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
“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.”
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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.”