup­posed to know how to make a home cosy and cam­paign ef­fec­tively against fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion and nav­i­gate through heartbreak and make a mar­riage de­light­ful, and all this other s---, we aren’t even born know­ing how to deal with our pe­ri­ods. We’re all just wing­ing our way through this.”

THE KIT Your all-in-one guide to the best fash­ion trends to try and the best beauty prod­ucts to buy. Visit thekit.ca/sign-up-now for daily news

MARK HAR­RI­SON

Caitlin Mo­ran, the au­thor of “More Than a Woman,” says of giv­ing daugh­ters ad­vice: “You’re go­ing to make mis­takes, so be ready to say sorry.”

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